We often hear that defense wins championships and for the most part I would completely agree. There’s something about being able to control what the other teams offense is able to do and how mentally that can affect the other team into playing poorly on offense. I get that. But I’m talking about my San Francisco 49ers here, and while defense has helped the team reach three straight NFC championship games, the fact is they haven’t won that coveted sixth Lombardi trophy.
But why, why have they failed to win it all? I admit, I often boast about the 49ers defense and how it is one of the best, if not the best, in the entire NFL. I can’t say I’ve ever boasted about our offense, until somewhat recent years. Frank Gore has really been the only constant on offense, and I’m talking the past 7 years. Vernon Davis has been the most prolific receiving threat and Michael Crabtree has been progressing like the 49ers had hoped.
Stay with me I’m going to swing this back around.
So as a fan of the 49ers, I cannot stress the importance of all the current changes on defense. I also cannot stress the importance of Aldon Smith’s presence on the football field for the 49ers. This upcoming week will tell us a lot about Aldon Smith’s future. He is due in court April 29th for his multiple charges of DUI, weapons possession and the false bomb threat at LAX. General manager Trent Baalke continues to stand behind Aldon, all while using phrases such such as, “disappointed” and “you don’t give up on guys”.
We will also know if the team picks up his fifth-year option on May 3rd, which league sources have said the 49ers will not do. Chances are, if Aldon doesn’t end up in jail, the NFL will certainly suspend him and it’s almost guaranteed Aldon Smith will certainly miss a portion, and worst-case scenario, all of the 49ers 2014 season.
Listen, the 49ers have built a reputation as being a smash mouth football team that is able to dominate on the defensive side of the ball. That is their calling card. So yes, I am worried about Aldon’s future with the 49ers. And as a fan, I am a little worried when I look at my starting defense for next year. Compared to last year, a new starting safety, two new starting cornerbacks and now, possibly two new starting linebackers, depending on Aldon’s future.
Overall, the 49ers defensive scheme is built on the front seven, and mainly the linebackers and their ability to be a strong physical presense in stopping the run, rushing the passer and dropping into coverage. I think it would be hard to argue against saying, the 49ers have the best linebacking group in the NFL, but fact is there is nothing we can do about NaVorro Bowman, he’s out for an unknown length of time. We’re talking about possibly the best linebacker in the entire NFL, NaVorro Bowman. You don’t just replace Bowman and you don’t just replace Aldon Smith.
As much as we’d like to think, this is the NFL and the next man steps up, we can’t fool ourselves, this won’t be the same defense for probably the first 4 to 6 games of the year. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s usually the case any time there are significant changes on defense and key players missing. So to think that this will be the same smash mouth defense as last year, that may be false hope.
The reason I say all of this is because the upcoming draft on May 8th is right around the corner, and even though the 49ers will be without key players on defense, I still believe they can somewhat manage to play through it. Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks, Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Eric Reid Jr, Antoine Betha are still very good players that make up a solid defense. It would be ideal to use the draft and continue to build the defense around those players.
My concern is scoring points and not putting your defense in a position to win games this year, like they did last year. The 49ers won close games last year because they were unable to put away teams. Remember the final game of the season in Arizona versus the Cardinals? Remember the challenge in Tampa Bay to end the Buccaneers rally? In both those games the offense failed to score late and allowed the opposing team to hang around. Ultimately the 49ers were able to finish the job in both games.
What the 49ers have failed to do in their three straight NFC championship games is put up points early and continue to put up points through the game, even if it’s field goals. So when you look at the possibility on offense this year, I think it makes more sense to try to build on that side in the form of wide receivers, running backs and tight ends in the draft.
Giving Colin Kaepernick more weapons on offense actually makes Colin Kaepernick a more dangerous player. You will have to respect the receivers, backs and also the elusive quarterback, and we all know what Kaepernick can do in the open field, but I don’t think the team can solely depend on the current crop of players.
Frank Gore is kind of on the way out and we don’t know what Marcus Lattimore is capable of yet. Kendell Hunter has always been consistent, but he’s going to be a back-up for now. LaMichael James’ future is unknown. Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin should be healthy. Bruce Miller should be healthy. Add a few pieces from the draft, as well as a kick returner for special-teams and we could be talking about the most prolific offense in the NFL. Wow, what a thought.
I guess we will find out what the new 49ers look like in the coming weeks.