49ers Most Suprising Surefire Playoff Team Yet?
The 49ers have a chance to silence a lot of critics tonight against the Ravens. If they come out of this game 10-1 they will clinch a playoff berth. Their first season under Jim Harbaugh despite not reaching the playoffs under the past two head coaches.
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Since arriving Jim Harbaugh and his staff have brought an offensive scheme to San Francisco that has not only made Alex Smith look like solid starting quarterback in the NFL, but has produced the 6th ranked rushing attack in the league with Frank Gore and rookie Kendall Hunter. But that’s not the main reason this team is 9-1. This defense is tops in the league in points allowed with just 14.5 per game average, and they allow on average just 74 rushing yards also 1st in the league, with an 8th ranking overall. If you ask me the defensive improvement is his best achievement since arriving in San Francisco and he can thank Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio, Secondary coach Ed Donatell, Linebackers coach Jim Leavitt and Defensive Line Coach Jim Tomsula.
The Keys to the their success has been awesome in the turnover category with 15 interceptions including a team leading 5 by Free agent Signee Carlos Rogers who also returned 1 for a touchdown, on top of the 15 picks they have forced 14 fumbles. They have also racked up 25 sacks including 7.5 by rookie Aldon Smith, 6 by Ahmad Brooks, and 4.5 by Justin Smith. This defense is just plain well rounded, when you look at them there really isn’t a weakness. Carlos Rogers, and Tarrell Brown are solid one on one or in zone coverage, while rookie Chris Culliver has made an impression with 20 tackles, 6 tipped passes, and 1 interception, while Tramaine Brock the other back-up corner has 4 tackles 2 tipped passes and 2 interceptions. The defensive line is pretty solid with Justin Smith and Ray McDonald combining for 7.5 sacks. Nose Tackle has Isaac Sopoga a veteran starter started 41 games straight for the 49ers, Ricky Jean Francois a younger developing guy who is the top back-up who sees quite a bit of time in sub packages, and rookie Ian Williams another guy learning the position and trying to crack the rotation. Linebackers are solid across the board so much so that Aldon Smith their first round pick leads the team in sacks but is primarily a back-up. Ahmad Brooks starts outside opposite Parys Harralson, with Aldon Smith rotating in on certain packages on both sides and sometimes with his hand on the ground. Brooks has 32 tackles, 6 sacks, 1 forced fumble, while Harralson has 21 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, Aldon Smith has 17 tackles 7.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble. Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman start inside Willis has 85 tackles 2 sacks 1 interception 2 forced fumbles, while Bowman has 95 tackles and 3 fumble recoveries. They have 2 back-ups here Larry Grant, and Blake Costanzo. They signed Donte Whitner who has since started 10 games with 46 tackles 8 tipped passes 2 interceptions 1 forced fumble, his back-up Reggie Smith has been with the team for 4 seasons playing in all 11 games he has 14 tackles 3 tipped passes and 1 interception, C.J. Spillman is the 3rd string strong safety here playing in sub packages and special teams he has 10 tackles so far. Dashon Goldson is on his way to a career year with 48 tackles 5 tipped passes 3 interceptions and 1 forced fumble that’s all in just 9 starts, Madieu Williams is a valuable veteran with 86 starts in his career so far including 3 this season out of 10 games he’s played in he has 8 tackles, rookie Colin Jones is primarily a special teams player with just 8 appearances and 3 tackles. This defense not only has solid depth they have varied depth where there is a rookie starter there is a veteran back-up and vice versa. They understand the need for both young players and veterans to build a solid core of players.
Let’s be honest though despite the defense’s success Alex Smith is the real suprise here. Most people assumed he was resigned mainly to be a stopgap before 2nd round pick Colin Kaepernick takes over the starting job. But little did we know that Harbaugh and company had a solid offensive plan to play to Smith’s strengths more so than any prior coaching regime he’s had. He’s completed 186 of 298 passes for a 62.4% completion rate, 2,116 yards 13 touchdowns, 5 interceptions while being sacked 30 times still. He’s also run 36 times for 136 yards and 1 touchdown. His completion rate is a career high while his interceptions are a career low, ironically while being sacked just 5 times less than the 35 that was his career high in 16 games back in 2006. So not only is he playing far better than in previous seasons he’s been smarter with the ball under more pressure than ever before, while having yet another quarterback brought in to compete for his job. He understands he is playing for his starting career come next offseason if he can’t start here in 2012, he’ll look to go to another team that needs a veteran starter. Right now he averages 17 completions, for 27 attempts for about 200 yards a game and 1 td and about a int every 2 games. He is on pace for a career high in completions, completion %, tie his career high in touchdowns, and still have a career low in interceptions.
My hat is off to Jim Harbaugh, he has turned around a dismal franchise that hasn’t played in the playoffs since Steve Mariucci was fired in 2002. Despite desperate attempts by Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan, and Mike Singletary all who had been touted to bring back the proud 49ers of years ago.