Panthers Expose Harsh Truths for 49ers

It’s been quite some time since I’ve watched a game waiting for something, anything to happen.   Yesterday’s game against the Carolina Panthers provided such a feeling, along with a 10-9 defeat.

Are the Carolina Panthers really that good?  Well, they were yesterday, and they have their own five game winning streak.  S0, yes, they probably are that good.  Defensively, they were exactly as advertised.  They stifled Colin Kaepernick endlessly.  They blitzed effectively.  And for the most part, the Panthers defense contained the running game.  The often heralded San Francisco 49ers offensive line looked mediocre at best against the front seven of the Panthers.

As a fan base, let’s delve into a list of underlying issues for the 49ers team.

* The 2013 San Francisco 49ers aren’t the 2012 49ers.  As stupid as that sounds, I’m serious.  The offensive line play isn’t nearly as good as it was last year.  The passing game is just plain atrocious. Andy Lee is on pace for his highest punt total since 2009.  As well as Frank Gore has played this year, he’s still a year older.  Our receiving core doesn’t have the same effectiveness as a year ago.  Then of course, the overall team health has taken a drastic hit this year.

* Colin Kaepernick is struggling.  I realize I’m not breaking any new news here, but right now, Kaepernick is not an effective progression quarterback.  Colin Kaepernick wants to catch his first read in the passing game and pull the trigger on that route.  He doesn’t feel comfortable progressing through his second, third, or fourth options during a passing play and letting one rip.  That indecision to scramble and run or scramble and look to pass has crept back into Kaepernick’s mind as well.  Kaepernick and the coaching staff too, need to realize that Colin Kaepernick is an exceptional athlete playing quarterback.  He needs to be utilized as such.

*Don’t misunderstand me here.  Frank Gore is still really, really good.  But that 30-years of age benchmark is there for a reason.  Gore can’t handle a 30 carry a game work load like he did in his most formative years.  He often spells himself after long carries or grueling runs.  You can’t blame Frank for it either.  He’s working on his 9th year in the league and has had prominent surgeries to repair both knees and his hip.  He’s not washed up by any sense of the words, but he can’t necessarily be relied on to bail out Kap consistently either.

* Mario Manningham’s return didn’t magically cure the problems in the passing/receiving game.  For a first game back after a devastating knee injury, Manningham played pretty well.  He only had three catches for 30 yards, but considering what we’ve seen outside of Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin this year, that’s almost impressive.  What needs to be kept in the forefront regarding Manningham is that he’s consistently been a number three wide receiver throughout his career.  After almost a year long absence from the game, he’s stepped directly into the 49ers number two wide receiver role.  That doesn’t necessarily add up.

While we’re at it, let’s set one more thing straight.  None of us know what Michael Crabtree is going to bring back to the table after approximately six months removed from an achilles tendon injury.  Counting on him to be the cure all for the passing game is a far premature thought.  He was becoming one of the finer receivers in the league last year, and being hopeful and positive for an instant contribution upon return is just fine by me.  But, to count on him as an offensive savior isn’t realistic.

* Injuries. Injuries! INJURIES!  The first two years of the Jim Harbaugh regime were a relatively healthy time period for the San Francisco 49ers.  This year is an entirely different story.  Yesterday’s key injuries included Vernon Davis, Ray McDonald, and Eric Reid.  All three of those players have missed time on the field this year for previous injuries.  Injuries can always be masked and accounted for by a team until, well, they can’t anymore.  If Vernon Davis is missing with an already weak passing game, we see games like the performance against the Carolina Panthers.  It’s downright brutal!  Although no less significant, the injuries to Reid and McDonald weren’t as apparent.  But how long will that last?   Both of those players are extremely talented and play as starters for a reason.  Hopefully, the depth on defense isn’t strained any further or any longer.

* Last season, I raved about the offensive line.  There were many talking heads, like Troy Aikman and Mike Golic, who did the same thing.  They worked in unison on a game in and game out basis allowing the running and passing game to excel.  That very same cohesion doesn’t appear to be there this year.  As a unit, the line is missing blitz pick ups.  They aren’t getting to their running assignments in time.  And, against formidable opponents, they’ve struggled.  The overall weakness of the passing game doesn’t help, but the offensive line is also attributing to it.

We’ve passed Week 10 of the NFL season and there’s questions marks abound for the San Francisco 49ers.  Although I’m factual, I’m not a huge doom and gloom guy.  There’s enough of that plastered on Twitter and the internet to please anyone who’s looking for it.  In the National Football League a team’s story can be rewritten at the snap of a finger.  Next week, when the 49ers roll into New Orleans and defeat the Saints, they’ll once again be all the rave in the NFL.  All will be right once again among the 49er Faithful and all of the naysayers will act like they didn’t say a single derogatory word.  So, let’s once again strap in for the ride and get ready for one hell of a roller coaster!

In Harbaugh I trust! Go Niners!

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