Today we’ll continue to look at the defenses Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers will face in 2013. We’ve already talked about Weeks 1-4 and the difficulties San Francisco may be in for with Seattle and St. Louis. Yesterday we went through the stretch leading up to the bye week and what playing in London could mean. The competition doesn’t get any easier for the third quarter of the season.
Week 9 – Bye week
The 49ers will get to fly back from London and hang out for a week. Okay, most 49ers will get to hang out. Kaepernick will probably work out like a madman. After all, “if your body never knows rest, it never craves it,” right Kap?
Week 10 vs. the Panthers
This battle of two highly athletic quarterbacks should get the “America’s Game of the Week” billing from Fox. The 49ers defense will be tested similarly to their contests with Seattle. Cam Newton is a quarterback capable of extending plays with his legs and completing long passes. If this turns into a shootout, will Kaepernick be able to keep up?
Carolina was middle of the pack in pass defense, allowing 3,568 yards (223 YPG) and 6.9 yards per attempt — 13th and 15th in the league respectively. The Panthers were not very opportunistic through the air, collecting only 11 interceptions through 16 games. Their pass rush, however, was in the upper-third of the league, with 39 sacks on the season.
Against the run, the Panthers were more of the same. 1,761 rushing yards allowed (110.1 YPG) was good enough to put them 14th overall, and the 11 rushing touchdowns allowed had them tied for 12th in the league. The Panthers were the epitome of an average defense in every single facet of the game.
Draft and free agency additions
Assuming the top end of the Panthers’ latest draft class starts immediately and thrives, they should see improvement. With their first-round pick, Carolina took Star Lotulelei — a highly sought after defensive tackle. With their second-round pick they selected another DT — Kawaan Short out of Purdue. In free agency they signed DT Colin Cole and CB D.J. Moore — two additions that won’t stop the presses but should induce improvement.
Projection: Kaepernick probably would’ve had an easier time breaking through the Panthers last season, but even with Lotulelei and Short, their defense doesn’t impress me. Take the over.
Week 11 @ the Saints
How did the 49ers end up going to the Superdome twice in as many years? Okay, three times … but I’d rather not talk about their second trip to New Orleans last season. Either way, San Francisco has seen a lot of the Saints in the last few years. First it was the NFC Divisional game in 2011, a memory most of us won’t soon forget. Then the 49ers visited the Saints last year and embarrassed a team missing several key pieces, including their head coach. Kaepernick went 16-for-25 for 231 yards, one touchdown and one pick. He added six carries for 27 yards and a score en route to a 31-21 scraping. Now they’ll head back to the bayou to take on the Saints again, this time with Sean Payton back and the team revitalized.
It’s almost unfair to judge the Saints based on their performance last season. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was exiled from the team during the offseason for his bounty scandal and the team was in complete disarray. They performed accordingly: 31st in passing yards allowed (4,681), 31st in passing yards per game (293), 32nd in yards per attempt (8.1) and 29th in passing touchdowns allowed (29) marked one of the worst defensive backfields in all of football. The only bright spot was in turnovers — the Saints were 14th in interceptions with 15. Things weren’t any better against the run, either. Statistically speaking, they were the worst defense in football stopping the rush, ranking dead last in both yards allowed (2,361) and yards per attempt (5.2). They were ahead of only Buffalo in rushing touchdowns allowed with 18.
Draft and free agency additions
While the most significant addition was bringing in Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator and getting Payton back, they still did a little work to improve their defense over the offseason. The most significant rookie names were FS Kenny Vaccaro at 15th overall and DT Jonathan Jenkins in the third round. Vaccaro will probably be thrown into the fire immediately, but if his fate is anything like what I predicted for Eric Reid, he should be fine.
The draft will have to be enough, because the Saints did nothing in free agency to improve their defense. Still, they should see some solid improvement from adding Ryan to the mix.
Projection: I don’t think it will be enough. Kaepernick torched them last year and he’ll do it again. The question is whether the 49ers’ defense can hold back Brees and company. If they can, this should be another win.
Week 12 @ the Redskins
Another week, another match up of two dynamo quarterbacks. This time, it’s Kaepernick vs. Washington’s franchise-savior, Robert Griffin III. Just like the 49ers’ games against the Seahawks and Panthers, San Francisco’s defense will have to try and stop a duel threat quarterback and a stout rushing attack head-manned by Alfred Morris. They won’t be alone, though — Washington will have their hands full with Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James.
The Redskin’s pass defense was porous. Over 16 games, they allowed over 4,500 yards through the air and a yards per attempt average of 7.4. While they gave up 31 passing touchdowns (29th in the league), they were opportunistic, picking off opposing quarterbacks 21 times. They c0llected 32 sacks as well.
Washington was much better against the run, allowing a fifth-best 1,532 yards on the ground (95.8 YPG) while holding their opponents to only 11 rushing touchdowns all season. It will be tough sledding for the 49ers rushing attack, so Kaepernick will need to find a way to get it done through the air.
Draft and free agency additions
Passing on the ‘Skins will be easier said than done. They took CB David Amerson in the second round and highly touted Fresno State S Phillip Thomas in the fourth. DE Brandon Jenkins and fantastically-named S Bacarri Rambo round out the back end of a strong draft for a team lacking a first-round pick. After being serious buyers in the 2012 offseason, Washington did very little in free agency this spring. They will count on their incoming draft class to strength a defensive backfield seen as the only weak spot on a pretty strong team.
Projection: Running the ball probably won’t happen for Kaepernick in Week 12. He’ll have to beat the Redskins by testing a considerably young secondary with his arm.
Week 13 vs. the Rams