Shak’s Take: Harbaugh-ling the San Francisco 49ers

Harbaugh mad

Let’s get right to it, is San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh losing his team? That’s the big question heading into the Sunday night showdown between the Houston Texans and the San Francisco 49ers. A quarter of the season is over and the 49ers sit at a mediocre 2-2.

After four games, most expected the 49ers to be 3-1, some 4-0, but 2-2 was not an option. However, being .500 at this point in the year is not the end of the world. The 49ers still have twelve games remaining on their schedule and a divisional crown can still be attained.

Not to mention a Super Bowl.

But a lot will have to change in order for that to occur. The last five weeks have been anything but promising for this ball club. They say that “bone headed” penalties during football games are a reflection of the head coach, and the 49ers have had plenty of them..

According to NFL Penalty Stats Tracker the 49ers are the second most penalized team in the league (read: NFL Penalty Stats Tracker). They have a total of 39 penalties after a quarter of the season. Out of the 39 penalties, 15 have been pre-snap ones. Yes, that’s before the ball is even in play.

Granted, offensive coordinator Greg Roman likes to do a ton of shifting before the ball is snapped. It is understandable that the thought process is to confuse defenses and develop mismatches with certain personnel packages. But perhaps the pre-snap shifting needs to be minimized. If not, then the players need to become more discipline.

That is all on Jim Harbaugh.

Besides for the penalties a few key players have been in the news as of late. Let’s take a look:

Colin Kaepernick

The quarterback seems to have a monumental chip on his shoulder. Lately, you see Kaepernick in many commercials, the latest being one from McDonalds, featuring him and Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco doing their version of Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.

All may be well in the advertising and endorsement world, but not on the football field. After week one, Kaepernick has struggled at times reading defenses and getting the ball to his playmakers. Many acknowledge that Kaepernick does not have the weapons he did a year ago, but the young star still needs to hone his skills a bit.

Bay area fans despised the famous dink and dunk plays that former quarterback Alex Smith utilized. However, Kaepernick needs to understand that the dinks and dunks are the plays that will help him setup the play action deep pass. The quarterback needs to stop looking for the big play and take what the defense gives him.

Once he realizes how to utilize his running backs in the passing game (swing routes, screens, dump offs, etc.), he will become a much more effective passer. He definitely has the tools and skills set, it now becomes the matter of how to utilize them. Balance is key, while Smith depended on the short passing game too much, Kaepernick does not do it enough.

This can easily be fixed with coaching and Harbaugh needs to realize that.

Aldon Smith

Linebacker Aldon Smith is currently in rehab attending to his alcohol and substance abuse problem. It is commendable that Smith took initiative to get his life back on track. That is the most important thing to do here, football obviously comes second.

But coach Harbaugh should have seen this coming. It is not the first time that Smith has had off the field issues, we do not need to get into the specifics, but perhaps Harbaugh could have  helped address Smith’s issues prior, rather than during the season.

If that would have happened, then perhaps Smith would have still been playing. They could definitely use him this Sunday night against the high powered offense of the Texans. In the end, the 49ers are taking the necessary steps to help this young man get his life back on track.

Kudos to Harbaugh here.

Donte Whitner

The name above will be a misprint within a few days. If you have not heard, 49ers safety Donte Whitner is changing his name to Donte Hitner. Earlier this week, Whitner tweeted that the proper paperwork has been filed to make the legal change.

Whitner Tweet.2Where did this come from? In week three Whitner was flagged when he hit Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw. Whitner did not like the call and rightfully so, the hit appeared to be a legal one. The NFL agreed and the 49ers’ safety was not fined for the hit.

However, Whitner was flagged once again when playing the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night football. Whiter hit wide receiver Chris Givens above the neck when the wide out was “defenseless.” This time around, the NFL agreed with the call on the field and Whitner was fined $21,000 by the league.

Whitner will appeal the penalty, but changing your name to Hitner is not what he needs to do in order to get some attention. Just ask Chad Ochocinco and Metta World Peace what that did for their careers. Whitner says that the bay area fans call him Hitner, so the name change is for them. I am not buying that.

This screams attention.

None of this will matter if the 49ers get on track and start winning football games. But if a subpar .500 season continues then a few of these things can become a distraction. Let’s also not forget, running back Frank Gore had “words” with Harbaugh as well in regards to his touches.

Furtherore, running back LaMichael James wants more playing time too. It would make sense to utilize James a little more, if not in the running game, the passing game could definitely benefit from his services. Harbaugh needs to find ways to get James the ball in open space to demonstrate his playmaking abilities.

With all this chaos surrounding the 49ers, I strongly believe Jim Harbaugh will get it right. He is a fierce competitor and will do whatever it takes to help the 49ers obtain their Super Bowl aspirations. As for now, he needs to have his team ready to get a win this Sunday night against the Texans.

Gaining ground on the Seattle Seahawks for a division title is a must.

Shakeel Khan is a San Francisco 49ers writer for Pro Football Central