Examining the 49ers: Five Points

The 49ers have been walking on shaky ground so far in 2014. Can the modern-age juggernaut find its groove against the 3-0 Eagles at home?

One-Two Run Punch

San Francisco has only run the ball 81 times in 2014, but their two-back set is as efficient as can be. Resident iron man Frank Gore chugs along in his tenth season, while rookie powerhouse Carlos Hyde is looking like the perfect heir apparent to Gore, assuming Gore indeed retires before the age of 45.

Combined, the duo has racked up 202 yards on a tandem 49 carries for a healthy-enough 4.12 yards per attempt. Gore's production has slipped a smidge, dipping to 3.97 YPA on 35 of the carries, while Hyde shores up the average with his 4.50 YPA on 14 carries.

The backs benefit from the usually swift blocking from the likes of Daniel Kilgore, Mike Iupati, and All-Pro Joe Staley, but the tight ends also have a hand in the production. Derek Carrier, once an Eagle, has not only had to step up for a wounded Vernon Davis, but has proven to be an efficient run blocker as well.

Kaepernick Rush Solved?

It's a little early to declare anything stale, but Colin Kaepernick has had a rough start to the 2014 season. Earlier in his career, the young quarterback made up for an erratic completion percentage with a scrambling ability that was aided by a hard-to-tackle musculature. Sure-handed targets like Davis, Anquan Boldin, and Michael Crabtree disguised some of the rough edges in Kaepernick's passing game, but now his run is suffering.

After three games, Kaepernick has run for a mere 129 yards on 27 carries (4.78 YPA), an average that's sharply down from his peak 6.59 YPA in 2012, and his 5.70 average last season. The Cardinals on Sunday boxed in Kaepernick to the tune of a paltry 54 yards on 13 carries (4.15 YPA)

The Eagles pass rush hasn't picked up a sack in the past couple of weeks, but their saving grace has been quality edge-disruption (looking at you, Fletcher Cox) and adequate coverage on deeper routes (which Kirk Cousins fared well against). If Mychal Kendricks is healthy, Kaepernick will find it hard to bounce outside on the runs that got him the job in the first place.

Second Half Deficiency

If the Eagles are the team that doesn't get going until the second half (a notion dispeled by the Jordan Matthews Show on Sunday), then the 49ers are the Mirror Universe equivalent. Of the 49ers 62 points scored this season, a mere field goal is their reapings for second-half play.

It didn't matter much against the Cowboys in Week One, when San Francisco built a huge lead off of turnovers, and coasted to a 28-17 win. It *did* matter when Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and Kyle Fuller trounced the 49ers a week later to open Levi's Stadium, holding San Francisco to a Phil Dawson boot in the second half.

Sunday, the 49ers took a 14-6 lead into the half on their surging division rival Cardinals, and took a drubbing without turnovers in the second half, giving up 17 points the rest of the way. Is it an elementary playbook that needs only 15 minutes of halftime adjustments to conquer? Whatever the case, the 49ers are going to find it hard to even make the postseason with the Cardinals (3-0) and World Champion Seahawks (2-1) actually finishing games.

Pass Rush Slipping?

The absences of Aldon Smith (suspended for a litany of screw-ups) and NaVorro Bowman (on the PUP list via his horrific leg injury) have thrown a wrench into the 49ers pass-rushing capabilities. Vic Fangio's defense has only accumulated four sacks in three games, and three of them are from ageless defensive end Justin Smith. The other is from fellow veteran Ahmad Brooks.

The holes in the defense go a long way in explaining why San Francisco has the worst opposing third down percentage in the NFL, a whopping 51.61% fail rate. Even Tampa Bay and Oakland, both giving up over half of their thirds, are slighly better than the 49ers in that regard.

The Cardinals gashed San Francisco by converting eight of 13 third down attempts, although it should be noted that of Arizona's 24 first downs, seven came via penalty (more on this next). If Nick Foles finds comfort behind a largely-backup line, it will be difficult to get the up-tempo offense off the field quickly.

Lots of Penalties

The lack of discipline demonstrated by the 49ers in 2014 has been just as much a cause of recent struggles as anything. San Francisco has been called for a total of 36 penalties for 305 yards. The quantity equals the most in the league, although New England trumps them in yards.

Of the 36 penalties, their most problematic area has been in the area of offensive holding, with nearly a fifth of their penalties (seven) occurring there. It's an undisciplined and hyper-aggressive defense, however, that creates much more cumulative damage.

Of their 21 defensive penalties, there's only one pass interference penalty, and one encroachment, but there are five illegal contacts, five unnecessary roughnesses, and two roughing-the-passer calls. An average of 12 penalties a game will only give a quality offense, which the Eagles have even with the line issues, chances to make the defense suffer.

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