By Gabe Schapiro
For the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era the San Francisco 49ers (1-2) are below .500, and will be looking to right the ship in a short week this Thursday against the St. Louis Rams (1-2) at the Edward Jones Dome.
Last week the 49ers suffered their second consecutive loss, another first since Harbaugh came aboard. They weren’t just beaten, they were beaten decisively, 27-7 against the Indianapolis Colts. What was expected to be a slightly easier task coming off a shellacking at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks turned into another ugly showing. In the first quarter running back Kendall Hunter punched in a 13-yard touchdown run to tie the game at seven. That would be all that San Francisco could muster, however, as the Colts would pile on 20 more unanswered points.
The 49ers enter week four with many more questions than answers. Ever since an electric opening win, they have struggled mightily, getting out-scored 57-10.
Their offense seems to be suffering from a lack of weapons more than most expected, with top wideouts Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham sidelined, and an inexperienced group playing behind Anquan Boldin on the depth chart. Tight end Vernon Davis has been limited at times thanks to a hamstring injury. Old reliable, Frank Gore, finally seemed to have something going against the Colts before inexplicably being removed from the game plan, finishing the game with just 11 carries. Finally, Colin Kaepernick’s frustration seems to be growing as he attempts to navigate his lack of options. Despite the blazing start to his career, he also may just simply not be quite as polished as everyone had hoped yet, as defenses now have much more film of him to work with and prepare.
Also concerning are the 49ers problems on the defensive side of the ball, which was expected to be their calling card as it has been over the past couple of seasons. They aren’t getting as much pressure on opposing QBs, and aren’t forcing as many turnovers as they have been famous for. To make matters worse, the defensive unit has been hit with injury and controversy. Aldon Smith’s much publicized DUI has led to him being placed on the reserve/NFI list, and it is unknown how long it will be until he is able to return to the field. In last weeks contest star linebacker Patrick Willis injured his groin, and while he is reportedly hopeful that he will be able to play Thursday, it doesn’t sound as if it is likely.
In the Rams San Francisco will be facing a team that is coming off of a similarly rough loss, 31-7, at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys. It is a young and improving team, however, that does have some talent. The team is led by fourth-year starter Sam Bradford, who despite last weeks loss is having a strong season. His primary weapons are Chris Givens, rookie Tavon Austin, Austin Pettis, and Jared Cook. Through three games they have the 18th ranked offense, and the 26th ranked defense.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the 49ers need to tweak, but they need to make adjustments quickly. Unfortunately for them, being featured on Thursday night means they have a short week to do it. Another loss to an intra-division opponent would put them, at best, alone in third place. It’s a long season, and they do have time to turn things around, but for a team that entered the year with such high expectations, the trends are certainly concerning.