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Monday Night Football

Posted by Stan Jenkins on 11/23/2013 1:12:53 PM

The San Francisco 49ers are trying to play catch-up in the NFC West. Losing on Monday Night Football in Landover, Md., is simply not an option for the defending NFC champions.

San Francisco 49ers @ Washington Redskins – Monday, November 25

Betting line: 49ers -4.5

The latest edition of Monday Night Football could potentially become complicated for the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. Coach Jim Harbaugh has seen his offense stagnate on multiple occasions this season, partly due to injuries but also to the limits of read option-based packages. The NFL’s rules for hitting quarterbacks when they execute read-option handoffs are liberal, to the point that quarterbacks risk injury when those kinds of plays are selected by coaches and coordinators. It is simply a part of reality in the modern NFL that quarterbacks have to be protected at all costs – not necessarily by the rules themselves (though the rules do try to safeguard quarterbacks on a number of levels), but by coaching staffs. Harbaugh instituted the read-option package last season with Colin Kaepernick, and the approach caught a lot of defenses off balance, helping the Niners’ offense to be a potent force late in the regular season and in the playoffs as well. However, adjustments made by opposing defenses have forced Harbaugh to rein in the read option and attempt to get more yards by means of more straightforward running and passing plays. This is where the injury bug enters the picture.

San Francisco has been playing this season without receiver Michael Crabtree. While Crabtree was not necessarily a huge downfield threat, he was a very solid and consistent possession receiver, a player who reliably got open on short and short-intermediate routes. Crabtree gave the 49ers a threat on one side of the field, and he helped spread the field for the team’s other backs and receivers, chiefly tight end Vernon Davis, one of the better tight ends in the league. Crabtree’s absence has made the Niners’ passing game very limited and imbalanced, and this is a big reason why Kaepernick – asked to be more of a pocket passer in 2013 – has struggled so much.

Will all these deficiencies matter, though, against the Washington Redskins? The 49ers might have their obvious points of vulnerability, but the Redskins might not be good enough to take advantage of them. The Redskins’ defense has been spotty all season long, and not just against good teams. Washington allowed 41 points to Chicago on a day when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler got injured midway through the game. The Redskins allowed 34 points to the Minnesota Vikings, a team that had been well below average on offense for most of the season. This is a team whose front lines have been outplayed and overpowered far too frequently in 2013. Robert Griffin gets a lot of attention in wins and losses alike, but this season and its struggles are not the product of Griffin’s actions; they’re the product of poor line play and a generally inadequate defense that can’t give its quarterback much of any help. This feels like a game in which San Francisco’s offense will get healthy… and its defense will hammer Washington.

NFL Betting Pick: 49ers -4.5

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