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Monday Morning Quarterback: 5 Improvements the 49ers Must Make for Next Season
Jeremy Dorn | Photo: Ged Carroll via Flickr | February 4, 2013
A bad play call here, a missed opportunity there, and the football gods snatched the Super Bowl away from the 49ers. But, this team is built to win for a long time. So where should the tweaking start in the off-season?
Last night's Super Bowl game was a tough loss to swallow, as the 49ers took their fans on a roller coaster ride—down 22 after the second half kickoff—and then within two points at the (very) bitter end. While it's easy to rag on cornerback Chris Culliver for playing the worst game of his pro career, or Colin Kaepernick for throwing an interception, or LaMichael James for fumbling away a great offensive drive—those guys still are the future of the team. Here are five things that can be fixed and improved for the coming season:
1. Kaepernick's decision-making
There is no more debate over the 49ers' long-term starting QB. Alex Smith will either be released or traded in the coming weeks, and Kaepernick will be in place as the starter, learning the ropes for a full off-season. Keep in mind that Kaepernick was only starting his 10th NFL game on Sunday, and made a few mistakes that showed it. First and foremost, the coaching staff needs to work on his overall clock-management and decision-making. Being forced to take a timeout in the third quarter cost the 49ers about 40 seconds of life support at the end of the game. And on the final goal-to-go series, Kaepernick made the unwise decision to throw three straight passes to a well-covered Michael Crabtree instead of taking the run. These decision points will get better with a full summer of seasoning for the young QB.
2. Consistency in the pass rush
Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, and Ahmad Brooks led a disruptive group of pass rushers this season, and made the 49ers' front four one of the most feared in the league. But once Justin Smith went down with an arm injury, the pass rush hit a wall. Whether it was conditioning issues or just good competition, even Aldon Smith was having trouble getting to the opposing quarterback throughout the playoffs. It came back to bite them in the Super Bowl, as Ravens QB and eventual game MVP Joe Flacco was able to take his time in the pocket and connect on a few deep passes that killed the 49ers. If the defense wants to take a positive step next year, they need to work new moves and blitz packages into that scheme. Because believe it or not, Justin Smith won't be there to take up a double-team forever.
3. David Akers
Even though the veteran lefty made all three of his field goal attempts in the Super Bowl, he was extremely unreliable down the stretch. We might have been able to claim redemption had the Niners won—but as it stands, Akers is a goner. The 49ers might spend a draft pick on a new kicker, or just look to the free agent or trade markets to acquire someone they can count on. Regardless of the new name on the roster, the biggest aspect of the impending move will be to put the 49ers' fan base at ease. Overall, the special teams was stellar for the 49ers this season (which sounds utterly ridiculous after the 108-yard kickoff return they allowed on Sunday), but a good kicker can make or break a championship team. It's time for the Niners to upgrade.
4. More aggressive play calling
Coach Jim Harbaugh and Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman have a nifty playbook, and a ton of explosive playmakers on the field. So there is no excuse for calling plays like the series we saw on 1st-and-goal from the five yard line in the waning minutes of the Super Bowl. To be fair, the players didn't execute the poor plan well and Kaepernick took the option to pass instead of run. But with the conservative out-pattern plays to Crabtree and the lack of a rushing attempt with Frank Gore (who had just rumbled for 33 yards to get them in position to score), fans will be questioning those decisions all off season.
5. Deepen the secondary
It seems the only times the 49ers were beat this season were when an opposing QB was able to hit his receivers deep, or open across the middle. We know the front seven of the defense is stout, but questions linger in the secondary. Culliver and Tarell Brown are both exceptional talents, but are still very young. Carlos Rogers is a great veteran presence, but is the only one of the trio (also including Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner) who can consistently cover receivers. Demanding that Culliver and Brown grow up fast and that Goldson and Whitner take after Rogers in the secondary should be of primary importance for the 49ers' coaching staff.
Let us know what you think by following and tweeting @sanfranmag—what do the 49ers need to work on this off season to be potentially victorious in next year's Super Bowl?