The San Francisco 49ers better bring an improved game plan into St. Louis on Thursday night, or they will be leaving how they arrived—in last place. Do not let the opening season win against Green Bay fool you; the Niners have been pitiful this year. Only four teams have scored fewer points than them, and only seven have given up more. Simply put, this is not a good sign for their Super Bowl aspirations. Luckily for the Niners, despite the ground they have to make up, time is on their side. The question is, what adjustments will they make in that time?
Last Sunday was disappointing on many levels for the Niners, but the most disappointing aspect of the game was on the sideline. This coaching staff has done a great job over the last two years, but the play calling was atrocious against the Colts. The Niners ran the ball for 102 yards on 16 rushes in the first half, but once they fell behind they only ran it seven times in the second half. Usually throwing the ball when behind makes sense, but considering the state of the receiving corps and the fact that the 49ers trailed the colts by only six points in the fourth quarter, it is perplexing how they abandoned the run. Not only were Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter having solid games but Colin Kaepernick had no trustworthy target besides Anquan Boldin. Rather than force throws down field, the Niners need to settle for shorter passes, run the ball hard, and then once the run is established, use the play action to try for the deep ball. Bottom line is that the Niners need to stick to the basics and play to their strengths, rather than try to force a more exciting style of game that doesn’t suit them right now.
Despite the less than stellar coaching decisions, the players will ultimately determine who wins the game. On Sunday the players showed up and put forth a great effort but their discipline, or lack thereof, played a huge role in the loss. They committed six penalties, which may not seem too costly, but five of those penalties resulted in first downs for the Colts. When the Niners are healthy they can afford to make mistakes, but when they are missing two of their top three receivers, one of the best tight-ends in football, and multiple defensive starters, they need to avoid the mental miscues.
Come Thursday night the Niners could have a solid running attack and not commit a single penalty, but if Kaepernick does not improve his game, they have no chance. A team’s starting quarterback, regardless of the injuries or lack of targets, cannot throw for 150 yards, zero touchdowns and an interception, and expect to win. Kaepernick needs to stop forcing long throws and start using underneath passes and quarterback runs to his advantage. This is not because Kaepernick is suddenly a horribly inept quarterback with no arm; it’s because at the moment he has no one to throw to. Also, for anyone who thinks the Niners will win simply because their opponent is the Rams, you need to check out the results of their two matchups last year. They tied and lost, and Kaepernick did not throw a single touchdown in almost two full games, so history is already working against them. The more recent history however, is what concerns 49ers fans the most. They need to make the necessary adjustments for Thursday night, because a loss would almost assuredly result in wide spread chaos in the Bay Area. The questions about Kaepernick’s slump and the future of the team would be wide spread, and the hopes of reaching the Super Bowl would dwindle. The Niners need this game. It doesn’t have to be pretty but it’s their biggest game since last February and they simply have to win it.