The first reason is head coach Jim Harbaugh. During his lengthy 14 year playing career, Jim Harbaugh commanded his teams to a combined record of 66-74, reflecting that he wasn’t the greatest of quarterbacks to step foot onto a field. However, he is 24-8 as a coach, reflecting that he was a great student and learned from some top notch coaches during his playing days. Prior to coaching in the NFL, he coached at San Diego University, leading the Toreros to a combined 29-6 record over 3 seasons, including 2 Pioneer Football League Championships.
He departed for Stanford University in 2006, where he went a combined 29-21, and prior to leaving, recruited current Indianapolis Colts sensation, quarterback Andrew Luck. This season, Harbaugh sat former first pick overall Alex Smith in favor of another key ingredient to success, Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick. He also inserted the Pistol offense as his bread and butter, which is the formation that allowed Kaepernick to set historic NCAA records that aren’t likely to be eclipsed anytime in the near future.
The second reason, as outlined above, is the excellent high level play from QB Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick was tossed into the fire at the midway point of this season. Harbaugh took a big chance in naming him the starter over Alex Smith, and an even bigger chance switching to the Pistol formation as an unexpected experiment. That experiment has paid off, since being named a starter Kapernick has led the 49ers to a combined record of 6-2, including a playoff win over Green Bay last week.
He was very impressive during his debut playoff performance last week, resembling the record setting kid at Nevada University. Kaepernick tossed up 263 yards passing on 17 of 31 attempts, an 8.5 avg., 2 TDs and 1 Int., but it was his dominance on the ground that helped the 49ers cruise there way over the Packers. Kaepernick set a QB playoff rushing record by running for 181 yards on 16 carries, for an average of 11.3 per carry, and found the end zone twice. The success of this trend isn’t likely to subside in the NFC Championship vs. the Falcons.
The third reason is Keapernick’s primary target, Michael Crabtree. Crabtree is having a career year and has finally become the go to receiver the 49ers had hoped for by drafting him in the 1st round. In 2012, Crabtree grabbed 85 passes for 1,105 yards, 13.0 avg. and 9 TDs. All of those numbers, except for the average per receptions, are career highs. Crabtree has flourished in the Pistol offense which makes defending this formation even harder, as opposing defenses must stay honest against a big run package, while not losing sight of Crabtree when the 49ers use their play actions.
The fourth reason, and very dangerous at times, is RB Frank Gore. In essence, within the Pistol formation, Gore is being utilized like Nevada did with Via Taua. Making the Pistol nearly impossible to defend, is the option sets that fake the QB run, or show a play action bluff, and delivers a straight line draw up the gut or going off-tackle for some huge gains. As a result, Gore was very effective running for 1,214 yards on 258 carries, 4.7 avg., and 8 TDs. The Falcons, Patriots or Ravens, are going to have their hands full defending this offense, thus they had better hope their own offenses can keep the games close, which as the Packers just learned, is no easy task.
The final reason is All-Pro DE Aldon Smith. Smith finished 1 sack behind J.J. Watt with 19.5 sacks, well enough for second overall in the league. The pulse of the defense relies heavily upon Smith’s ability to disrupt the passing lanes and fill the gaps to the running lanes. Aside from his 19.5 sacks, Smith had a total of 66 tackles, 50 unassisted, 1 pick, and forced 3 fumbles. It’s going to be a very long game for opposing teams if they can’t answer for Smith, and doubling him off leaves the rest of the 49ers’ defensive weapons available to make the big plays instead.
How exactly do you defend against a team that resembles the total package? You can’t. The only thing you can hope for is that the 49ers make enough mistakes to defeat themselves, which under Harbaugh in the post-season, that outcome is right next to null. The 49ers are your next Super Bowl Champions. Bet the farm on it!