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Can't Miss Slants

2014 Season Preview: San Francisco 49ers

2013 Season Recap

  • Record: 12-4 (2nd NFCW, Wild Card Berth)
  • Head Coach:  Jim Harbaugh (3rd season)
  • Offensive Rankings: No. 11 Scoring, No. 24 Yards
  • Defensive Rankings: No. 3 Scoring Allowed, No. 5 Yards Allowed
  • Pro Bowlers: Eric Reid (S), Frank Gore (RB), Vernon Davis (TE), Joe Staley (OT), Mike Iupati (OG), Justin Smith (DT), Ahmad Brooks (OLB), Patrick Willis (ILB), NaVorro Bowman (ILB), Donte Witner (S)
  • Key Injuries w/Games Missed: Michael Crabtree (11), Chris Culliver (16)

2014 Season

49ers current roster via www.49ers.com

Offense

Despite a team which made it to the NFC Championship Game and narrowly lost to the eventual champion Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers left a little to be desired on offense in 2013 (see 2013 stats above). Moving onto this season, head coach Jim Harbaugh really must find a way to take quarterback Colin Kaepernick to the next level. Kaepernick is often heralded as one of the next great quarterbacks in the league, but his unsteady play through his first three seasons should cause for pause. His completion percentage in 2013 of 58.4 and his yards per game average of 199.8 rank him 31st and 32nd respectively among qualified NFL quarterbacks. Kaepernick has proven he can win in the league largely due to his ability to run (just ask the Green Bay Packers in two playoff meetings), but look for this season for Kaepernick with the help of his coaches to really push his development into a much better pocket passer.

Oh and for what it’s worth, Kaepernick also received a handsome – albeit team friendly – contract extension worth $61 million guaranteed in the off-season.

The receiving corp overall is a pretty average group led by All-Pro tight end Vernon Davis, who has proven to be Kaepernick’s most reliable target. Incumbent wide reciever Michael Crabtree is a solid receiver but is coming off a 2013 which he missed 11 games due to injury. To help Kaepernick in his development Crabtree must get back to his 2012 form where he caught 85 balls for 1105 yards and nine touchdowns. Other wide receivers rounding out the group include Anquan Boldin, Brandon Lloyd, and Steve Johnson (formerly of the Buffalo Bills).

Look for the 49ers to approach the running back position in platoon mode, with veteran Frank Gore still the solidified starter but also going into his 10th season. Back-ups Carlos Hyde (R) and LaMichael James should provide the 49ers some solid albeit unproven depth behind Gore going into the season.

Defense

Unfortunately for the 49ers, this is the group which could take a pretty large step backwards in 2014. The loss of linebacker NaVorro Bowman to injury for at least the first six games and linebacker Aldon Smith for the first nine games for suspension will open up some crucial roles on defense which will have to be manned by third year linebacker Michael Wilhoite and second-year linebacker Corey Lemonier respectively. The positive news is Pro Bowl linebackers Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks will still be with the group to help tutor these young and inexperienced replacements.

The defensive interior will still feature defensive tackle Justin Smith, who entering his 14th season is still a solid option but at some point one would think age would begin to catch up. Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey, who was recently rewarded with a two-year contract extension, will likely miss in the neighborhood of three-and-a-half months due to a torn bicep. Again depth will be key as fourth year player Ian Williams will be expected to cover the loss of Dorsey for at least half the season. Remaining defensive tackle Ray McDonald should provide additional stability along the line with Smith. (NOTE: As of the writing of this article, McDonald had been arrested for a domestic violence dispute. Details are unavailable, but with the new change in the NFL’s domestic violence policy, McDonald could face a minimum six-game suspension depending on the investigative results.)

With the aforementioned holes up front in the defense, the one unit which could prove to be a strength for the defense is the secondary. 2013 rookie Eric Reid made the Pro Bowl his first season manning the free safety position and his arrow is only pointing up. Veteran and long-time Indianapolis Colts starter Antoine Bethea will start at strong safety. One cornerback position will feature Chris Culliver, who will be returning from a 2013 season lost due to a knee injury. Rounding out the secondary will be remaining cornerback Tramaine Brock and rookie safety Jimmie Ward, who will provide depth at the safety position and should see time as the nickel corner.

Biggest Key for 2014

With little thought, this has to be the hopeful rise of Kaepernick as a more well-rounded quarterback. With question marks on the defense this team undoubtedly will go where Kaepernick takes them. While his talent in undeniable, defensive opponents will surely look to take away his scrambling ability and make Kaepernick beat them with his arm.

Predictions

Playing in an extremely tough division, and for the reasons I explained earlier I see this team taking a decent step backwards in 2014.  Seattle is still the class of the entire NFC, and the Arizona Cardinals under second-year coach Bruce Arians are already coming off a 10-6 season in 2013 and are the team I believe jumps the 49ers in the division.

9-7 (3rd NFCW).