The San Francisco 49ers have entered the west coast portion of their 2014 schedule. Four of their last six games in 2014 take place at Levi’s Stadium. They have one “road” game which only requires a bus trip to Oakland. The other roadie is a trip up north to Seattle. The 49ers stand at 6-4. The exact same place they stood last season when they travelled to DC in week 12 to play a 3-7 Washington team, who also just happens to stand at 3-7 this year as well. The imploding Washington team limps in to the Bay Area just four days before the 49ers play Seattle, their biggest rival in what will be the biggest game of the season to date. San Francisco has to do everything it can to not fall victim to the dreaded trap game.
In the first half of the their game versus the Saints two weeks ago, the 49rrs offense seemed to slightly break out, scoring 21 points in the half. The week before versus St. Louis the offense was completely anemic, only managing 10 points for the game on it’s own home field. Scoring three touchdowns in a half in the Superdome was only a brief moment of prosperity however as the offense reverted to it’s sluggish ways in the next 6 plus quarters. In the second half and overtime against the Saints and in four quarters in New York the 49ers scored 22 points, managing just one touchdown. The New Orleans game was won when the defense forced a turnover in Saints territory and Phil Dawson was promptly brought out to end the game with out even running an offensive play. Against the Giants, the offense could only come up with a Dawson field goal off of five Eli Manning interceptions. Last week it seemed as if the offense was moving the ball somewhat effectively between the 20’s, but the old problem that has plagued this team for most of Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman’s tenure reared its ugly head again, the red zone offense. On the season the 49ers are 31st in red zone touchdown percentage. In 2011 they were 30th. Except for some brief bursts of success, the red zone has confounded the 49ers offense for what’s going on four years. Whether Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick is at the helm, it doesn’t matter when this team gets inside the opponents 20. 2014 has been close to as bad as it’s been in the “new era” and if the 49ers are serious about challenging for a title, then they are going to need to start putting up touchdowns instead of field goals.
The defense, on the other hand, continues to play at an elite level no matter who is or isn’t in the lineup. Vic Fangio and the rest of the team welcomed back Aldon Smith last week and he had a solid game, especially solid considering Smith hasn’t seen meaningful game action in ten months. The tandem of Aldon and Aaron Lynch reeked havoc on the Giants passing game all day. Smith had six hurries and two hits on Manning while Lynch hurried Manning seven times and sacked him once. This combo at outside linebacker should make the NFL’s fourth overall defense even stronger.
You can’t mention the 49ers defense at this juncture of the season without mentioning Chris Borland. Borland had another ridiculous afternoon in New York, registering 12 tackles and picking off two passes, good enough to win another defensive rookie of the week. Borland has been greatly effective because he has amazing instincts and reads plays like a ten year vet, but the play of the defensive line makes his life much easier as well. The fact that Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman were all pro’s and Borland has stepped in and been a monster is a credit to not only those great linebackers but also to Ray McDonald, Justin Smith and the rest of the D-linemen. They are outright blowing up plays or at the very least occupying opposing offensive linemen and allowing superstars like Willis or Bowman and even a rookie like Borland the freedom to read and react to what opposing offenses are doing. The 49ers are so stacked at inside linebacker that Borland (if he stays anywhere near the pace he’s on) could win defensive rookie of the year and not be a starter next season…and it wouldn’t even be a difficult decision for the coaches and the front office.
On Sunday the 49er defense which has played at such a high level in recent weeks will face off with Robert Griffin and the rest of Washington’s struggling offense. Getting back to the pass rush, RGIII had been pressured on 52% of his drop backs and sacked on 12%, good enough for the highest percentage in the league in both categories. The situation goes from bad to worse for Washington if LT Trent Williams can’t play. Williams has only allowed one sack all year and is considered one of the best left tackles in football. He’ll also always have a special place in 49ers fans hearts for this. If Williams is in fact a no go, rookie Morgan Moses will be asked to line up at left tackle across from (most of the time at least) Aldon Smith This can only bring about more trouble for an already stumbling Washington pass offense.
Washington’s one big weapon at the skill positions is DeSean Jackson. Jackson is averaging 20.5 yards a catch, which leads the NFL by almost two and a half yards. Safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea are going to have to be extremely vigilant in keeping Jackson in front of them the entire game, as big plays to Jackson have been one of the only ways Washington has been effective through the air.
The 49ers would be more than happy if the end of 2014 plays out like it did in 2013, from 6-4 going into week 12 to the team ending up with a 12-4 record at season’s end. On the horizon are the Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers arch nemisis. The last time the 49ers and Seattle were on the same field, San Francisco came up inches short of a return trip to the Super Bowl. This Thanksgiving matchup has been 10 months in the making and will be a huge contest for both teams as well as a marquee, prime time, holiday feature for the NFL. But the 49ers need to somehow get their minds off of Seattle this week. Less than a week before their current most hated rival comes to town, the 49ers face off with a struggling, strife ridden Washington team. This is the absolute dictionary definition of a trap game.