By Jerrell Richardson
A look up and down the 49ers 53-man roster will show that just about every player has helped the 49ers to a relatively successful start to this season. During the six wins, the team has seen the offense, defense and special teams all make positive, significant contributions. The offense led the charge in the season opener and has scored 30 or more points in five straight, while the defense has been solid all year, picking up the slack when the offense has been unable to create some separation on the scoreboard. Not to be outdone, the special teams were the key in Titans win, and with Sebastian Janikowski struggling a bit this season, in Andy Lee and Phil Dawson, San Francisco has easily the best kicker/punter tandem in the league. However, hidden in the 53 contributors, there are two that stand out among the rest.
The defensive MVP for the first half of the season, hands down, is NaVorro Bowman. This is his fourth year in the league and he now has the experience to go with his freakish talent. Things did not look promising, for the 49ers when after dropping two straight games they lost Patrick Willis to a groin injury. However, the defense did not skip a beat, and it had a lot to do with Bowman. Not only does he lead the team with 69 total tackles, it’s by a large margin. The next closest 49er is Willis who has 42 total tackles, which is impressive in its own right when considering Willis has missed games, and played at less than 100%. Bowman’s tackle total rank him sixth in the NFL, proving that he has been a force against the run, but has overshadowed his impact against the pass.
Bowman has swatted away six passes, which is the same amount as safety Eric Reid, and trails only Tramaine Brock and Tarell Brown who lead the team with seven apiece. Bowman rounds out the stat sheet with two sacks, two forced fumbles and one recovery as well. Not too bad for a third round draft pick.
When the 49ers decided to trade up in the first round to draft Eric Reid, they proved that they knew what they were doing. The former LSU standout finds himself squarely in the conversation for rookie of the year and has helped fans forget about the man he replaced. Reid has received praise from coaches and teammates alike for his off field preparation, and it has resulted in success on game day. His three interceptions is tied for the team lead, he is third on the team with 39 total tackles (33 solo), tied with Bowman with six passes defended and Reid has even recovered a fumble.
It was expected for the San Francisco secondary to struggle after the departure of Dashon Goldson during the offseason, but Reid has filled in just fine. Goldson has 40 tackles, no interceptions and three passes defended, this year, so there is no drop off statistically. Combine Reid’s production, with his age and dedication to get better and it’s not a stretch to say the defense is better off with the rookie, both now and moving forward. While the team knew he was good, Reid has by far exceeded any realistic expectations placed on him when he was handed the starting safety role August 27.
Two Early Season Concerns
So what or who has gone wrong for this 49er team? When considering their only defeats this season are on the road in Seattle, and the following week to a Colt’s team that is no joke, there is not a lot. However, the offensive game plan early on was clearly flawed, and Nnamdi Asomugha has been a major disappointment.
Why Ignore Gore?
After lighting up the Packers secondary to start the season, the coaching staff felt that the passing game was to be the fuel for the offense, and this error had a lot to do with the teams two-game losing streak. Against the Seahawks the team ran the ball 20 times, but nine of those attempts were by Colin Kaepernick, and most of those were him running for his life and not designed running plays. The next week against the Colts, the team had a pathetic 23 running plays, with Gore touching the ball only 11 times, despite a 7.5 yard per average rush. The coaches quickly realized their mistake and during their current five-game winning streak have gone back to the run. During this winning streak the team is averaging 38 rushing attempts per game, and not coincidentally are now the number one ranked rushing team in the league.
Free Agent Disappointment
While the team risked very little this offseason when they added, Nnamdi Asomugha, the move had the potential of being big. Unfortunately, Asomugha has only proven that he was never really that good. He has played in only three games this season, and has had some good and bad moments, and looks nothing like the player from 2006 that had eight interceptions. While some of it has to do with the fact that teams avoided his side of the field, since his incredible 2006 season, Asomugha has only seven interceptions and proved to be more of a liability than anything else. While he has not played especially bad, he has not played that well, and is not the shutdown corner that for years he was considered to be.
Offense Poised For Second Half Breakout
There was more good than bad from the 49ers first half of the season, as the team has the uncanny ability to correct its mistakes. With a loaded roster, if they can continue to correct their own mistakes and play clean football, they are going to be very tough to beat. While it was two defensive players that stand out from the first half, with two big names returning to the other side of the ball very soon it could be the offense that has the biggest stand outs for the second half of the season. What is important either way though is that the team continues to get something from all phases of the team, and the coaches stick to what works, running the ball.
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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. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.