Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 10/17/12
The 49ers are 4-2 and widely hailed as one of the best teams in the NFC. Outside the locker room, it might feel more like 2-4, particularly after the Giants blasted them 26-3 on Sunday in a rematch of the NFC Championship game. They have been nothing if not enigmatic with blow out wins over the Bills and Jets and then manhandling at the hands of the Vikings and Giants. The 49ers will see how they fare in their own division with three games stacked up against NFC Western division rivals starting with the Seahawks at home on Thursday night. In their losses, the 49ers played their worst games of the 24-game Jim Harbaugh era, particularly against the Giants, which was supposed to be their time to prove they should have been in last year's Super Bowl. The team should have been highly motivated and instead came out flat. If there's a pattern to the losses, it's that the 49ers lose the battle in the trenches, and then have no capacity to pass their way back in the game. That happened only once last year, when they were beat up by John Harbaugh's Ravens on Thanksgiving Night. This year, the 49ers couldn't stop the Giants on a game-sealing 13-play drive in the fourth quarter -- all running plays. When the 49ers do get pushed around, they don't know how to respond, because it hasn't happened in so long. Even two days later, players and coaches didn't seem to have an idea on why and how Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw romped for 116 yards against them. Coach Jim Harbaugh did not reveal anything during his Monday press conference and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said, "It was subpar for all of us in that fourth quarter in particular. We didn't play the run well." Offensively, the 49ers might be doing too much. They have the "Wild Kap" with Colin Kaepernick. They have their jumbo run formations and they employ zone blocking, gap blocking, counter runs with multiple personnel groups and formations. The Giants, by contrast, beat the 49ers with their talent. The wide receivers made better catches, their offensive line blocked better, their defensive line got after Alex Smith and Kaepernick with more gusto. On top of all that, the most enigmatic player of all is their quarterback. Last season, Smith mounted four successful fourth-quarter comebacks, including one in Philadelphia in which the 49ers erased a 20-point, third-quarter lead. Smith led two fourth-quarter scoring drives against the Saints in the playoffs. In trying to bring the team back in the third quarter, Smith threw two third-quarter picks and admitted he was forcing throws. Now the 49ers face two physical teams with Seattle Thursday night and then the Cardinals in Arizona on a Monday night. How they respond to those 4-2 teams could define their season.
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