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NFL Power Rankings Week 11: San Francisco 49ers Take a Tumble

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COMMENTARY | The San Francisco 49ers dropped a close game to the Carolina Panthers last Sunday, which led to a lot of doom and gloom from local media and fans of the franchise. Interestingly enough, the national media seems to be a bit more grounded about their lackluster performance in the 10-9 loss.

As you will see below, every major media outlet that I have credited in similar articles in the past still has the defending conference champions in the top 10 of their power rankings. The interesting aspect here is what they have to say about San Francisco after it netted less than 50 total passing yards against Carolina and fell 2.5 games behind the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.

As always, this article will focus primarily on what these experts have to say and my response to their analysis.

ESPN: 8

San Francisco dropped three spots in ESPN's rankings this week. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering two of the teams that jumped them, the New Orleans Saints and Carolina, put up impressive Week 10 wins, one of them against the 49ers. Much like what we have seen around the NFL world since the 10-9 loss, most of their focus was on Colin Kaepernick.

"Colin Kaepernick was 0-for-6 on throws deeper than 10 yards down field, including a game-ending interception. It was Kaepernick's first career game not completing a deep pass with multiple attempts."

Let's put that into perspective quickly, as it seems ESPN was missing a vital aspect here. Kaepernick was sacked a total of six times and harassed countless more times throughout the game. It's nearly impossible to have success getting the ball down the field when you don't have time to throw it. In addition, San Francisco's group of pass catchers, especially after Vernon Davis went out in the second quarter, left a lot to be desired. The one interception Kaepernick did throw, which ESPN made a point of mentioning, was a desperation heave late in the fourth quarter where Anquan Boldin and Kyle Williams literally ran into one another down the field. That's not on the young quarterback.

As it is, both Kaepernick and San Francisco's offensive line need to get it together in short order if they're going to stand a chance against New Orleans this upcoming week. If not, the 49ers could see their stranglehold on a playoff spot slip away.

Eliot Harrison, NFL.com: 8

Much like ESPN, this NFL.com scribe focuses a tad too much on San Francisco's signal caller and nearly places the entire blame for the loss on him.

"Stat of the day: The 49ers totaled 46 net passing yards Sunday. That's pretty brutal. Colin Kaepernick was exposed in every way, both by the Panthers' pass rush and as a quarterback who can't make his receivers look better than they really are. The loss of Vernon Davis to a concussion really hurt. If Davis can't go this week in New Orleans, the 49ers very well could be staring a losing streak in the face."

There are very few quarterbacks in the NFL that would have success with the talent Kaepernick had to throw to on Sunday. That list likely includes only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Objectivity doesn't only force us to place some of the blame on Kaepernick, it enables us to look at the situation in a more in-depth manner.

Kyle Williams was on the field for 17 pass routes just two days before the 49ers sent him packing. Mario Manningham was playing in his first game in nearly a calendar year and was Kaepernick's No. 2 target once Davis went down. The 49ers offensive line also allowed six sacks in this one. While there is little doubt that Kaepernick struggled on Sunday, there is also little doubt that others didn't do their jobs.

Frank Schwab, Yahoo: 8

Like ESPN before, Schwab drops the 49ers out of the top five after their one-point loss to Cam Newton and Co. His reasoning for doing so was pretty clear cut.

"Seems like a big drop for a one-point home loss, but No. 6 and 7 on the list already won at San Francisco this year."

Look at the seven teams Schwab has ranked ahead of San Francisco. Is it capable of defeating any of them the way it played last Sunday? If you utilize the philosophy of going by recent performances when coming to a conclusion on where to rank individual teams, Schwab doesn't need to explain himself here.

Pat Kirwan, CBS Sports: 9

Kirwan has the 49ers one spot lower than the outlets we saw above. The only reason for this is due to the fact that he has the Detroit Lions at No. 6 overall. All things equal and looking at their entire body of work this season, there is no reason why the Lions should be ranked ahead of the 49ers. As it is, Kirwan explains his rankings by focusing on Kaepernick's perceived inability to make a difference in the passing game.

"The Niners have a good defense and will be a playoff team, but their offense is a question mark, especially if Kaepernick has to win with the passing game. He was sacked six times in 28 pass plays."

The other thing to look at here is that Kirwan unequivocally states that the 49ers are going to be a playoff team. That's not anywhere near a certainty at this point with the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals and the two top teams in the NFC East breathing down their neck. Assuming San Francisco does earn a postseason spot, it goes without saying that the passing game will have to improve a great deal. It will also help when Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham are all on the field at the same time. We can't place all the blame on Kaepernick here.

Brian Billick, Fox Sports: 6

Billick has consistently had the 49ers rated higher than other experts and that doesn't change here. At No. 6 overall, the former NFL head coach puts San Francisco one spot ahead of its Week 11 matchup, New Orleans. Billick explains his reasoning in a matter of fact manner.

"The NFL's best rushing offense was held to just 105 yards on the ground and just 151 total yards. That won't win very many games."

When all is said and done, winning battles in the trenches will eventually lead to consistent victories on Sundays. We saw this during San Francisco's five-game winning streak. Despite a hiccup against Carolina this past week, there is little doubt that the 49ers win in the trenches on a consistent basis. If they are able to improve what has been a dreadful passing game, everything should be okay in Santa Clara. If not, there will be a lot of disappointed 49ers fans come January. Either way, the matchup this Sunday is going to be telling.


Vincent Frank has been covering the National Football League for three years. He started out writing for Bleacher Report and is currently the head editor at eDraft and a columnist at Pro Football Focus. Vincent co-hosts a weekly radio show called "Football Debate Central" with former NFL player Ryan Riddle and has seen his work featured on CNN, BR and Los Angeles Times, among many other outlets.


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