What we learned about the 49ers: The good and the not-so-good

SAN FRANCISCO – We learned a few things about the 49ers today – some good and some not-so-good. Here are those things.

The Good

  • The 49ers earned the No.2 seed and a first-round Bye with the win and the Packers’ three-point loss to the Vikings. The Packers and Vikings play again next weekend. If the Packers win, they play the 49ers at Candlestick in two weeks, on Saturday, January 12th at 5:00 p.m.. If the Vikings win, the 49ers get the winner of the game between the Seahawks and the No.4 seed (either the Redskins or the Cowboys).
  • Kaepernick played his best game one game before the playoffs. He did this without the help of a run game or a play-action pass game. He dropped back and winged it. He’s going to have to do that in the upcoming playoffs.
  • Michael Crabtree had the best game of his career and established himself as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. He has great hands and he might be the best wide receiver in the league at running after the catch. Playoff defenses have no choice but to focus their game plan on Crabtree. This should open up Vernon Davis, theoretically.
  • Tarell Brown had another great game and established himself as a top-10 cornerback in the league. This is important, because Carlos Rogers and Chris Culliver have been struggling recently. The 49ers need at least one lockdown corner.

The Not-So-Good

  • The 49ers had another slow start. They did this against the Vikings, the Jets, the Giants, the Seahawks twice and the Rams twice. So, they tend to come out flat at the beginning of every other game, and they tend to play flat after two-straight wins. These are football sins the 49ers didn’t commit last season. Harbaugh had them more focused than any team in the NFL. This season, it seems like the Harbaugh Effect is losing its effectiveness.
  • The running game is no longer the best in the league. Actually, it’s been ordinary the second half of the season. Frank Gore has lost a step and LaMichael James, who is fast and elusive, cannot break a tackle. The first half of the season, Gore and Kendall Hunter were arguably the most valuable skill players on the 49ers’ offense. Now, the best skill players are Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree. The 49ers offensive identity and offensive strengths continue to change, and that’s unsettling two weeks before a playoff game.
  • The defense continues to struggle without Justin Smith. In the first half before the Cardinals lost their will, running back William Powell gashed the Niners repeatedly. Also, the 49ers got almost zero pressure on Brian Hoyer. The Cardinals offense is one of the worst in the league. They couldn’t make the 49ers’ defense pay for its weaknesses.
  • David Akers is no longer an NFL kicker. He’s seemingly lost all confidence. You can’t trust him to make anything longer than 30 yards. As a result, the 49ers will have to go for all fourth downs in the opponent’s territory in the playoffs. It’s hard to win a Super Bowl without a kicker. The 49ers will attempt to do just that.
  • Greg Roman and John Morton still cannot figure out how to get the ball to Vernon Davis. They’re going to need him in the playoffs, and right now they don’t have him.
  • With no one around him, A.J. Jenkins dropped an easy pass. The 49ers did not establish him in the regular season (zero catches) and cannot count on him in the playoffs. That’s not good, because they need him. They only have two viable wide receivers on the roster – Crabtree and Moss.

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