By Jerrell Richardson
After their quick rise to NFC dominance last year, the 49ers were a team learning on the fly last year. Unfortunately, they ran into a playoff savvy New York Giant team that was able to exploit the glaring weakness that was their receiving core and the Frank Gore or bust run game. During the off season the team did everything they could to address their lack of offensive firepower by drafting and acquiring free agents to bolster the receiving core, and adding depth to the back field. Capped off by the emergence of Colin Kaepernick, offensively, the team is much different team than the one that couldn’t make one big play to send the team to the Super Bowl. Without a glaring weakness to try and attack, Atlanta is going to have a long week figuring out a way to slow down the suddenly explosive San Francisco offense.
It Begins With The Quarterback
It will start with a plan to contain Colin Kaepernick. After his record setting performance last week, Atlanta will spend a lot of time preparing to avoid him breaking his new record against them, which plays right into the hand of the 49ers. Not only does it do the obvious and take time away from other areas, but it could be wasted time. Unlike most players with his running ability, Kaepernick only runs when forced. Since taking over as the full time starter, he has 50 rushing attempts and a lot of those are him getting out of harms way. Nevertheless this breaks down to less than two rushes per quarter, and in the season finale he ran a total of three times. Atlanta may be ready for the read option, but it could never appear, as there are so many other options for the team to turn to, that it will only be called upon if the coaches see something in the Falcon defense or the coverage that screams for them to run the option.
Frank Gore Not To Be Forgotten
While Kaepernick poises the big play threat, next to him in the backfield is the consistent, steady Frank Gore, who quietly put together another 100 yard performance against the Packers. Gore’s job has become easier with the play of Kaepernick, but he is still one of the best backs in the league, and teams are now forced to pick their poison. Even when keying on Gore, the presence of Kaepernick will cause the second line of defense to pause, and this minute advantage is all an elite back like Gore needs. Atlanta will need to stop Gore first, as even if they can keep Kaepernick under control, San Francisco is almost impossible to beat when Gore can get 20 touches. The running game is the first area of concern; however, this is nothing new, as it wasn’t this part of the offense that was a problem in the past.
Time For Receivers To Make Amends
Michael Crabtree called the receivers’ performance last year against the Giants, “embarrassing.” He has vowed that the team will not have another letdown with him on the roster, and he appears to be a man of his word. He has become a legitimate threat, scoring 2 touchdowns against the Packers, after his breakout season, and has to be added to the teams list of players to watch. Before it was just Vernon Davis, and it was easy to take the tight end out of the game with double coverage, but like the running game, with two threats in the passing game, it’s a matter of deciding which player they feel can hurt them the least in single coverage. Injuries have plagued the receivers, but they are still better on the outside even with their depleted core, and the big difference from last year is Michael Crabtree, who if he sticks his promise, will not be held without a catch this NFC Championship Game.
No Glaring Weakness
The offensive numbers against the Packers speak for themselves: 45 points, 323 rushing yards and 256 passing yards. The team got production from Gore and Crabtree, but showed that Kaepernick legs can be the biggest threat on the field. In addition to the main weapons, the big play ability of both Randy Moss and Vernon Davis are available, creating a dynamic offense. For a team that lacked the ability to make a play on offense last year, they have made a dramatic upgrade. There will be a lot more that comes into play for the team to beat the Falcons, but the threat of the receivers not making a single reception seems highly unlikely.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.