The Bye week has come and gone and the 49ers return to action this week, having advanced to the third seed in the NFC courtesy of the Giants and Eli Manning putting up a clunker at home against the Steelers. With a victory this week against the Rams and another the following week against Chicago, the team would be sitting on the second seed, just like they were last year.
Assuming our boys have not gotten rusty during the idle week, the Rams should not pose much of a problem. After a gritty beginning, they’ve slipped back to stinky lately and that trend should continue at Candlestick. As AZ discovered, giving Jim Harbaugh and his coaches extra time to prepare is a recipe for a whupping.
In the first eight games, the 49er offense has done very well, very poorly, and very enoughish. The running game has been consistently good, and the only thing that has stopped it is falling behind in a game. The passing game has been good twice, lousy twice, sensational twice, and ordinary twice. Will the real aerial game please stand up.
Opponents have gone to great lengths to negate Vernon Davis this year and been successful. In the second half of the Seattle game and the entirety of the AZ game, however, the team found great success with the underneath and mid-range routes. The dynamic between Michael Crabtree and Alex Smith was especially evident in the AZ game. If that is a sign of things to come, the offense could really take off in the second half.
The defense has been more consistent, with only two poor games and six lock down efforts. They are not getting the turnovers they did last year, and the pass rush isn’t as prolific, but the secondary play has been markedly better, virtually taking away the deep ball from opposing offenses. They have not allowed a TD in four of their eight games.
Special teams play was significantly worse than last year through the first six games, but they have regained their stellar play in the past two games. It looks like ST coach Brad Seely has finally got the newcomers to his squad up to speed. Ted Ginn has been outstanding as a return man since coming back from his injury.
All in all, the 49ers look fully capable of duplicating their 9-2 start from 2011, defying the regression statistics that have no way of factoring in when a team has truly arrived as an elite unit, as opposed to being merely an ordinary element in the cumulative predictability of league history. Sorry, nerd boys, your theory don’t fly with the 2012 49ers.
Just how elite this team becomes probably depends on how much the passing game progresses between now and the playoffs. If it becomes as reliable as the running game and defense, a sixth Lombardi is well within reach. If it doesn’t, we’ll be crossing our fingers in the postseason, hoping for Dame Fortune to favor us, and talking about Colin Kaerpernick most of the offseason.