Who's got it better than the San Francisco 49ers? Nooobod...wait no, actually the Cardinals and the Seahawks have it better than them right now. San Francisco comes to the Superdome with a 4-4 record, looking up at 7-1 Arizona and 5-3 Seattle. Needless to say that the 49ers have every incentive to come out firing in the Superdome tomorrow, especially after dropping a heartbreaker at home last week against the Saint Louis Rams.
On the other hand, the Saints feel much better about their 4-4 record. The team started 1-3 in the first quarter of the 2014 season but has gone 3-1 in the second. But now the second half of the year begins, and the schedule doesn't get any easier: New Orleans will face the 49ers, Bengals and Ravens in consecutive weeks and can thank the scheduling gods that all three games are in the Superdome.
In order to go 1-0 in the third quarter of the season, New Orleans must defeat a familiar foe in the 49ers. The question is: which San Francisco team will we see in the Superdome tomorrow? The one that defeated the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas earlier this year? Or will it be the one that lost to the Saint Louis Rams at home and could only muster up 10 points?
In order to learn a bit more about San Francisco, I asked five questions pertaining to the state of the 49ers to David Fucillo, editor and manager of Niners Nation.
1 - Canal Street Chronicles: It seems that quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been under a lot of scrutiny this season. People are questioning his development and some have even hinted at a regression. What's your opinion of Kaepernick's play this year and do you think that he is the guy that can take San Francisco to its next Super bowl win?
David Fucillo: I don't think Kap has regressed, but I do think he might be developing slower than some people would prefer. He has shown incremental improvement in different areas, but when he stares down a receiver and completely misses a defender, it can grow frustrating. I don't really know what his ceiling is, which is exhilarating and scary at the same time. Maybe he plateaus, or maybe he keeps growing. I don't think anybody can say with certainty that he will or will not continue to develop. I think that frustrates people who want to see more, and see it soon.
I do think this team can win a Super Bowl with Kap at quarterback. He has the weapons at his disposal to make plays, and if the offensive line can get their act together, the running game could build on that. Add in a strong defense, and the 49ers do not need him to be an all-world quarterback. Sure it would be nice, but they can win the Super Bowl with him playing at his current level.
2 - CSC: San Francisco has a 4-4 record that includes head-scratching home losses to the Chicago Bears and the St. Louis Rams. We know that the Niners defense has been missing some key players, but it has still produced at a high level. Is the offense the main culprit? If so, what has been the main issue?
DF: The offensive line has been the biggest issue. Some will blame Kap, some will blame offensive coordinator Greg Roman, but I am inclined to place blame primarily on the offensive line. Kap makes some bad decisions, but frequently he does not even have time for a bad decision because pass rushers are running him over.
The play calling has not been as awful as some would have you believe, but at times there can be question marks. When the line is struggling against the pass rush, we don't see screens or many draws to counteract that. The 49ers will find success in one aspect of the game, but then seemingly abandon that success later. As far as I'm concerned, play-calling is one of the hardest things to criticize. We don't know the many details of the play call, and while we can guess about it based on what we see, we don't always know who made what mistake when something goes wrong. It is possible the play-calling is the primary culprit, but it is hard to put a specific finger on it at times.
3 - CSC: Rumors are swirling around head coach Jim Harbaugh and his potential departure from the 49ers at the end of the season. Although he has been really successful, people depict him as someone who is really hard to deal with on a daily basis. How do you view Harbaugh as a head coach and how does Niners Nation feel about him either leaving or staying?
DF: I think most fans want to see him stay and sign an extension. There have been plenty of reports about him having problems with the front office and with players. However, considering the 49ers have gone to three straight NFC championship games, with a Super Bowl appearance mixed in there, it's hard for me to think it is as serious an issue as some would make it out to be. Now, whether he returns after this season is entirely up in the air. I think if the 49ers win the Super Bowl he sticks around, but if they do not, all bets are off. Of course, the fact that I have to actually say I think he sticks around with a Super Bowl win tells you plenty. The situation is messy and we still don't know all the details.
As a coach, he can be all over the place. We see numerous problems with clock management and penalties, which would seem to fall on the coaches. For the folks that have a problem with play calling, he is in the mix in that, with calls from Greg Roman going through him. That has some concerned he is too stubborn in keeping Roman around. But again, I do not buy into the theory that Roman is behind all the problems.
4 - CSC: With San Francisco looking up at the Cardinals and Seahawks in the NFC West, how much of a must-win is the game at New Orleans? Do you still feel confident that this Niners team can make the playoffs this year?
DF: The 49ers can still make the playoffs with a loss, but this is obviously an important one. A win keeps them in the thick of things, with a chance to build on it at New York and at home against Washington and Seattle. A loss creates an even bigger hill to climb though, so it would be a real nice win.
I do think this 49ers team can make the playoffs. If they continue to struggle in offensive execution, they will not make the playoffs. However, we've seen enough in spurts this season to know they can in fact execute. It is critical that they figure out some kind of consistency. If they can find consistency, they have as much talent as almost any team in the league. But if they don't find quality consistency, they will be home in January.
5 - CSC: Apart from the refs (which we know you guys don't particularly love) and Drew "long-neck" Brees (which we know you love but won't admit it), what Saints players are you most worried about on Sunday?
DF: Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan are on my mind on the defensive side of the ball. As I said above, the 49ers offensive line has struggled. If they do not hold up against Galette and Jordan, it will be a looooooong day. On the offensive side of the ball, the idea of 6'7 Jimmy Graham going up against 5'11 linebacker Chris Borland, or 5'10 defensive back Jimmie Ward is a frightening proposition. I think we see the 49ers provide help in those instances, which opens the door for other Saints offensive weapons. I'm comfortable with the 49ers defense, but with the injuries and the Saints weapons, it is a tough matchup.
Bonus Question: How do you see this game play out? Who wins and why?
DF: I'm a big fat homer, so of course I am going to predict a 49ers victory. I'm going with a 31-27 victory, as the 49ers outlast the Saints in a bit of a shootout. I think the offense puts things together, and the defense does just enough to contain Jimmy Graham and company. This is the kind of back against the wall game in which Harbaugh's 49ers thrive. If they come out flat and get walloped, then it will be a long finish to the season.
Many thanks to David for speaking with us throughout this week.
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