COMMENTARY | Power rankings around the National Football League can be fickle by nature. Most experts look more at recent events when drawing a conclusion, rather than focusing on the entire body of work of a specific team.
Interestingly enough, this doesn't seem to be the case with the San Francisco 49ers, who lost their second consecutive one-score game last week against the New Orleans Saints. While there are certainly questions about a team that currently holds the sixth and final playoff spot on the NFC, it appears that many experts understand that the 49ers are extremely talented and capable of doing great things moving forward this season.
As has been the case in previous weeks, here is a look at where the 49ers stand in power rankings around the Internet world.
"Colin Kaepernick completed his only pass to Vernon Davis at least 15 yards downfield for a 17-yard touchdown. Kaepernick was 0-for-5 targeting everyone else deep."
It's extremely hard to complete passes down the field to wide receivers who are incapable of creating separation against defensive backs. At the risk of sounding like a Kaepernick apologist, San Francisco simply doesn't have the targets on the outside to stretch the field. This is a primary reason that the third-year quarterback has struggled throwing deep in 2013.
The bad news here is that this doesn't figure to change in the final six games of the season. While talented, Michael Crabtree doesn't necessarily stretch the field. Even when he does come back, the veteran receiver will act as another intermediate threat to go with Anquan Boldin. San Francisco's only hope of stretching the field remains tight end Vernon Davis, who is averaging 16.3 yards per reception in 2013. This could be a major downfall as the 49ers prepare for a playoff run.
Eliot Harrison, NFL.com: 8
"Yikes. The hardest loss to stomach in Week 11 happened to the team that resides in this spot. Feel so bad for Ahmad Brooks, who clearly didn't try to hit Drew Brees maliciously and was flagged on the closest of calls. Damn."
It goes without saying that the perceived bad call on Brooks may have cost San Francisco the game in New Orleans and a shot at a 7-3 record. No matter where you stand on the call, and I tend to lean towards it being incorrect, San Francisco should have never put itself in a position to let one call decide the outcome of a game.
It had ample missed opportunities throughout, including a horrible drop by Frank Gore in the fourth quarter. A 15-yard penalty on special teamer Kassim Osgood later in the game also put San Francisco's defense in an unenviable position as Drew Brees and Co. drove for the game-winning field goal.
Outside of some horrendous play calling and a couple bad mistakes, the 49ers played well enough to win in the Superdome. With that said, they can't continue to place the blame on the referees for the loss. Good teams close out opponents late in the game and this is something that Jim Harbaugh-led teams have done throughout his tenure in the past. Unfortunately, this hasn't been the case in the last two weeks. That's on the team, not the officials.
"They should have won Sunday at New Orleans, which is really impressive. A shaky call cost them, but it was still a heck of a performance. Too bad the loss cost them any shot at the West title."
This seems to be a continuing theme. The call on Brooks did impact the outcome of the game. That much really cannot be denied. Instead of beating a dead horse into the ground, let's take a look at what Schwab indicated above. San Francisco went into New Orleans and lost by three points after leading for a majority of the game. It played outstanding football on the defensive side of the ball and Kaepernick did enough to win on offense. Issues with the run game and scheme on offense really let San Francisco down throughout the game. That's the primary thing I want to focus on here.
In order for the 49ers to go up against the best teams in the NFL and come out on top, their in-game coaching needs to be better. There is absolutely no reason why LaMichael James should be touching the ball on third and two instead of Frank Gore. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman really dropped the ball with his scheme against the Saints. He really needs to pick up his game in the final six weeks of the season in order for San Francisco's offense to take the next step towards respectability.
"They won't get home field advantage throughout the playoffs but will be a tough out because of that defense and running game. Colin Kaepernick is having a typical second season."
A couple things here. San Francisco has to actually worry about making the playoffs before being considered "a tough out." It currently holds the sixth seed in the NFL due to tie breakers against the 6-4 Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears. While there is little doubt in my mind that the 49ers will make the playoffs for a third consecutive season, they have a whole host of issues to deal with in order to make that a certainty.
Second, Kaepernick is not in his second season. I fully understand that his rookie campaign of 2011 was nothing more than a wash, but this still needs to be pointed out. He is in his third season and has had three training camps under his belt. There is a dramatic difference there.
Speaking of Kaepernick, there is no reason to question his ability to lead the 49ers to the playoffs and even win a couple games in January. This was evidenced by a torrid playoff run last season. The young quarterback, however, needs to up his game in the final six outings of the season. It will surely help once Crabtree is able to return and Mario Manningham gains a bit more playing time after his injury late last season.
"You can blame Colin Kaepernick all you want, but I'm blaming his receivers. Even on the interception that resulted in a lucky touchback, Mario Manningham has to beat the DB to the spot and put his body between the defender and the ball."
Leave it to a former NFL head coach to make the most sense here. Kaepernick might be in the midst of a tough stretch, but his receivers are not helping him out at all. In the play that Billick points out, Manningham needed to make sure that he got between the ball and the defender. Instead, he seemed to pull up a bit and the result was almost a disastrous touchdown for the Saints.
Until Kaepernick receives the necessary help from his receivers, he is going to struggle a throwing the ball down the field and San Francisco's passing game will continue its spiral downward.
As you can see above, San Francisco is ranked No. 8 overall by every outlet that I referenced. These experts seem to believe that the 49ers played a good game against New Orleans last week. While that may be true, there is no such thing as a moral victory in the NFL, especially for the defending conference champions.
Of the teams ahead of San Francisco in these rankings, I have no question that it could beat each and every one at a neutral site if it plays up to the level of its talent. The issue here is that San Francisco has struggled in one aspect or another in nearly every single game this season.
If they don't put it all together throughout the duration of a game, the 49ers are going to find themselves stuck in the bottom 10 of these rankings for the remainder of the season. While that might be enough to get into the playoffs, it surely won't be enough to nab a second consecutive conference title.
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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