The San Francisco 49ers seem to be one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, right behind the Philadelphia Eagles. The 49ers have one of the best rosters in the NFL, lined with superstars on both sides of the ball. San Francisco has come up short the past 2/3 seasons, with a loss in the 2019 Super Bowl and 2021 NFC Championship game. Currently, the 49ers are on a second half of the season run, as they are 4-0 since the end of October. This is about when San Francisco got hot last year and made a deep playoff run, despite being heavy underdogs. In order for the 49ers to make that same run, and perhaps even further, a few things need to happen.
The 49ers need more success in the red zone.
So far this season, the 49ers are ranked 16th in red zone touchdown conversions with 55.56%. To give some context, the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys, all currently in the NFC playoff picture, are ranked ahead of them. The Eagles and Cowboys are among the top four. The 49ers have Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey. To put it simply, they should be converting many more trips to the red zone into touchdowns. Playing it safe by going for the field goal, especially on fourth and short when Jimmy Garoppolo is near 100% on quarterback sneaks, is not going to cut it against other playoff-caliber teams who are putting up seven points on a majority of their red zone appearances.
San Francisco’s defense needs to hide its weak spot.
Over the past four games, the San Francisco 49ers have not given up a single point in the second half, including a complete shutout against the New Orleans Saints. Many people are not completely impressed with their defense though, as the teams that they have outscored 57-0 in the second half have been not-so-great. Even so, the 49ers DO deserve their flowers for this stat because even if the second-half shutouts have come against the Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints, the fact of the matter is that other teams are not shutting out these same, lower-ranked opponents. This does not mean that the 49ers’ defense is not susceptible in certain areas, as they do seem to have a weak point. The cornerback position has been an area for improvement since Richard Sherman’s departure, and they seemingly addressed this problem by adding Charvarius Ward during the offseason, but then Emmanuel Moseley and Jason Verrett both suffered season-ending injuries. A good pass rush may have to be what saves the 49ers against playoff-caliber teams with speed who can burn them downfield.
Jimmy Garoppolo needs to remain near mistake-free.
Jimmy Garoppolo has not thrown an interception since October 23 against the Kansas City Chiefs. The 49ers are 4-0 since then. A mistake-free Garoppolo is integral to the success of this San Francisco offense. Even with so much firepower, sometimes their offense just does not click, as the 13-0 victory against the New Orleans Saints showed. In games where only two scores separate the teams, one touchdown could put the opponent back into the game. Garoppolo and the 49ers cannot afford interceptions and need to keep the ball. Last year, Garoppolo was undefeated during the regular season in games where he threw zero interceptions. Looking at the playoff picture for the NFC thus far, the 49ers cannot afford to give up interceptions when the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys’ offenses are already so high-powered. San Francisco cannot fall behind in games due to quarterback mistakes because that is a momentum shifter and Kyle Shanahan does not have a good track record when it comes to leading comebacks, especially in the fourth quarter.
Sitting in 1st on top of the NFC West, the 49ers are in good standing to make the playoffs. If there is a season for San Francisco to bring home their overdue sixth ring, it is this one. With perhaps their best defense since the Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman era, the 49ers cannot waste a golden opportunity.