What a disaster this season is turning into. The Cardinals are now running away with the division and the 49ers do not look prepared to challenge them. After the loss to the Packers on Sunday, Mike Singletary’s team falls three games behind the NFC champs. With only six games left to play, the chances for the 49ers to finish on their solid start looks slim.
What went right:
Although Alex Smith started out terrible, he was able to rebound and threw for three touchdowns. He did throw a costly interception, but I was impressed with his ability to forget about it and not get caught up in the quicksand. His three touchdowns followed the only turnover for the whole game. While the offense can score points with Smith, as he can throw the ball down field and hit his receivers, the game always gets out of reach before those deep shots are called. Michael Crabtree scored his first NFL touchdown with a spectacular catch. Every week the young receivers seem to improve, getting more in-sync with Smith. We may have found our new return man in Josh Morgan. The second year wide receiver took his first kick return of the day for 76 yards, setting up the first 49er touchdown. Special teams has been seriously lacking a return game, giving bad field position for the offense. If Morgan earns an extended look as return man, we could see a better kick return than ten yards. Other than the offense showing signs of life in the second half, everything else went wrong.
What went wrong:
Five carries for Frank Gore in the first half. That speaks for itself. At the beginning of the season, Singletary fired Mike Martz in order to run the ball the majority of the time. Show us, don’t tell us Coach. The 49ers were in the game for the entire first quarter, and only let the game get away from them in the second quarter. Gore only got five carries because of all the three-and-outs. But Gore should have been part of those three-and-outs. Understandably so, Jimmy Raye was probably afraid to run the ball because of his make-shift offensive line. Regardless of who is on the line, the best offensive player on the team should have more than five carries in the first half, and seven all together.
The defense really disappointed me. Before Sunday’s game, the 49ers were ranked third in the league against the run. Green Bay Packers half-back Ryan Grant gashed them for 129 yards and a touchdown. The tackling was sub-par. Greg Jennings turned a 10-yard gain into a 64-yard touchdown because Dashon Goldson took a bad angle and collided with his own man. On Jordy Nelson’s touchdown catch, two 49ers had a shot at him, and he broke the two arm tackles.
Just as disappointing, the defense only sacked Aaron Rodgers twice. The same Aaron Rodgers who is leading the league with 43 sacks this season. This performance leaves no room for doubt how bad the pass rush is. Rodgers did show some mobility and escaped the rush, but the man is getting sacked an average of four times a game. It was weakness versus weakness, and the 49ers’ pass rush turned out to be worse than the Packers’ pass protection.
The absolute worst part of the game was the last six minutes. Alex Smith just threw a touchdown pass to Frank Gore, to close the gap to 30-24. The defense was asked to stop the Packers and get the ball back for a game winning drive. Well, the suddenly hot-handed offense never got the chance. Much like Jay Cutler and the Bears last Thursday, the Packers marched down the field with ease. Only Rodgers didn’t choke like Cutler, and the Packers ran the remaining 5 minutes and 56 seconds off the clock.
The unbalance in time of possession was ridiculous: 41:39 to 18:21. How do the 49ers expect to win if they only have the ball for 18 minutes and 21 seconds? This is where running the ball helps the team. If they used Gore more than seven times, maybe the TOP would not have been so lop-sided.
I’m not ready to count out the playoffs at this point, but the 49ers have to start winning. The Cardinals also have to start losing, but until December 14th, there’s nothing they can do about that. On the positive side, the Cardinals find themselves in the tough part of their schedule. The Tennesse Titans, who are on a four game winning streak, host them, and after that, the Minnesota Vikings pay Arizona a visit. If the Titans and Vikings can beat the Cards, and the 49ers find a way to defeat the Jaguars and Seahawks, the Monday night game between them will be the 49ers’ chance to get back in the division hunt. Their last remaining games are: vs. Jacksonville, at Seattle, vs. Arizona, at Philadelphia, vs. Detroit, and at St. Louis. The Jaguars are on the up-swing, winning their last three games, and will be a tough opponent. They need to approach the rest of the season with intensity, as they need to win most of the games to have a chance at winning the division.
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