Brian Bahr/2013 Getty Images file photoVernon Davis (85) and the 49ers seemed destined to meet the NFC West rival Seahawks in the playoffs at some point.

Brian Bahr/2013 Getty Images file photoVernon Davis (85) and the 49ers seemed destined to meet the NFC West rival Seahawks in the playoffs at some point.

Niners need to re-establish physical brand of football

Well, this clearly is not the start to the season the 49ers envisioned after coming within 5 yards of winning the Super Bowl in February.

After an impressive season-opening victory against the Green Bay Packers, the Niners have nosedived each of the past two weeks and have only a few days to pull out of it with Thursday's suddenly key NFC West game against the St. Louis Rams looming.

So what's been the problem? Sure, injuries have played a factor. The passing game is clearly missing receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, and the absence of tight end Vernon Davis on Sunday was glaring. Defensive tackle Ian Williams is lost for the year, which leaves a gaping hole on the defensive line, and linebacker Patrick Willis and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha were banged up Sunday.

But the biggest issue has been the 49ers failing to do what they've become known for in the Jim Harbaugh era: playing a physical, bruising brand of football.

Controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball is what helped the Niners methodically wear down opponents the past two seasons and reach consecutive NFC Championship Games.

It hasn't been the case this year.

Offensively, the 49ers are only ranked 18th in the NFL in rushing yards, and a big part of that is helped out by quarterback Colin Kaepernick's rushing yards. Take away his stats and the numbers are even more alarming. The 49ers showed signs of life in the running game Sunday as Frank Gore gained 82 yards on 11 carries, but it came almost exclusively in the first half, which reportedly left Gore fuming — and rightfully so.

The passing game hasn't been much better as defenses are making it a point of emphasis to keep Kaepernick in the pocket. With his receivers getting bullied at the line of scrimmage against press coverage and not creating much separation, passing lanes have been hard for Kaepernick to find. It has been a big reason why he has completed less than 50 percent of his passes while throwing four interceptions and zero touchdowns the past two weeks.

The end result: 44 points through three games, second-fewest of any NFC team.

On defense, the Niners are getting gashed for big chunks of yardage in the running game.

Remember when the 49ers didn't allow a rushing TD for the first 14 games of 2011? Fast-forward to 2013 and the Niners have allowed an NFL-high six rushing touchdowns in their first three games and 138 yards rushing per game, the fourth-most in the NFL.

Sure, it seemed like you could chalk up the Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks as just one of those days that happens to just about anyone in the great Northwest, but the loss Sunday at home to the Indianapolis Colts reveals there are real issues here.

Defense, offense, you name it. The 49ers have been pushed around the past two weeks.

The good news for the Niners is there are 13 games left, so it's hardly time to panic. But unless San Francisco can return to its physical roots, the story after the St. Louis game will be more of the same.

Dylan Kruse is the sports editor of The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at dkruse@sfexaminer.com and followed on Twitter @dylan_kruse.

Colin KaepernickDylan KruseNinersSan Francisco 49ers

Just Posted

Cabernet sauvignon grapes sat in a container after being crushed at Smith-Madrone Winery in St. Helena. (Courtesy Smith-Madrone Winery)
San Francisco’s ‘Champagne problems’ — Wine industry suffers supply chain woes

‘Everywhere you turn, things that were easy are no longer easy’

Glasses behind the bar at LUNA in the Mission District on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Glassware is just one of the many things restaurants have had trouble keeping in stock as supply chain problems ripple outward. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF restaurants face product shortages and skyrocketing costs

‘The supply chain crisis has impacted us in almost every way imaginable’

A Giants fans hangs his head in disbelief after the Dodgers won the NLDS in a controversial finish to a tight Game 5. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
Giants dream season ends at the hands of the Dodgers, 2-1

A masterful game comes down to the bottom of the ninth, and San Francisco came up short

<strong>Workers with Urban Alchemy and the Downtown Streets Team clean at Seventh and Market streets on Oct. 12. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins> </strong>
<ins></ins>
Why is it so hard to keep San Francisco’s streets clean?

Some blame bureaucracy, others say it’s the residents’ fault

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — seen in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday — touted Congressional Democrats’ infrastructure bill in San Francisco on Thursday. (Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times)
Pelosi touts infrastructure bill as it nears finish line

Climate change, social safety net among major priorities of Democrats’ 10-year funding measure

Most Read