We’ve reached the last of our four-part series on the 49ers’ defensive competition for 2013. In the first post, we talked about the Packers, Seahawks, Colts and Rams. Next we discussed the Texans, Cardinals, Titans and Jaguars. Yesterday, I showed you how the Panthers, Saints and Redskins will bring some tough quarterbacking (but average defense) to the table.
Today, we’ll round out the 49ers’ regular season with hopes it will bring some beatable defenses and another NFC West title.
Week 14 vs. the Seahawks
I wrote about the new challenges the Seahawks pose in the first leg of this series. It’s hard not to get pessimistic about the 49ers’ chances in Seattle — especially after they fell flat at CenturyLink Field last season. This time, they’ll be at home in Candlestick Park. Hopefully, the crowd will be all the more raucous as it makes its swan song as the 49ers’ fortress. Favorable conditions, especially in terms of minimal crowd noise while the home team is on offense, should only help the team’s cause against its most hated intradivisional foe.
Week 15 @ the Buccaneers
The last time the 49ers faced the Buccaneers was in 2011. They were coming off of a 3-1 start that, while leaving fans optimistic about their team’s chances, was anything but convincing. They had blown a lead over the Cowboys for their only loss, won a squeaker in Cincinnati and then rallied for one of the most epic comebacks in recent history against the Eagles.
Their win over Tampa Bay at Candlestick Park was a defining moment, though. The Buccaneers were touted as one of the up-and-coming teams in the NFC, and the 49ers dismantled them. Josh Freeman & Co. never got into the end zone while the 49ers systematically destroyed their defense in a 48-3 beatdown.
This year’s rematch will feature two very different teams. Alex Smith has been replaced by Colin Kaepernick, and the man who posterized Mike Williams is now wearing number 38 for the Buccaneers. This should be a fun game to watch.
No wonder the Buccaneers decided to unload Brinks trucks for Dashon Goldson and draft picks (plus more Brinks trucks) for Darrelle Revis. Tampa Bay was dead last in passing yards allowed (4,758), 29th in yards per pass attempt (7.9) and 28th in passing touchdowns (30). The only upside to their pass defense was turnovers: they netted 18 interceptions over 16 games, good enough to be tied for 8th.
Their strength was against the run. Tampa Bay was the top defense in the league stopping running backs, allowing only 1,320 yards all season (82.5 yards per game). While keeping running backs out of the end zone wasn’t their strong suit (13 rushing touchdowns allowed), keeping teams from establishing their ground game was good enough.
Draft and free agency additions
After handing their first round pick over to the Jets for CB Darrelle Revis, the Buccaneers continued to address their secondary by taking CB Johnathan Banks in the second round. Round four saw Tampa Bay taking Illinois DT Akeem Spence and Michigan State DE William Gholston.
Aside from the Revis trade, the Bucs’ biggest free agent acquisition was Goldson. Hopefully none of the 49ers receivers had any bad blood with the Hawk, because we know how hard he’s capable of hitting. Adding the corner and free safety rounds out one of the more fearsome secondaries in the league on paper. How they manage to work together is yet to be seen.
Projection: I’m going to actually buy this team’s moves and acknowledge how scary this defense might be. This will be a rough day for Kaepernick, who’ll have a lot of trouble getting things going, both on the ground and through the air. The 49ers defense will have to be ready to put the clamps on Josh Freeman and the Muscle Hampster (Doug Martin).
Week 16 vs. the Falcons
This rematch of the 2012 NFC Championship Game will also be a prime time game, as well as the 49ers’ last regular season contest at Candlestick Park. It should be a lot of fun, with the Stick packed to capacity and all of the fanfare that comes along with saying goodbye to one of the most storied buildings in NFL history. It also has the benefit of featuring two of the most explosive offenses in football, so this should be a must-watch game to even the most casual fan.
In the championship game, the 49ers’ offense sputtered early against the Falcons’ defense, allowing Atlanta to jump out to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter. Then they came to life, scoring 14 unanswered points. The defense never faltered afterwards, and two late touchdown runs from Frank Gore sealed the 49ers trip to the Super Bowl.
When the clock struck zero, Kaepernick had gone 16-for-21 for 223 yards and a score. Atlanta did a great job of bottling up the quarterback on the ground, however, as he rushed only twice for 21 yards.
Atlanta’s pass defense was below average — 21st in the league, allowing 3,878 yards total while their 7.4 yards per pass attempt was good enough to seat them at 20th. They were, however, tops in the league for touchdowns allowed (only 14) and 5th in the league for interceptions with 20. They weren’t great at rushing the quarterback, sacking opposing passers only 29 times in 16 games.
The Falcons were below average against the run as well. They allowed 1,971 yards (123.2 yards per game) and 16 touchdowns — all in the bottom-third of the league.
Draft and free agency additions
Atlanta obviously felt pass defense was their weak link and they addressed it in the draft. With their first and second round choices they took CBs Desmond Trufant out of Washington and Robert Alford out of LSU. Their biggest defensive free agent acquisition was former-Giants DE Osi Umenyiora — primarily to replace the outgoing John Abraham.
Projection: This defense can be gotten to, especially with a young secondary and minimal improvements. The 49ers’ homefield advantage should go a long way to making their final regular season game at Candlestick a victorious send off.
Week 17 @ the Cardinals
I previewed what Arizona has defensively here. The 49ers’ best Cardinal-killer is Michael Crabtree. Will he be fully recovered from his Achilles tear by Week 17? San Francisco will certainly hope so. Patrick Peterson has had all kinds of trouble stopping the 49ers wide receiver, and the extra toy for Kaepernick will go a long way towards heading into the postseason with a victory.