By Jerrell Richardson
After the San Francisco 49ers battled the St. Louis Rams to a tie on Sunday, there was very little that was positive in the post game reviews. One day later the bad taste is still there, with two things standing out. On a positive note, as bad as a head injury is, quarterback Alex Smith could be back on the field for the team’s Monday Night Game against the Bears after being knocked out of Sunday’s contest with a concussion. But even if Smith is not back for the Bears, a concussion rarely causes a player to miss multiple games, so all signs point to the leagues 3rd-rated passer being back very soon. The bad news is that regardless of when Smith comes back, the slumping kicker David Akers has become a bigger problem.
What A Difference A Year Makes
The veteran kicker set the bar pretty high last year setting records for field goals made, field goals attempted, points (without touchdowns) and set a Candlestick record with a 55-yarder. Nobody expected the soon-to-be 38-year-old player to quite live up to those standards, but his performance in 2012 as been nothing like his Pro Bowl campaign in 2011. In light of the most recent game, it has become a real concern.
Last year, he was not as automatic as perceived, finishing the year with a 84.6 field goal percentage, but even though his average was in the middle of the pack, the bottom line was that he made the kicks that really counted. This year, Akers looked to be picking right up where he left off, hitting six straight to start the season, highlighted by his NFL record 63-yarder in Green Bay. Since his hot start, though, he has been off, hitting only nine of his past 15. For the season, his 71.4% puts him third from the bottom. For a team that relies heavily on its kicker, this not not even close to being good enough.
What Is The Reason?
Some say that he is getting old, in a slump, and being unfairly criticized because his latest miss came in a tie that cost the team a win. The reality is that he is paid to make kicks, and he failed in his job. The finger of blame for the outcome of last week’s game can be pointed at the whole team, but there is no getting around the fact that if he splits the uprights on a very make-able 41-yarder, the 49ers win the game. Did he make a field goal earlier to send the game into overtime? Yes, but he was also rightfully expected to send the home fans happy and instead couldn’t come through in the clutch and on the kick that really mattered.
Team Is Not The Same
Without the confidence in their kicker, it completely changes the 49ers game plan. With a top tier defense, the plan in the past was to take the three points if needed and not take any risks. The game manager tag that has been placed on Smith has a lot to do with the strong leg of Akers. The offense has struggled to reach the end zone at times, but with a kicker who is no longer automatic it forces Smith to take chances down the field. It remains to see if Akers will rediscover his stroke, and at this time there is no reason to panic, but a combination of Akers off his game and Smith out of the game does not bode well for the 49ers. Even with Smith back in the lineup. the team will need its Pro Bowl kicker to get back on track if they hope to make some noise in the playoffs this year.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.