Monday, September 30, 2013
49ers' first-quarter checkpoint
By Bill Williamson
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The first quarter of the San Francisco 49ers' season is complete. Let’s look at some key developments as the defending NFC champion sits at 2-2:
Story of the quarter: It’s a sad story, while being one of the biggest in the league this season. Superstar pass-rusher Aldon Smith is receiving treatment for alcohol abuse. He entered treatment at an undisclosed facility two days before he turned 24 after being arrested on a charge of drunk driving. It was his second DUI arrest in less than two years. He publicly acknowledged he has a problem and vowed to “fix” it. He is expected to be away from the team for a month. It’s a stunning and rare NFL story.
Offensive MVP of the quarter: Let’s go with running back Frank Gore. He got the team on track Thursday night at St. Louis with 153 rushing yards on 20 carries. It was his highest rushing total in four years. Gore was also good in Week 3 before the 49ers went away from the run. Gore showed he is still the sparkplug to this offense.
Defensive player of the quarter: Smith was great when he played and Patrick Willis was also outstanding before sitting out the St. Louis game with a groin injury. Overall, the 49ers’ defense has been better than statistics show. I’m going to with linebacker NaVorro Bowman. He has been steady. He was spectacular against the Rams in Willis’ absence. I know I am putting a lot of stock in the St. Louis game, but this game might be looked upon as a season-saver. It was vital.
Rookie of the quarter: Safety Eric Reid looks like the goods. The first-round pick has been a big part of the defense since the start of the season. He is smart, instinctive and a ball hawk. He has a bright future.
Disappointment of the quarter: The lack of discipline. San Francisco has 39 penalties. It is ridiculous. Penalties have hurt this team in all four games. The 49ers have to get a handle on on this issue.
Biggest unanswered question of the quarter: Are there enough weapons in the passing game? Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was not the problem when this team scored a combined 10 points in losses to Seattle and Indianapolis. His receivers, other than Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis, did not come through. It improved somewhat at St. Louis. Newly acquired Jon Baldwin was active and looked decent. But this is something the 49ers will have to work on until Mario Manningham comes back in a month and star Michael Crabtree tries to return late in the season. As of now, receiver depth is still a huge question.
Fearless prediction for the second quarter: The 49ers will go 3-1 in the next quarter and sit at 5-3 at the bye week. That’s a pretty solid record for a team that was 1-2. The 49ers’ toughest games in the next quarter are at home on a Sunday night against Houston and at Tennessee on Oct. 20. They also play host to Arizona on Oct. 13 and against Jacksonville on Oct. 27 in London. The 49ers are not perfect and they have some issues to work through, but I expect them to straighten out some in the coming weeks with the help of a manageable schedule.