The San Francisco 49ers started off the 2013 season in very disappointing fashion, losing two of their first three games. This was in part due to a tough schedule for the first three weeks, but at this point fans expect the 49ers to be able to win pretty much every game they play. That being said, the 49ers have won five in a row and go into their bye week with a 6-2 record, just one game behind the NFC West leading Seattle Seahawks.
The 49ers have shown signs of greatness in some games, and other games they seemed completely disinterested, such as the week three loss to Indianapolis. The 49ers are at the midway point of the 2013 season, which means it is time for their midseason report card. The report card will be broken down into different aspects of the team and will be labeled with a grade based on the first half of the season.
Pass Offense: B
The 49ers pass offense currently ranks dead last in yards per game, but this does not at all reflect how successful the passing game has actually been. Over the first eight weeks of the season the 49ers have attempted the least amount of throws per game, which is an indicator that the team relies heavily on the running game.
Considering the fact that two of the three best 49ers wide receivers have not played a single snap the whole year, the passing game has been pretty successful. Anquan Boldin is the only receiver with over 11 receptions on the year, not including tight end Vernon Davis and fullback Bruce Miller. The offensive line is surrendering less than two sacks per game, which is very impressive and is one of the reasons why the offensive line is regarded as one of the best in the NFL.
The only reason this grade is not higher than a B is because of the low completion percentage and the quarterback rating of Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick's completion percentage is less than 60%, which is pretty low for NFL standards. Also, Kaepernick's quarterback rating is 87.6, which isn't terrible by any means, but ranks him in the middle of the pack for starting quarterbacks. There is room to improve in the passing game, especially when wide receivers Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree return from injury.
Run Offense: A
The run offense got off to a very sluggish start the first three games of the season, which was a big reason for the struggles the team went through to start the season. Over the past five games though, the running game has become dominant and the team now ranks number one in rushing yards per game.
The biggest reason that the running game has been so successful this season is Frank Gore. Gore is third in rushing yards per game through eight weeks and has found the fountain of youth, allowing him to be one of the most consistent running backs in the league so far this season. The reason Gore has been able to be so successful is because of the dominance of the offensive line. The 49ers have done a tremendous job of building their offensive line through the draft the past few years with number one picks and it has definitely paid off.
The running ability of Colin Kaepernick also contributes greatly to the 49ers averaging the most rushing yards per game. His ability to escape pressure and make big plays outside the pocket is a big part of the success of the 49ers offense. The running game is well deserving of an A over the first half of the season.
Pass Defense: B+
It seems as if the 49ers talent in the secondary is finally catching up to the talent up front. The passing defense is in the top ten in the NFL through eight weeks and have shown the ability to create big turnovers in big moments. Rookie safety Eric Reid has been a great addition to the secondary. Reid has made numerous big plays throughout the course of this season.
Rushing the passer can play a big role in a team's pass defense. This is one area that the 49ers have really struggled in this year. The defense only has 17 sacks through eight games, which is very unusually low compared to the past few seasons.
A big reason for the lack of pass rush is the absence of Aldon Smith, who has been one of the most dominant pass rushers over the past two seasons. Other pass rushers such as Corey Lemonier, Justin Smith, and Ahmad Brooks will need to pick up the slack that Smith has been unable to pick up so far. If the 49ers somehow figure out how to get more pressure on the quarterback, their defense could become impenetrable.
Run Defense: B-
The 49ers run defense has not been as dominant this year as it has been the last couple years. One big reason for this could be the loss of defensive tackle Isaac Sopoago to free agency. Another major problem has been injuries to defensive lineman. Multiple defensive lineman have missed multiple games including starting defensive tackle Ian Williams.
The defense is giving up over 100 yards rushing per game so far this season, which is much more than in the past. This could be because teams feel they need to run the ball more to keep the 49ers offense off the field or because the team has a lot of missed tackles.
The run defense could definitely improve and it would not be surprising to see the defense finish in the top five in rushing yards per game allowed by the end of the season.
Special Teams: B-
Certain aspects of 49ers special teams through the midway point of the season have been excellent, while other parts have been terrible. The special teams unit as a whole has been solid for most of the year, but have struggled to make big plays.
The 49ers punt return and kick return game has been something to forget this year. They rank near the bottom of the league in average yards per punt return and average yards per kick return. The loss of Ted Ginn Jr. has had a huge impact on the return game. Also, LaMichael James, who was a very successful return man towards the end of last season, has been inactive for much of this season.
The kicking game hasn't been as good as expected so far this season. The numbers for Phil Dawson aren't great in a limited number of attempts. Dawson has only missed three kicks, but he has only attempted 12. A 75% kicking rate is not an ideal percentage to be at, but it can quickly change over the course of a couple games. Dawson will most likely be very important come playoff time.
The most impressive aspect of the 49ers special teams has been Andy Lee and the punting game. Once again, Lee has proven that he is one of the best, if not the best, punters in the league. He is currently in the top three in average yards per punt and has been one of the best punters throughout his career as a 49er.
Team Grade: B
The 49ers should be very happy with where they currently stand going in to their bye week considering all the obstacles they have had to overcome. The remaining schedule is pretty favorable and will allow for the 49ers to have a good shot of winning the NFC West. The most important game that could propel the 49ers to a division title will be the matchup against the Seahawks. The 49ers remain a force to be reckoned with in the NFC and getting past them in the playoffs will be a very difficult task for any team to accomplish.
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