Without question, the NFC conference has distinguished itself as a dominant favorite to usher in this year Super Bowl Champion. Between the defensively stout Seattle Seahawks and the offensively scrappy Green Bay Packers, the NFC has an abundance of surging teams that could easily make a run at a world championship. However, amidst all of the hype surrounding the typical favorites and intriguing newcomers, one team has quietly put itself in position to finish what it started last year. Although the San Francisco 49ers may not be most prolifically gifted team in terms of their passing attack, their smash mouth rushing game and formidable defense has allowed this courageous franchise to sneak into the playoffs. While the road to the Super Bowl may be more arduous than last years inspirational attempt, the 49ers are more than capable of overcoming the immense adversity that stands in their way.
Last year, quarterback Colin Kaepernick revolutionized the perceptions of how critics and well-versed analyst viewed the read option and passers who were just as effective rushers as they were at throwing the ball. Although rookie quarterbacks RGIII and Russell Wilson utilized their swiftness just as effectively in their own right, Kaepernick had an explosive speed that was simply unprecedented. While Kaepernick may the lack the accuracy of Russell Wilson (he as completed only 58.4% of his passes this season), his running statistics have been respectable to say the least. Not only as Kaepernick rushed for more yardage this season than he did last year (he has rushed for 524 yards this season, he only ran for 415 yards during the 2012 season), his ball security skills have shown immense improvement as he only fumbled the football three times this year (he fumbled seven times during the 2012 season). However, while Kaepernick has still enjoyed exceptional success as a dual threat passer overall, his passing attack as a whole as been fairly underwhelming this season. His completion percentage has dropped to a mediocre low, and his passing yardage per game is akin to that of an unexceptional quarterback (Kaepernick threw for only 186.2 passing yards per game this season, 30th in the NFL).
Yet, even with Kaepernick’s shortcomings, the 49ers have a formidable and supremely powerful running back that more than makes up for the 49ers meek passing attack. Despite being in the league for nine years, Frank Gore has still been a crucial and consistently successful part of the 49ers physical offense which is predicated on the old school method of relying on their backs to garner them large chunks of yardage. This year, Gore has continued to excel as a top running back because of his immense strength and explosive quickness when he finds an open crease in the defensive front. Not only has Gore rushed for nine touchdowns this season (second only to his season high of 10 touchdowns in 2009), he has once again rushed over 1,000 yards this season (Gore has successfully rushed for over 1,000 yards in seven out of his nine seasons in the league). If the 49ers can continue to have the same prolific success with their running game in the post season as they did during the regular season (the 49ers rushed for 137.6 yards per game during the regular season, 3rd in the NFL), they’ll be able to gouge opposing defenses without much resistance.
Of course, like several of the NFC playoff contenders this season, the 49ers have a well-balanced defense that has proven to be a staple attribute of this relentless franchise. While many teams have found success in only one aspect of their defense, the 49ers have a secondary that is just as physical and oppressive as their hefty defensive line. Although distinguished defensive leader Patrick Willis has only been adequate in terms of his statistical contributions this year, several defensive standouts have displayed their tenacious capabilities. This year, linebacker NaVorro Bowman exploded as a defensive star as he forced four fumbles, garnered two fumbles and had two picks for 93 yards (all of these accolades were career highs). On top of that, the 49ers have sensational defensive tackles in Justin Smith (6.5 sacks and one forced fumble this year) and Ray McDonald (he garnered 3.5 sacks this season). With the exception of the Seattle Seahawks, no other team has displayed this type of dominant defensive cohesion that is capable of not only creating havoc in terms of stopping critical scoring plays, they can also just easily run back a pick six.
When all is said and done, the 49ers are team that will garner success if their consistent defense and dominant running game can continue to shine in the big moments. Although Kaepernick has regressed to a certain extent, he has still been able to scramble effectively while making big plays as a secondary rusher. If the 49ers can become the road warriors of their conference, they could potentially find themselves back in position to obtain some much needed redemption after they came close to victory in last year’s intense and engaging Super Bowl extravaganza.