By Gabe Schapiro
This Sunday at 5:40pm the San Francisco 49ers (6-4) face off against the Washington Redskins (3-7), at FedExField. The 49ers are tied with the Arizona Cardinals for second in the NFC West, three games back of the first place Seattle Seahawks. The Redskins are in last place in the NFC East, one game back of the third place New York Giants.
Last weekend San Francisco lost to the tough New Orleans Saints, 23-20. It was a close game throughout, and saw five lead changes. The 49ers were up 20-14 with eight minutes left to play. Saints kicker Garrett Hartley rattled off three consecutive field goals, the last coming with no time left on the clock, to complete the come-from-behind win for New Orleans.
Despite leading for stretches of the game, San Francisco was largely outplayed. Colin Kaepernick struggled again, completing just over 50% of his passes, 17-of-31 attempts. He threw for 127 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis had touchdown catches. Due in part to focusing more on the pass, Frank Gore never really got much going. He rushed for 48 yards, half of which came on a single run, on 13 carries. As a team they totaled just 196 yards. It was their defense that kept them in the game, forcing three turnovers (two forced fumbles, one interception).
After winning five straight, they have now lost two in a row. The task gets a little easier this week against Washington, however, as they look to get back to their winning ways. The Redskins came into the year full of optimism and promise, but haven’t lived up to that billing. Their offense has some electric weapons but they have been prone to turnovers. Their defense has been one of the worst in the league.
They are led by sophomore star Robert Griffin III. After undergoing major knee surgery in the offseason and not playing in the preseason, it looks as if he is still getting back into the swing of things. Despite struggling at times, he still has a strong arm and the ability to be a playmaker with his legs as well. His favorite weapons are wideout Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed. They also feature another star sophomore, running back Alfred Morris, who is having another fine season. They have the best rushing attack in football, averaging over 155 yards on the ground per game. As a whole, they rank 13th in points scored.
Their defense is far and away their biggest Achilles heel. They are ranked 30th in the league, giving up over 30 points per game. They are slightly better against the run, but couldn’t be considered good either.
After falling to two tough opponents, San Francisco could be set up nicely for a bounce back this week. Washington’s offense is worth being a little concerned about, but the 49ers defense should be able to get good pressure on RGIII, and force some mistakes. They kept Drew Brees from dominating last week, they should certainly be able to do the same against a lesser opponent.
On the offensive side, San Francisco should have a much easier time moving the ball downfield, both on the ground and through the air. Look for them to get back to their roots and lean much more heavily on Frank Gore. Kaepernick throwing the ball 31 times isn’t a winning formula. With that said, he should also have an easier time this week. As long as he stays away from turnovers, they should be fine.
Mario Manningham, now entering his third week back in action, has had a limited impact so far. He has recorded just four receptions for 38 yards. Michael Crabtree should have a much larger impact once he returns, and that appears to be imminent. There has been no official word yet, but he has been participating and practices, and should make his 2013 debut either this week or next.