Previewing the 2014 San Francisco 49ers Schedule Release

Chicago Bears v San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers finished 12-4 a year ago and thanks to a highly competitive NFC West division, it wasn’t good enough for first place. Forced to enter as a wild card team, the Niners won two straight road games before meeting the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC title game – a game they’ve reached in three straight seasons.

 

If the 49ers have any hope of reaching their fourth NFC title game in four years, odds are they’ll have to find a way to emerge as the NFC West’s leader. To do so, the Niners probably need to aim for a sweep of Seattle, while also going perfect on their home field. An elite 7-1 record at home in 2013 shows they can do that, but visits from the Eagles, Redskins, Bears, Chiefs and Chargers are sure to push San Fran to their limits.

 

The San Francisco 49ers schedule away from home isn’t anything to laugh at, either, as they take on the Giants, Cowboys, Saints, Broncos and Raiders on the road. San Francisco can easily lose any of their divisional road contests, but trips to Dallas, New Orleans and Denver could prove to be especially difficult. If the Niners want to upend the ‘Hawks, though, they’ll need to find a way to be the better team on the road more often than not.

 

For a look at all team’s 2014 match-ups, click here.

Dawson confirms return to 49ers, Whitner to Browns

Phil Dawson set a 49ers’ record  by making 27 consecutive field goals in 2013. Now, he is ready to see what he can do for an encore. The veteran kicker confirmed via his Twitter account that he is returning to San Francisco.

Dawson converted 32-of-36 field goal attempts last year and also went 7-of-7 in the playoffs. For his career, he’s made 84.5 percent of his kicks which is the highest percentage in NFL history for kickers with at least 300 field goal attempts.

While the news on Dawson is good, the same can’t be said for safety Donte Whitner. All signs are pointing to Whitner signing with his hometown Cleveland Browns.

Whitner started all but one game in three seasons with the 49ers and intercepted five passes. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 2012. His teammate and fellow safety, Eric Reid, said his goodbyes via Twitter.

The 49ers will either look to free agency or the draft to replace Whitner, as backups C.J. Spillman and Craig Dahl may be better suited for special teams.

Photo: Getty Images

Will impending roster moves leave the 49ers too thin in the secondary?

With the eve of NFL free agency upon us, the San Francisco 49ers have some decisions to make in regards to their secondary. Safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Tarell Brown are set to hit the open market and both could receive offers far north of what the 49ers are willing to pay. There are rumors that the New York Jets have interest in Whitner and, considering other cornerbacks are signing for big pay days, Brown could cash in as well.

In addition to Whitner and Brown, San Francisco also faces a decision on cornerback Carlos Rogers, as he is due to make $6.25 million in 2014. Considering his declining play over the past two seasons, the 49ers are not inclined to spend that much of their cap space on Rogers and he will most likely be cut. The move would save the team around $5 million, but leave them depleted on the back of their defense (at least for now).

If all three players are let go, the 49ers would be without three of the four players who started for the team last season (Brown was replaced by Tramaine Brock after getting injured, but did return to the first team in Rogers’ place during the playoffs when he  was also hurt). While the moves may all make sense financially, will San Francisco be creating a gap that’s too large to fill in 2014?

The team has up and coming free safety Eric Reid to anchor the group, but he is only entering his second NFL season. Brock played very well in 2013, but has never started a full 16 game slate. As of right now, he is the team’s top corner.

Beyond Reid and Brock there are nothing but question marks. Cornerback Chris Culliver is coming off a season ending knee injury and it may be asking too much to expect him to come in and be able to start right away. The only other two in house safety options are Craig Dahl and C.J Spillman, and both of them seem to be better suited for special teams.

While the team can (and most likely will) address the secondary in the draft, it would probably benefit them to not have more than one rookie starting or playing significant minutes next year. Look for the 49ers to try and add a veteran or two at safety and corner should Whitner and Brown sign elsewhere.

While the team won’t break the bank for a free agent, there may be a few veterans who could come cheap. Antonio Cromartie, Charles Tillman and Asante Samuel are conerbacks that will be 30 years old or older when the season starts and might sign short term deals. As far as safety, an intriguing name is former Indianapolis Colt Antoine Bethea. He is unlikely to resign with Indianapolis and might be a player who could move over to strong safety at a reasonable price tag for the next couple of years.

Follow Al on Twitter @AlSacco49

Photo: AP

 

Boldin’s Return Has A Negative Effect?

Boldin's Return Has Negative Affect?

 

Written By: Michael Andrews

Before the San Fransico 49ers re-signed receiver Anquan Boldin, we expressed the unpopular opinion that if/when he returned, it would turn into a situation where he (when combined with a healthy Crabtree) would stunt the progress of Colin Kaepernick’s level of comfort with the other receivers on the team. Immediately passionate fans started insulting and attacking the opinion expressed saying that it was idiotic to say such a thing; that there is no way that Boldin would hold the team back; that Boldin and Michael Crabtree only make the team better. Yes, Boldin and Crabtree together for an entire year make this offense very good. Two sure-handed receivers, what some would call “possession receivers” on this team, makes the 49ers hard to stop (inside 20 yards, but that’s another story). But the fact remains, that with the two of them on the field, is there ever a chance that someone else, in the same position, gets a target?

 

Kaepernick threw the ball a total of 228 times (to wide receivers). Of those targets, Boldin and Crabtree accounted for 163 of them (71%). That means that all other receivers on the team accounted for only 65 targets (just less than 29%). Considering the 49ers have Mario Manningham, Quinton Patton, Doug Baldwin, Kassim Osgood and Kyle Williams (later traded to Kansas City), and Crabtree was absent for 11 games, one would think that another receiver would emerge as a solid second option. That (unfortunately) was not the case. The player that was only active for 5 games of the season (Michael Crabtree) was 2nd in receiver targets for the entire year with 33.

 

Let’s assume that both Crabtree and Boldin are healthy for an entire 2014-2015 season, what is the likelihood that another receiver emerges? Maybe if we ran more 3WR sets, someone would get “Kap’s” attention during the game or after in the film room. But what are the odds of that? I don’t blame Kaepernick in the least bit. If I had Boldin, Crabtree, and Vernon Davis to throw to, why would I even bother looking for someone else? How many reads do we expect this man to make on a single play? Then there is the formation issue… Not many teams use a full back all the time like we do. Then there is the beloved 2-3 TE sets… there is rarely space on this offense for a 3rd receiver to be on the field. So how will someone else emerge as a future threat? Do we have to wait until we lose one, or each?

 

PRACTICE! This is where I am hoping someone will emerge. With Crabtree and Boldin being veterans and having knowledge of the system, I’m hoping the coaches give them some resting time so the likes of Patton and whoever the 49ers draft will WOW some coaches and Kaepernick. Boldin’s return means that there won’t be a consistent #2 other than him in the weekly practices. We have heard the argument that mental reps are important to the development of young players, and we completely agree, they are. But when it all comes down to it, there is no other combination of positions that requires physical reps like that between QB and WR. Mainly because it’s all about timing and rhythm; besides that, practices are said to be significantly slower than game speed. The truth of the matter is, backups don’t get many reps with the starters unless it’s for a specific package. But fear not, there is something to look forward to!

 

 During the preseason, Patton looked very promising. Running reverses, blocking down field and knowing his blocking assignments early were impressive feats! He even had a screen go for 44 yards and a TD, but not one time did we see this play even attempted in the regular or post season. I think Patton will have another great preseason as well as earning the trust of the Kap during practices. If anyone has a chance at showing up this season other than out #1 and #2, it’s Q! Even if he doesn’t this offense will be a dangerous force this coming season and should be vastly improved over the last year. During the 2013 season, our offense at “full strength” was without our starting FB and had an injured Crabtree down the stretch. This offseason, Crabtree will come back better than his ’13 play and if Bruce isn’t ready, Tukuafu will be up to speed.

 

So fret not. The offense will perform but the youth may have to wait yet another year to shine.

49ers Leading Rusher NOT NAMED GORE?!

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Atlanta Falcons

By Michael Andrews

That’s right, it’s going to happen… or maybe it just should? I am a long time Frank Gore supporter but there are issues I have with the 31 year old (when season starts) RB. Let me start off by saying that I am grateful for everything Frank has done for this organization. He deserves a ring and a spot on this roster as long as he’s playing. The man should/better retire a niner! Now let’s get down to it!

Kicking off the 2013 season, pundits expected to see a decline in the RB strictly because he was 30 years old. Anyone who has been watching the NFL can tell you that it’s amazing to see 30 year old rushers and rare to see them still in the starting role!

With 44 yards in week 1 vs. the Packers we didn’t think too much of it because Kap threw for over 400. But in weeks 2 and 3, Frank combined for 98 yards on 20 carries (respectable right)? Frank seemed to hit his stride in week 3 and continue for a while until week 11; we saw a consistent decline from out bell cow carrier until the Seahawks matchup in week 14, where he went for 110 on 17 attempts. *It’s worth and important to note that at the end of the game, Gore had a rush for 51 yards. Take that out and he is 16 attempts for 59 yards.*

Frank finished the year with great numbers but showed a decline down the stretch not having 100 yards since week 14 and having 6 games with fewer than 50 yards, and 4 with less than 35 yards despite ample carries in those games. Now this includes playoff games. Not counting playoffs, Frank finished with a career low of 4.1 yards per carry. Including the playoffs Frank’s totals are 324 for 1292 (3.9 p/c)

Playoff time is money time! That’s when it all counts and I, for one, was very disappointed with the way the team utilized Frank and the way he ran with the ball. I have this horrible replay of him retreating from the Seahawks’ defense, going backwards 5-7 yards at a time! It’s lingering in my mind and maybe that’s the cause of all of this… so what does the future have in store for us? Let’s see…

Kendall Hunter has been patiently waiting for his chance to show what he’s got; and when he has an opportunity, more times than not, he makes the best of it. Keep in mind that we also have Marcus Lattimore waiting in the wings and chomping at the bit to get on the field.

Lattimore would’ve been a top 10 pick had it not been for a significant injury causing him to fall to us in the 4th round. This is a stacked back field without including our athletic FBs that are also ready and willing.

This isn’t a Frank bashing article… this is a WHAT IF write up!

With the absurd talk of a 42-yard extra point, the NFL is at it again

As far as American sports go, the National Football League is and has been king of the mountain for some time. The game is a great spectacle for television and the fact that it tends to lend itself perfectly to other extracurricular activities (i.e. fantasy football, betting, etc.) only makes the allure that much more potent. Given it’s popularity and undying fan support, it seems that the only thing that can stop the NFL is…well…the NFL itself.

One frustration with the league is the fact that it continues to tinker with it’s product. For example, rule changes have been made in recent years that are starting to change the very fabric of the game. In one instance, the NFL has worked very hard to make the game safer for it’s participants by deeming certain hits illegal. In theory, that is a good thing as far too many retired players have had health issues that stem back to their time in football. However, while a safer sport is a positive thing, we’ve seen time and time again that it leads to officiating that is inconsistent and confusing.

While the NFL has to address the officiating issue somehow, it’s understandable that rule changes made to help with safety may be necessary and are probably not going anywhere anytime soon. What is not clear and extremely frustrating is why the league feels like it needs to change the way the game itself is played.

The latest example of this is the NFL’s attempt to make the extra-point seem more “relevant.” NFL kickers converted the extra-point 99.6 percent of the time in 2013. To make the play more of a mystery, the league’s competition committee announced that they are exploring the option of 42-yard extra points. That would make the kick less of a certainty and certainly make it a more exciting event. The issue with it is that it’s absolutely ridiculous.

First of all, commissioner Roger Goodell has previously suggested that the extra-point be taken out of the game entirely, and teams would just receive seven points for scoring a touchdown (the team still had an option for an eighth point, but if they failed the score would drop to six). This approach would make for one less play which would be one less chance a player has to get hurt. This idea is also absurd (albeit a little less so than the 42-yard attempt) and is the complete antithesis of what the competition committee is suggesting by moving the kick back. Do they not talk to Goodell? Was moving the extra point back 23 yards brought up to the public so “the automatic seven points idea” would look better?

In addition to further inconsistencies and a decrease in player safety, moving the extra-point back to 42 yards creates an uneven playing field for teams. What does this mean? Well, teams playing in domes have an advantage over teams who play in open air, cold weather stadiums. Do you mean to tell me an extra-point in Pittsburgh in December would be the same as an extra point in Indianapolis? I realize that they are still dealing or not dealing with the elements and shape of the field on a 19-yard attempt, but there is a lot more margin for error with those extra 23 yards included. Also, if you want to move the kick back, why not try a 30-yard attempt and see how it goes? That would make the kick a little more difficult but not unbearably so.

In the end, I think the NFL is just talking here and the likelihood of a 42-yard extra point attempt being the new norm is slim. That doesn’t make where the NFL is headed under Goodell any less worrisome. From inconsistent officiating, to eliminating kickoffs, to changing the extra-point, it seems there is no end to the tinkering and movement within the rules.

The game is great as it is Roger. Leave it alone.

Follow Al on Twitter @AlSacco49

Photo: Getty Images

49′ers Ink G/C Daniel Kilgore To A Three-Year Deal

Daniel Kilgore

The 49ers today signed guard/center Daniel Kilgore to a three-year contract extension through the 2017 season.

“We are pleased to extend the contract of a talented, young player like Dan,” general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement. “This move is another example of our philosophy to extend the contracts of our own young players.”

Originally selected by the 49ers in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, the 26-year-old Kilgore (6-foot-3, 308 pounds) has appeared in 33 regular-season games during his three-year career, including all 16 regular-season games and all three postseason contests in 2013.

The Colin Compromise

Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Carolina Panthers

By Michael Andrews

I know there is a lot going on at 49ers HQ right now, but I choose to focus on what and who I know for will be around next season. My man Colin Kaepernick!

Since he took over for Alex Smith, even in last year’s NFC Title Game I still hear murmurs about him not being ready to run this team. I think he has played very well for someone with only 23 regular season starts under his belt.

Since taking over people complain that he does make all the reads or go through his progressions the way some veteran QBs do. I did some thinking and I think it’s because we have to accept the compromise that comes with Colin.

I think most would agree that when Colin breaks the pocket and strides down the field, it’s something very special to see!

It’s absolutely mesmerizing and breathtaking to see him pick apart opponents and keep them guessing as to what his next move is. But has anyone ever thought that maybe the very thing we love is the same reason why he may never fully go through his progressions?

“Experts” say that most QBs have a 4 second clock in their heads that lets them know to make a decision or risk a very bad play.

I have seen the likes of Brady, Brees and Manning (Peyton) use those 4 seconds to make some miraculous things happen.

But I have seen Colin do the same in his own way. 2nd & 11 during the second drive of the NFC Championship game, see what happens and how long it takes. 13:15 left in the 2nd quarter is another example (and trust me there are PLENTY more)!

Colin is pretty good at looking at option 1 then option 2… but after that, his time is up and he has a decision to make.

The top two target aren’t exactly what I’d call “burners.” I don’t think any of us are expecting Anquan Boldin or Michael Crabtree to have 2+ yards of separation again a defender in 4 seconds.

So the problem is a tough decision for the young QB to make, especially knowing his own ability. Perhaps if we ran more screens or… nah, I’ll save that for another time, but I’m sure you get my point. Until we get someone with a better burst off the line, what’s a guy to do?

But what if Colin didn’t run? Would we still be asking “why didn’t we just keep Alex?” Would we see more than 8 picks last season; or how about the number of sacks or fumbles? Is it necessary for him to take off after 4 seconds standing behind arguably the best O-line in the NFL?

Or would Colin become one of the most explosive passers we’ve seen since Young here in San Francisco? Who knows? But one thing I do know is that I don’t mind watching Colin compromise running for waiting! I’ll enjoy watching him grow and mature in the NFL.