As the weeks get shorter and expectations grow higher for the San Francisco 49ers (6-4), it's going to take a strong finish for last season's Super Bowl runner-ups to earn an NFC Wildcard spot. Trailing by 3.5 games behind idle Seattle in the NFC West, it will be no easy task for Colin Kaepernick and company as the Niners travel to Fed Ex Field to take on the woeful Washington Redskins (3-7) who once again have underachieved battling injuries and issues on both sides of the ball.
Kaepernick (141/251 1802 11 TD 7 INT) was once thought to be the kind of multi-skilled athletes that was redefining the position with the help of the read-option offense, which seemed to perfectly maximize his talents. Kaepernick's weaknesses were evident in a 23-20 loss at New Orleans last Sunday. He was limited to 127 yards passing on a day when San Francisco was held to a season-low 81 rushing yards. Under suspicion and scrutiny that some around the franchise believe his confidence has taken a major blow, most might suggest that the 49ers should utilize their dangerous running game. SF is 5th in the league averaging 141 yards per game rushing the ball. Frank Gore (175-748 4.3 3 TD) is playing through an ankle injury while Kaepernick toughs out a bad back dealing with efficiency problems. While dangerous with his feet, Kaepernick (56-335 6.0 3 TD) has one of the best in the business downfield in Anquan Boldin (47-630 3 TD) and playmaker Vernon Davis (34-553 8 TD) despite the latter suffering a mild concussion several weeks back. Washington's front seven could be in for a long afternoon as their defense is allowing 31 points per contest, third worst in the league behind Minnesota and Jacksonville.
Evident that Washington is once again playing for pride in the unpredictable NFC East basement, Robert Griffin III (222/372 2714 14 TD 10 INT) is facing criticism for his up-and-down play. Now Griffin is preparing for a 49ers defense that gives up about 18 points per game and is 7th in the league overall. It's not like Griffin doesn't have his share of options in the receiving core led by Pierre Garcon (67-871 3 TD). However, the Skins could be dealt a crushing blow since TE Jordan Reed (45-499 3 TD) will be out after suffering a concussion in week 11. This coming after learning that Leonard Hankerson will require a 9 month recovery process suffering from a torn ACL in his left knee. Like Kaepernick, Griffin is extremely capable of putting up big numbers with his feet (66-345 5.2 3 TD), however Alfred Morris (181-918 5.1 5 TD) hasn't scored in the last 2 games.
The Redskins are still technically alive in the NFC East but their recent play has them looking more like a pretender rather than a contender. Griffin has been a big disappointment and the defense will once again have trouble stopping the run happy Niners. Chalk it up to a sense off postseason urgency that gives the 49ers the decisive edge on MNF.