NFC West: 2013 Week 7 SFO at TEN

An examination of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 31-17 victory against the Tennessee Titans:

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick and Akeem Ayers
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyThe Titans struggled to contain Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers all afternoon.
49ers are hot: The 49ers have won four straight games after starting 1-2. They are 5-2 and play the winless Jacksonville Jaguars in London on Sunday before the bye. The 49ers are clicking in all three phases of the game and has scored at least 31 points in all four games. The 49ers have scored 30 or more points five times. It is the second most in the league behind Denver, which has scored 30 or more points in all seven games.

Read-option lives: The 49ers used the read-option offense Sunday more than any point this season -- seven times for 42 yards. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had 35 yards on five carries, including one for a 20-yard touchdown run. The 49ers have run the read-option offense nine times total this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The 49ers are running well during their four-game win streak. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers have called designed runs on 59 percent of their plays during the streak, a big turnaround from the start of their season. In the 49ers’ first three games, designed runs were called on 35 percent of their plays.

49ers taking advantage of turnovers: The 49ers have forced 12 turnovers during the winning streak and have scored points off every one -- eight touchdowns and four field goals. That in itself has played a huge role in the string of victories.

Safeties should be fine: San Francisco safety Donte Whitner left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury. Early indications are that the injury may not be serious. But he will be monitored as the week goes on. Fellow starting safety, rookie Eric Reid, had to leave the game briefly in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. He returned to the game. He said after the game he was fine.
Colin KaepernickAP Photo/Mark ZaleskiColin Kaepernick rushed for a season-high 68 yards on 11 carries against the Titans.
NASHVILLE -- San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York was all smiles as he casually hung out in the victorious locker room Sunday night. He watched his players get ready for a nine-hour flight to London, where English fans will be treated to one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

It was a stark difference from the last time York was in the 49ers locker room. After a loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 22, York spoke glumly to the media about star pass-rusher Aldon Smith leaving the team for an alcohol treatment center. The loss dropped the 49ers to 1-2 (the first time the team lost back-to-back games under coach Jim Harbaugh) and they were beaten by the Seattle Seahawks and the Indianapolis Colts by a combined score of 56-10.

The defending NFC champions were in a crisis and it appeared the season could be unraveling.

Fast-forward four weeks and that moment appears a distant memory. The 49ers' rebirth continued with an impressive 31-17 win at the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. The 49ers have won four straight games, scoring more than 30 points in each. It's the first time since 1998 San Francisco has accomplished that feat.

“We feel pretty good about what we are doing right now,” said quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had his most effective game of the season as a runner Sunday.

There is no reason to think the 49ers will not continue their roll. They play the 0-7 Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday in London. Yes, it’s an any-given-Sunday league, but Harbaugh’s team seems upset-proof. The 49ers should go into the bye week -- and the midseason point -- at 6-2.

Teams hope to go 3-1 every quarter of the season to get to 12-4. At 1-2, 12-4 looked like a difficult feat for San Francisco. Now it seems quite possible for the 49ers, who trail Seattle (6-1) by a game in the NFC West.

Credit goes to the organization for responding to the adversity after Week 3.

It starts with Harbaugh and his staff. It was the first difficult moment Harbaugh had in his tenure in San Francisco, which started in 2011. He and his staff handled it beautifully. In fact, the day after the Colts game, Harbaugh said he relished the opportunity to face adversity and to “whip it.” So far he and his team are beating adversity on all three scorers’ cards.

San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley said the key to bouncing back was sticking together.

"The sky wasn’t falling,” Staley said. “No one was pointing fingers at each other … We stayed together.”

And it continues to get better.

In some ways, Sunday’s win was the most impressive of the season. Tennessee is good at home and has a strong defense. But the 49ers completely owned this game.

The 49ers led 24-0 going into the fourth quarter and shut down Tennessee in all three phases of the game.

The San Francisco defense hasn’t missed a beat since Smith left the team for substance abuse treatment 27 days ago. The 49ers have allowed a combined 51 points in the past four games. San Francisco got two more turnovers Sunday and has forced 12 during the winning streak. The 49ers have turned each turnover into points -- they have eight touchdowns and four field goals after the turnovers.

While the San Francisco defense continues to dominate, the offense (which has been a work in progress without injured receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham) was dynamic Sunday.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kaepernick ran out of the read-option offense five times for 36 yards and a 20-yard rushing touchdown. Kaepernick had nine zone-read rushes for 14 yards this season coming into the game and ended up with 69 yards on 10 carries. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 199 yards. Kaepernick led the team to eight third-down conversions in 10 tries in the first half.

Kaepernick’s Total QBR was 99.0 out of a possible 100. It is the best mark in the NFL this season.

Will we see the 49ers use the read-option much in the immediate future? Probably occasionally. Harbaugh said it is a “club” in the team’s bag. Kaepernick said it was used because the Titans were giving the 49ers opportunities.

Still, it is also a sign things are working well. With Smith, Crabtree and Manningham all expected back at some point this season, the 49ers have the look of a team that is going to stick around for a while.

Four weeks ago, many may not have been confident in that possibility.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Observed in the locker room after the San Francisco 49ers' 31-17 win over the Tennessee Titans:

Jones
Kaepernick
Read-option returns: 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had 68 yards on 11 carries using the read-option offense. It was the most the 49ers used it this season. Kaepernick said it was because the Titans gave the 49ers opportunities to use it.

Praise for Morris: Rookie cornerback Darryl Morris has been one of several young 49ers who have played well. He is making a huge impact on a strong special teams. He caused a fumble that resulted in a Kassim Osgood touchdown in the fourth quarter. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said watching Morris on the play was like watching “an arrow go through snow.” Although Eric Wright is potentially coming off the physically unable to perform list in the next couple of weeks, there is no chance Morris will be cut. It could be another sign veteran Nnamdi Asomugha will be released. He has been a healthy scratch the past two weeks.

Aldon Smith update: Harbaugh gave some incremental news on Smith. Harbaugh said he is hopeful Smith can play this season. He said he is hearing Smith is making progress in treatment. Harbaugh said the plan is for Smith to be back at team facility from alcohol treatment in the next couple of weeks. The 49ers are 4-0 since the star pass-rusher went into treatment 27 days ago.

Homecoming: Several 49ers are from the Tennessee area and many players had a lot of family there. Harbaugh said the mother of rookie receiver Quinton Patton cooked for the team Saturday night. Harbaugh said Smith’s mother was at the game as well.

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