1. I heard someone say recently that Colin Kaepernick is like the NFL's Benjamin Button in that he was great early in his career and just seems to be regressing. That he's apparently even more of a curious case of late. Would you say that's fair? What is going on with him?
My biggest issue with Colin Kaepernick is the lack of any kind of consistency. Plenty have said he is regressing, but I would argue he is improving in various areas, but can't find any kind of consistency in it. Coming into the season, two of the biggest criticisms coming off last season were the fact that he did not seem to progress through his reads, and he did not step up into the pocket to avoid pressure. At times this season, Kap has done a great job of both of these things. The problem is that there are significant stretches where it does not happen enough. It's wildly frustrating because we see how good he can be for brief stretches, and much like a roller coaster it makes you come back for more.
Some people have started to say, well, we need to accept him as a guy who will put up great plays, but will have significant fails as well. Some have gone so far as to make the comparison with a guy like Jay Cutler. He can do huge things, but he lacks consistency on a significant level. I am still inclined to wait and see because 1) I'm a gigantic homer, and 2) he's still early enough in his career that he could turn it around. he may never figure out that kind of consistency, but it's hard not to hope for it.
2. The 49ers defense has been a bit of an enigma this season with suspensions and injuries. What is the current status of the players who are replacing those who are missing or those who have returned to the lineup?
The 49ers defense has featured numerous injuries, and yet it still has become one of the best defenses in the league. And even with all the injuries, this group could be the best defense of the Jim Harbaugh era. The run defense has taken a step back without Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, but it is still solid, and it has been supplemented by an improved secondary. Since Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio came to town in 2011, the secondary was always the most inconsistent part of the defense. This season, with significant turnover, the secondary has emerged in a solid way.
The defense has seen the following injury replacements:
1. NT Glenn Dorsey replaced by Ian Williams, who was then replaced by Quinton Dial - Dial was a fifth round pick in 2013 who was seeing little playing time before Williams got hurt. He is taller than normal nose tackles (6'5), but he is doing solid work getting down and not getting out-leveraged.
2. LB NaVorro Bowman replaced by Michael Wilhoite - Wilhoite is not spectacular, struggling in coverage. But he is a very capable replacement for Bowman who could probably start on a good number of teams.
3. LB Patrick Willis replaced by Chris Borland - Borland earned Defensive Rookie of the Month for November after putting up 70 tackles and two interceptions. He will struggle at times against great offenses, but overall he is showing some great signs. He slipped due to short arms and general size issues, but that has not been a problem.
4. CB Tramaine Brock replaced by Perrish Cox - The 49ers released Cox midway through last season as he struggled to do much as a nickel/dime guy. However, when Brock got hurt in training camp, Cox showed what he could do as an outside cornerback. Brock started the season, but suffered turf toe in Week 1. Cox took over and has been very solid. Brock suffered a hamstring injury a few weeks back, and Cox is not going anywhere as the starter.
5. Nickel back Jimmie Ward replaced by Dontae Johnson - The 49ers drafted Ward to be their nickel back this season, and potentially move to safety down the road. Ward struggled early but was coming along when he suffered a season-ending foot injury. Johnson was a fourth round pick this year, but has the size and speed to be a starter in this league. He is handling slot work right now and doing a very solid job
The team also entered the season replacing Aldon Smith (9-game suspension) with a combination of Dan Skuta and Aaron Lynch, and replaced veteran safety Donte Whitner with veteran safety Antoine Bethea. Lynch has emerged as a long-term pass rush option, and Bethea has played significantly better than Whitner. Just about everything Vic Fangio has touched in terms of replacements has turned to gold.
Most importantly lately has been the return of Aldon Smith. In his first game back against the New York Giants, Smith found himself double- and triple-teamed fairly quickly. His presence has opened the door for the rest of the 49ers pass rush, which previously had struggled. If the 49er make the playoffs, Aldon Smith's return will be a key factor.
3. It seems a bit crazy to think that there is such turmoil with a franchise that has had such success recently. What with the talk of Jim Harbaugh possibly being fired or traded and Jed York apologizing to fans and Trent Baalke's daughter campaigning to fire Greg Roman. How did it get to this point and where do you see it leading?
It really just seems like the traditional clash of egos. There have been numerous reports in the past about Jim Harbaugh being a tough personality to work with. I don't doubt that, particularly in light of this excellent ESPN feature. But I also can't believe it is only Harbaugh's fault. When a group of adults are not getting along in the work place, I am inclined to blame all of them to some degree. When a team is winning like the 49ers have won the last few years, you figure out ways to get along, or at least put up with each other. It is entirely possible a Jim Harbaugh personality can only last so long in a given place, but it is still frustrating that both sides can't figure this out.
I honestly have no idea what will happen after this season. If the 49ers, I can't even say with certainty that Harbaugh would be back in 2015, and I think that says plenty about the situation. There is a lot of unknown because we are talking about anonymous sources. If the 49ers do not make the playoffs, we should see some kind of resolution fairly soon after, whether that be a trade, firing, or both sides agreeing to have him coach out his contract (the least likely option in my opinion). If the 49ers somehow make the playoffs, I have no idea what happens at that point.
4. What area do you see the 49ers having the biggest mismatch over the Raiders?
I have to think it will be Aaron Lynch and Ray McDonald coming at the right side of the Raiders offensive line. Aldon Smith and Justin Smith will come at the left side of the Raiders offensive line, and they are the more high profile parts of the 49ers pass rush. However, McDonald leads the team in quarterback hurries, and Lynch has been a wrecking ball. The return of Aldon Smith only makes his job easier, and that puts him in a particular strong position against the Raiders. The 49ers need to get their pass rush going to keep Carr uncomfortable and making quick decisions he does not otherwise want to make. Lynch and McDonald will be key.
5. To have a chance in this game, the Raiders will need to exploit a weakness on the 49ers. What area should they attack to have the best chance of success?
The 49ers offensive line has been an inconsistent mess this season. Left tackle Joe Staley, and right guard Alex Boone have been the most consistent the last few weeks, but there will be room to come at the 49ers, particularly in the pass rush. Right tackle Anthony Davis is still dealing with concussion symptoms, which likely means Jonathan Martin will get another start in his place. Martin has had his moments as a solid replacement, but he is still the weakest link on this line. Additionally, center Marcus Martin is a rookie learning his way. He has shown some positive signs of growth, but he has had his low points, as is the case with any rookie. Combine that with Mike Iupati struggling in pass protection, and I imagine the Raiders will game plan to come up the middle at those two.
I will post my answers to his questions when they go up on Niners Nation.
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