What 49ers Must Do to Get Back on Track Toward NFC Title After Loss to Seahawks

Tyson LanglandNFC West Lead WriterSeptember 16, 2013

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 15:  Head Coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers talks with quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 against the Seattle Seahawks on September 15, 2013 at Century Link Field in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Head coach Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers knew this game would be a dogfight. Winning on the road in the NFL is never easy to do, especially when you have to go into a hostile environment. The Seattle Seahawks easily have the loudest fanbase in the NFL. This, in turn, makes playing at CenturyLink Field darn near impossible at times. 

However, pundits believed the Niners had enough firepower on the offensive side of the ball to steal an early-season game on the road. Clearly, the 49ers' impressive Week 1 performance against the Green Bay Packers didn’t carry over into Week 2.

Harbaugh’s ballclub turned the ball over five times; it converted three third downs on 12 attempts and failed to capitalize in the red zone. Prior to Sunday’s game, San Francisco’s offense had never turned the ball over five times in a single game under Harbaugh. 

Additionally, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s defense held quarterback Colin Kaepernick to 127 yards passing. As a starter, that’s a new career low. In the second half, the Seahawks defense intercepted Kap twice and limited him to 81 yards through the air on 15 attempts.

No matter how you slice it, the 49ers didn’t look like 49ers. From the beginning of the game until the end of the game, they looked out of sync. The ground game was missing in action and boneheaded mistakes (penalties) proved to be damaging on both sides of the ball. 

Running backs Frank Gore, Anthony Dixon and Kendall Hunter tallied 13 yards rushing on 11 carries. That’s downright embarrassing. When you have one of the most efficient run-blocking offensive lines in the NFL, your plan of attack should be predicated around running the football. 

Fortunately for San Francisco, the Super Bowl isn’t played in Week 2. Despite the poor showing, there are still 14 regular-season games on its schedule. Yes, changes will have to be made if it wants to get back on the right track, yet the change is quite simple.

The 49ers need to reflect on their identity. They need to look in the mirror and remember how they got to where they are today. Since Harbaugh and the rest of his staff took over in 2011, pounding the rock and controlling the clock has been their modus operandi.

Let’s face it; we all know the Niners are a run-first team. That’s when they are at their best. By no means is that a knock on Kaepernick; he’s one of the best young signal-callers in the league. Shoot, he will go down as one of the best quarterbacks in franchise history when it’s all said and done. 

Nevertheless, Gore is still a top-tier player that can put the team on his back if need be. He’s a four-time Pro Bowl selection (2006, 2009, 2011, 2012). Not to mention, he’s the 49ers' all-time leading rusher. In the playoffs last year, he single-handedly set the tone on the ground week in, week out.

Against the Indianapolis Colts next week, San Francisco will have an opportunity to get things ironed out on the ground. Through two games, the Colts defense has surrendered 272 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Furthermore, running backs have rattled off 4.5 yards a carry on 60 attempts.

It’s safe to say Coach Harbaugh has already put this loss behind him and is looking forward to next week’s matchup. Without a doubt, he would love to air it out and hang 50 on the opposition. Why wouldn’t he? The 49ers passing game is as good as it gets when it has all of its moving pieces. 

Unfortunately, the wide receiving corps is pretty banged up right now. Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham are both on the PUP list to start the season. The only reliable veteran pass-catchers are Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis

Kyle Williams and Quinton Patton are still trying to hit their early-season stride. Until Crabtree and Manningham return, San Francisco doesn’t have much of a choice but to run the football. Instead of carrying the ball 30 times through two games, Gore needs to be carrying the ball 40-45 times. 

This formula will not only help the 49ers find continued regular-season success, it will help them find postseason success as well. After two straight NFC Championship Game appearances, there’s no question they will be gunning for a third in as many seasons.

Defensively, they still have one of the most feared front sevens in the league. Their top-notch defense has always gone hand in hand with their power run game.

Sometimes, head coaches overthink their game plan and outsmart themselves in the process. Even though it doesn’t happen to Harbaugh all that often, it happened to him against the Seahawks. He tried to come out throwing on one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL. 

That right there is the definition of overthinking your game plan. The road back to representing the NFC in the Super Bowl will be a tough one if this trend continues. Yet, if we know anything about the third-year head coach, his team always bounces back in a big way after a loss.

Under his watch, the Niners have never suffered defeat in back-to-back games.

That stat says a lot about San Francisco’s ability to learn from and correct its mistakes. Expect the 49ers to come out with a well-designed, run-oriented game plan from here on out. A shift in focus will help the organization get to where it ultimately wants to be at the end of the season, the Super Bowl.

A bad game, against its biggest rival, may have been the wake-up call this team needed.