Who are the San Francisco 49ers?
In the annals of the San Francisco 49ers rich history the 2012 season should perhaps become known as the “Trial of the Smiths”. To a certain degree both the offense and the defense have had to redefine themselves due to the absence of one Smith or another. Prior to Alex Smith’s replacement by Colin Kaepernick the offense knew who it was and exactly what it needed to do. The same can easily be said for the defense before Justin Smith’s injury. Nobody from the outside looking in is really sure who this team is anymore or how they will fare in the playoffs. Both sides of the ball have struggled in recent weeks, but looking closely at their regular season closer against the Cards we may have witnessed a watershed moment. They struggled hard out of the gate. You could feel the hearts of their home crowd sinking fast that whole first quarter. All their super bowl dreams were looking like a ridiculous fantasy as Arizona shut down the offense and moved the ball on a wounded D.
It all seemed to change in that second quarter. They got out of their heads and got back to playing football. Kaepernick and Crabtree were completing the kind of fast, practically indefensible pass plays that are the foundation of every great offense. If they can keep it up, can they match the consistency of Rodgers and Nelson, or Brady and Welker? If so they will be as legitimate a threat on offense as any team in the league. That level of chemistry opens up the whole pass game when you have additional threats like Vernon Davis and Randy Moss. And when you already have a Frank Gore nobody really does have it better than you. The only thing the offense may lack is identity. We’ll see in a couple Sunday’s if they’ve really found it.
Then of course, there is the defense. This is the biggest question mark right now on this team. Justin Smith’s injury was like a decapitation. The headless D has stumbled around for the last two and half games like an angry monster. Even the last ranked offense of Arizona came out of the gate making them look bad. Ouch. While they got it together enough to hold Arizona to only 13 points, there are still major concerns. The optimist can look at that last game as a sign that the defense got it figured out, but the pessimist will undoubtedly be looking at that conspicuous number 32 in front of Arizona’s offensive ranking. Smith will be back for the playoffs, but his injured arm will be undoubtedly be a target. Can he make a run all the way to the Super Bowl? Let’s hope so, but either way he won’t be at full power and the rest of the defense will have to adjust. There’s more than enough talent to go around and if the optimist is right then last weeks game was a sign that this defensive monster still has plenty of teeth.
Whoever this team is we will know more soon enough. Their home field advantage will not be the juggernaut it was last year against New Orleans. The pain of losing at home to the Giants is fresher than the thrill of victory. There is fear. But if they have regained their identity, if they know and trust each other, then it will be the kind of fear that strengthens instead of the kind that weakens. Suffice it say that if this team comes out stronger they will be even harder to beat than they were before the “Trial of the Smiths.”
And if that turns out to be the case, they will be Super Bowl bound.
Taduz Lemke is an NFL writer for TPF and can be contacted at TLemke@ThePenaltyFlagBlog.com.