The San Francisco 49ers (6-4) have had one massive roller-coaster season through 12 weeks in 2013. This team has not been able to recreate the dominance that they displayed over the course of the 2012 season. Could it be possible that head coach Jim Harbaugh could actually be the one to blame for the team's struggles this year?
Multiple aspects must be taken into consideration when looking into such a radical claim. After all, it was Harbaugh who turned this team around in dramatic fashion, winning two consecutive division titles and earning a Super Bowl appearance.
However, after a devastating 23-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints (8-2) on Sunday, Harbaugh held himself accountable. During an interview with Taylor Price of the 49ers' official website, Harbaugh was not feeling good about himself on Monday. Said Harbaugh, "I know that as a coach, if you want to feel better, coach better. That’s what I tell myself."
When asked how he can accomplish that, Harbaugh responded, "Win games. Put the players in position to be successful."
But is this adversity-filled season actually Harbaugh's fault?
To gain an accurate answer to that question requires an in-depth look into the offensive side of the football team. The 49ers defense—despite lingering injuries and absences—is still ranked 10th in pass yards per game allowed, 12th in rush yards per game allowed and 4th in points allowed with just 17.8 per game.
It is Harbaugh's offense—and its inconsistent production—that must be dissected.
The quarterback position is always the first to be heavily scrutinized.
Harbaugh had encouraging words about quarterback Colin Kaepernick after Sunday's game,"I thought he did some incredible things. He played with great poise. I thought he threw the ball, made some great throws. He was operating good, we’ll continue to give him more help."
Kaepernick finished the game completing 17 of his 31 passing attempts for 127 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 72.9. Kaepernick added three rushes for 25 yards.
Certainly, this is not the kind of performance that San Francisco would like from its quarterback on a weekly basis. Unfortunately for Kaepernick, his performances have dictated the team's overall record:
|Colin Kaepernick's Passer Ratings vs. 49ers' Record|
Clearly there is a direct correlation between Kaepernick's success and the outcome for the football team. The quarterback's four lowest passer ratings this season have coincided with the team's four losses.
It is rather obvious that Kaepernick has not had quite the success that he was able to create over the course of the 2012 season. He finished that season with a dazzling 98.3 rating. This year, however, his overall rating has dropped to a mere 81.8.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Kaepernick has been rather inefficient. He was given a negative 6.6 overall grade this season, which ranks him 30th out of 39 eligible quarterbacks.
However, it may not be fair to pin the brunt of the 49ers' struggles on their quarterback. There are circumstances that may have led to the decline in Kaepernick's production.
Injuries, for one, have haunted San Francisco in 2013—especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree has missed every game so far in 2013—a disappointing loss for the 49ers, as he was gaining great rapport with Kaepernick late in 2012. Tight end Vernon Davis has also been banged up at crucial times. He missed time in games against the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers—both losses.
Yes, the 49ers brought in Anquan Boldin to ease the loss of offensive weapons. However, Boldin is not a true No. 1 receiver anymore and needs help finding open space. Boldin has only been able to account for 630 receiving yards and three touchdowns this season.
There is an obvious difference in the passing game this season for San Francisco. The shuffling of offensive weapons creates inconsistency which, in turn, does not help an inexperienced third-year quarterback.
One thing that the 49ers have been able to do in years past is successfully run the football. So far in 2013, they have attempted at least 20 rushes per game—an indication that this is still a very important part of the offensive scheme.
However, the effectiveness of the run has varied from game to game:
|Total Rush Yards Per Game vs. 49ers' Record|
It seems apparent that the 49ers' offensive success relies on a balanced offensive attack. In most cases, when the running game struggled, the passing game also faltered as a result.
Could the offensive play-calling of Greg Roman be the main cause for this inconsistent play?
The 49ers are a team blessed with a vast amount of talent. However, it seems as though Roman may not be utilizing his players as effectively as he could. Creating mismatches against an opposing defense is always a crucial element to create wins. Roman could do a better job mixing up packages and allowing Kaepernick better opportunities.
Simply put, the 49ers offense may be becoming predictable.
Perhaps it is Harbaugh—an offensive-minded coach—who must sit down with Roman and develop a new wrinkle in the offense, much like they did with the read-option in 2012.
Taking all of these factors—a faltering passing game, abundant injuries, an inconsistent running game, lackluster play-calling—into consideration, it appears as though Harbaugh has plenty of obstacles to sort through if this team is to be considered one of the NFL's elite once again.
Is Harbaugh to blame for the 49ers' struggles so far in 2013?
At this point, the answer is no.
However, it is his responsibility to correct his team's shortcomings and right the ship quickly. If he fails to do so, there could be a different conclusion to this discussion.