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Sport The potential fatal flaw for every Super Bowl contender: Jimmy G still the 49ers’ biggest concern

22:02  09 december  2019
22:02  09 december  2019 Source:   ftw.usatoday.com

Aaron Rodgers, Packers done at halftime as 49ers dominate NFC showdown

  Aaron Rodgers, Packers done at halftime as 49ers dominate NFC showdown Aaron Rodgers, Packers done at halftime as 49ers dominate NFC showdown

As cliche as it is to call football "the ultimate team sport," it's true - and yet NFL fans still tend to single out one scapegoat whenever their team suffers a devastating loss. Whether it's the overpaid quarterback, the inept coaching staff or the soft defense, someone or some group is getting all the blame for the failure of an entire organization.

With the playoffs right around the corner, and all but one team's season coming to an unhappy end, there will be plenty of blame thrown around over the next two months. Every team, even those firmly in the Super Bowl race, has a flaw their fans can point to, and often the chase for the Lombardi Trophy comes down to which team manages to correct - or cover up - it's most glaring weakness.

Ravens' Earl Thomas on potential Super Bowl opponent: 'Whoever we play, they're going to be in trouble'

  Ravens' Earl Thomas on potential Super Bowl opponent: 'Whoever we play, they're going to be in trouble' BALTIMORE - Sunday's game between the Ravens and San Francisco 49ers is being billed by many as a potential Super Bowl preview but safety Earl Thomas III is thinking bigger. The Ravens and 49ers (10-1) enter Sunday's matchup coming off resounding victories in front of a nationally televised audience: The Ravens' routed the Los Angeles Rams on "Monday Night Football," 45-6, while the 49ers blew The Ravens and 49ers (10-1) enter Sunday’s matchup coming off resounding victories in front of a nationally televised audience: The Ravens’ routed the Los Angeles Rams on “Monday Night Football,” 45-6, while the 49ers blew out the Green Bay Packers on “Sunday Night Football,” 37-8.

A month out from the playoffs, I've pinpointed that flaw for every contender with nine or more wins. We'll start with the team with the biggest flaw and going in descending order…

1. Patriots: The entire offense

a group of football players on a field: USA TODAY© USA TODAY USA TODAY You can point fingers at just about everyone involved with the offense, including Tom Brady, so that's what I'll do. Brady hasn't gotten any help but it's not like he's giving his teammates any, either. The offensive line has been banged up and straight-up bad all season, which is the main reason the Pats can't run the ball. Sony Michel being incapable of making a play of his own also hasn't helped. Outside of Julian Edelman, none of the wide receivers can get open and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could do a better job of springing them free. Did I mention that Tom Brady looks washed? No? Well, he does and if he isn't capable of carrying the offense to more than 20 points against the likes of Baltimore and Kansas City, then the Pats don't have a chance.

Losing 49ers leave rainy Baltimore a smarter team with self-esteem intact

  Losing 49ers leave rainy Baltimore a smarter team with self-esteem intact BALTIMORE - The 49ers’ runaway train got sidetracked Sunday in a 20-17 loss to the super-solid Ravens. It was a crushing defeat for the 49ers, on a last-second field goal on a cold and miserable day, but was it really crushing crushing? The 49ers contained the league’s unstoppable force, Ravens’ cyborg quarterback Lamar Jackson. The 49ers moved the ball nicely against a tough defense in foul weather in front of a hostile crowd and came out looking like the second-best team in pro football, by about an inch.“I’ve learned that we have a great team,” said 49ers’ linebacker Fred Warner, who added, “Listen, we’re not going to hang our heads, for sure.

2. Bills: Josh Allen

Josh Allen is a better quarterback now than he was last season. But that doesn't mean he's very good. His accuracy has certainly improved - his on-target throw percentage is up five percentage points from 2018 - but he's still having trouble reading defenses and moving on from his first read. There are times when he'll just stop and stare down a receiver hoping he gets open.

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During his hot streak that preceded the clunker against the Ravens, that flawed process happened to work because Buffalo's line was doing a tremendous job protecting him. That was not the case against Baltimore and the results were ugly. It's going to be difficult to consider Buffalo true contenders until Allen really learns how to play the position.

3. Packers: Defense

a group of people watching a football game: USA TODAY© USA TODAY USA TODAY As disjointed as the Packers offense has been this season, the results haven't been too bad. The Packers went into their game against the Redskins ranked fifth in passing DVOA and eighth in rushing DVOA. And as long as Aaron Rodgers is behind center, they'll have a chance of putting up points. There isn't much hope for the defense, however. The Packers' pass rush is quite good but it doesn't seem to matter with the back end of the defense struggling against the pass. Jaire Alexander has cooled off a bit after a hot start, Tramon Williams is a billion years old and Kevin King doesn't belong in an NFL starting lineup. Oh, and, for like the 20th year in a row, the linebackers can't cover anyone. At the expense of the run defense, Mike Pettine has tried to allocate more resources into defending the pass, but that has just given the defense two weaknesses instead of one.

Garoppolo, 49ers beat Saints in battle of NFC heavyweights

  Garoppolo, 49ers beat Saints in battle of NFC heavyweights Garoppolo, 49ers beat Saints in battle of NFC heavyweightsBOX SCORE:  SAINTS 46, 49ERS 48, SAINTS 46

4. Vikings: Pass defense

a football player wearing a helmet: USA TODAY© USA TODAY USA TODAY If we're being more specific: The starting cornerbacks. Xavier Rhodes got paid then immediately turned into Brandon Browner. Trae Waynes has never been good. If you're wondering how a Mike Zimmer-coached pass defense featuring stars like Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith, Everson Griffen and Anthony Harris isn't very good, just look at the corners. It's kind of weird to say, but Kirk Cousins might be third on the list of Minnesota's concerns heading into the postseason, which probably means that this will end in horrific fashion. Not that Vikings fans aren't already expecting the worst.

5. 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo

In the 49ers' two losses this season, Jimmy G has been the problem. If the 49ers lose in the postseason, he will almost certainly be the reason why. A lot of people came away from Sunday's win in New Orleans impressed with Garoppolo, but the truth is, he didn't have much to do thanks to Kyle Shanahan's brilliant play-calling. I can count on one hand the number of times he completed a pass after going beyond his first read. Even his most explosive play of the day - the 75-yard- touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders - wasn't the result of a strong throw. If Marcus Williams tracks this under-thrown ball more efficiently, it's probably a pick.

Defense be damned, 49ers offense carries the load in a free-for-all

  Defense be damned, 49ers offense carries the load in a free-for-all NEW ORLEANS — The 49ers have been making statements all season. But perhaps none was as loud at the one they made on Sunday afternoon in the deafening Superdome. They can beat you with their offense, not just their defense. They have an elite quarterback. They aren’t easily intimidated. And they can convert a big fourth down on the road when needed. “That was as cool a game as I’ve been a part of,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “The guys just kept battling.

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Maybe I'm hating, but it's hard to find another issue with this 49ers team, especially after the trade for Sanders solidified the receiving corps. If Shanahan can take the mental burden off of Garoppolo, the 49ers can absolutely win a Super Bowl.

6. Seahawks: Pete Carroll

Pete Carroll wearing a hat: USA TODAY© USA TODAY USA TODAY There are probably a few directions I could go with this - the offensive line, the pass rush, the offensive play-calling, etc. - but it's hard to get around the fact that the guy running the team can't get out of his own way. Pete Carroll is undoubtedly a good coach, but his outdated thinking is holding back a team with the best quarterback in the NFL. I'm not even talking about the "establish the run" stuff, necessarily. It's the fourth-down decisions, the clock management, the wasted challenges, the insistence on playing base defense despite the poor results - it's all too much to ignore. Seattle is probably a cut below the rest of the NFC's elite tier, so the margins are already thin. Carroll can't afford to make things harder on his team in the postseason, but he's given us no reason to believe that he won't.

7. Chiefs: Run defense

a group of people playing football on a field: USA TODAY© USA TODAY USA TODAY Under most circumstances, I wouldn't consider run defense something that's important enough to even consider a fatal flaw, but then Lamar Jackson and the Ravens had to come along and change everything. The Chiefs came into Week 14 ranked 30th in defensive DVOA against the run, which is obviously not good. Also not good: This Kansas City defense gave up 0.38 expected points added per run against Baltimore in Week 3, which is about double the Ravens' average for the season. Jackson missed a lot of throws in that game that he hasn't been missing of late, so the Chiefs will need to do a better job against the run if they want to beat Baltimore a second time.

Clinton Portis, Carlos Rogers among former NFL players facing U.S. fraud charges

  Clinton Portis, Carlos Rogers among former NFL players facing U.S. fraud charges Clinton Portis, Carlos Rogers among former NFL players facing U.S. fraud charges

8. Ravens: The pass rush

a group of baseball players standing on top of a grass covered field: USA TODAY© USA TODAY USA TODAY Honestly, I'm grasping at straws here because the Ravens' pass rush has been much better since a rough first month. Baltimore ranks 12th in pressure rate since Week 4, per Sports Info Solutions, and has started to convert that pressure into sacks in recent weeks. But defensive coordinator Don Martindale has had to call for more blitzes in order to get that pressure, which leaves his secondary vulnerable. Now, the Ravens haven't really faced a team capable of exploiting that yet, but a matchup with the Chiefs could be coming next month and Kansas City certainly has the talent to do so.

9. Saints: Drew Brees' arm

a man holding a baseball bat in front of a crowd: USA TODAY© USA TODAY USA TODAY Brady is the washed quarterback getting all the attention, but Brees is kind of washed too - just not in the same way the Patriots quarterback is. Like Brady, Brees seems to be incapable of pushing the ball down the field consistently; it just hasn't mattered nearly as much because he's still supremely accurate on underneath throws and he has receivers capable of getting open. Sunday's performance against the dominant 49ers defense was a masterclass in quarterbacking. Every drop was timed perfectly. Every pass went where it needed to go. But if a defense figures out a way to take away those timing throws, I don't know if there's a plan B for the Saints offense.

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