In the 2011 season with Alex Smith at the helm and the 49er defense dominating, a conservative offensive approach, run first and rely heavily on the defense to keep the 49ers competitive. David Akers was brought over from Philadelphia after a long stay with the Eagles became a valuable asset for the 49er offense, often times bailing out a struggling red zone attack and carrying the 49ers with every kick. What changed in the 49er offense in 2012 had a lot to do with the decline in efficiency by Akers, as kicks he was known to make began to sail, and the clutch kicker from the previous season began to look over the hill.
With more weight on the shoulders of Alex Smith and the defense, the 49ers continued to struggle in the red zone, and with Akers struggling he could no longer be relied on to bail Smith out. The incredible foresight of Harbaugh and his coaching staff led the 49ers to eventually call an audible, shake things up, and let the offense excel and progress under the dynamic play of Colin Kaepernick. In fact Kaepernick’s first game as starting quarterback resulted in a tie against the Rams, as David Akers was unable to hit the game winner at the end of regulation.
It was evident leading into the 2012 playoffs that the 49er organization had lost all confidence in Akers, even bringing in ex-Raven kicker Billy Cundiff in for a workout during the bye week. 49er Fans, the media, and even Akers knew his days in a San Francisco uniform were numbered, and as expected he was released this offseason and the 49ers signed veteran kicker Phil Dawson from Cleveland, replacing one veteran kicker with another. The difference with Dawson is his Field goal percentage actually went up last season, not down like Akers. Dawson has seen his percentage go up the last couple of seasons including; 2010 (82.1%), 2011 (82.8%), and a significant increase in 2012, up to 93.5%, indicating Dawson is getting better with age. Along with Dawson’s accuracy comes his incredible leg strength able to hit from past the 50 yard line with ease, going 7 of 7 last season and 7 of 8 in 2011. Another astounding statistic is the fact that Dawson has only missed 14 field goals since 2009, compared to the 13 Akers missed this past season, and this one year deal looks like a steal. What will be back in tact for the 49er offense is the ability to play their game and not put too much pressure on a young Kaepernick, allowing the offense to lean back on a reliable, efficient, and strong kicker such as Dawson to ensure long drives don’t go to waste. Whether getting into the end zone or not a veteran like Dawson will ensure points get put on the board. Increasing production, and supplementing what has now turned into a high powered offense, the 49ers just needed that little extra to ensure they get back to the promise land.