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NFL Team Report - San Francisco 49ers - INSIDE SLANT
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is not the same player he was a year ago.
Whether that's a product of improved defense, the lack of receiving options, some sort of regression on Kaepernick's part or a combination of the lot is really up to the coaching staff to decipher, but his production isn't what it was a year ago. That's what the eye test says, that's what the stats say and it's becoming an issue amongst the 49ers fan base.
Kaepernick ranks No. 32 in the NFL passing yards per game (180), he's completing just 56.2 percent of his passes and has thrown for over 200 yards just once since throwing for 412 yards against the Packers in the season opener.
Coach Jim Harbaugh's response to those questioning Kaepernick's inability to live up to the standard he set a year ago?
"I think he's doing a heck of a job," Harbaugh said. "I guess I would be puzzled why people would think that."
Puzzled why people would think that?
It's very simple, and a combination of several factors that should be obvious when all taken into account.
The 49ers defense allows just 17.8 points per game and ranks No. 7 in the NFL in yards allowed per game. It's an elite unit which can be as good as any in the league.
Just four teams, including this week's opponent, Washington, average more yards on the ground than the 49ers. As a running team, San Francisco has no issues.
Good defense, good running team, above average overall team. If this team had any semblance of a passing game, it wouldn't be 6-4 and hoping to remain in the playoff picture. The inability to throw about Carolina and New Orleans cost San Francisco games it should have won.
So instead of being 8-2 and eyeing a rematch with Seattle for NFC West supremacy, the 49ers are stuck searching for answers.
"I think what's most important is what we see," Harbaugh said.
And what they see is two games that went down to the line that they still could have won. They see wide receivers beginning to help or expected to help soon. Mario Manningham is getting back into form, there is potential for Michael Crabtree to return and more is expected out of Jon Baldwin.
"I know a penalty there and a catch there and we're having a different discussion today. Like 'what a great game we played,' you know?" fullback Bruce Miller said. "It's a tough game a tough environment down in their stadium (in New Orleans). I thought we played good football. One play here, one play there. And that's the NFL there is a fine line of winning and losing."
SERIES HISTORY: 26th regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series, 15-9-1. San Francisco and Washington have been playing since 1952, have met four times in the playoffs and played four times in the last 10 years. The 49ers have won the last two meetings (2008, 2011), with Washington's last win coming at home in 2006.
NFL Team Report - San Francisco 49ers - NOTES, QUOTES
--The 49ers will add wide receiver Michael Crabtree back to the 53-man roster within the next six days, but it might still be several weeks before he takes the field.
The 49ers pulled back Crabtree's activity after his first week of practice, rather than risk a setback as he recovers from a torn Achilles. Once he practiced on Nov. 5, he started the clock on the 21-day window for the 49ers to activate him from the physically unable to perform list or shut him down for the season.
Crabtree could still end up on the field as soon as Monday when the 49ers face the Washington Redskins, but the pace of his work at recent practices points to a slower process. The 49ers could just deactivate him on game days for a few weeks if necessary.
Crabtree, who led the 49ers in receiving last season, had surgery to repair the injury in May. He was injured during a spring practice.
-- S Donte Whitner had harsh words for the fine and penalty on 49ers LB Ahmad Brooks for his hit on Saints QB Drew Brees. The hit, which drew a fine and allowed the Saints to stave of defeat, has been a huge talking for this week among players.
"We actually felt like we won the game," Whitner said. "We felt like that was a bogus call, a bogus fine."
-- In a conference call with 49ers reporters, Washington QB Robert Griffin III said he considered playing for Harbaugh at Stanford but because the university didn't allow early enrollees, he opted for Baylor.
"It worked out pretty well for him," Harbaugh. "One of those unique guys that comes right in and does really."
BY THE NUMBERS: 6 - The amount of touchdown runs San Francisco has of more than 10 yards, which is tied for the most in the NFL with Minnesota.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think in the past we've been more on the other side. The ball has bounced our ways." -- FB Bruce Miller on the 49ers' two close losses the last two weeks.
NFL Team Report - San Francisco 49ers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
-- WR Anquan Boldin ranks No. 2 in the NFC with 272 third-down receiving yards.
-- TE Vernon Davis ranks No. 2 in the NFL among TEs averaging 16.3 yards per reception.
-- RB Frank Gore is tied for fourth in the NFL with seven rushing touchdowns.
-- QB Colin Kaepernick ranks No. 3 in the NFL among QBs with 335 rushing yards.
-- P Andy Lee ranks No. 1 in the NFC with a 48.7 gross punting average.
-- CB Tramaine Brock, the 49ers' No. 3 CB, is tied for NO. 3 in the NFL with four interceptions.
-- LG Mike Iupati will not play against the Redskins with a knee injury.
GAME PLAN: The narrative to explain the disappearance of the read option centers on the premise that "defenses have figured it out."
Have they? Maybe, but San Francisco hasn't run it enough to say that definitively. It has all but abandoned the pistol formation, which is puzzling considering how both helped seemingly revolutionize the offense a year ago. Somehow, the 49ers needs to inject some creativity back into their stagnant offense, which has sputtered the last two weeks in losses to Carolina and New Orleans. Let Kaepernick do what he does best and the rest will come.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--49ers QB Colin Kaepernick vs. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III.
No, they won't line up across from each other, but after establishing themselves as two of the games faces a year ago, their success hasn't been as consistent this year. With the Monday Night stage, it's an opportunity for both players to jump back into the national spotlight.
--Redskins LT Trent Williams vs. 49ers ROLB Aldon Smith.
In his third game back, Smith figures to take a big step toward returning to pre-rehab form. Williams, who was also in the news this week for his spat with a referee, will get the task in slowing down Smith.