San Francisco 49ers: Grading the Week 1 Win
If there are any doubters left, come forward. Eat your words. The 49ers are legitimate, and there is no denying it. A Week 1 victory in Green Bay should have quelled any lingering haters.
With that, we're back. I'll be here every week putting together my report card for the previous week's team performance. This is how it's broken down: I'll grade the quarterback, running game, front seven, secondary, special teams and coaching before giving an overall grade for that week.
Spoiler alert: The front seven will ace it every week. Just like last season.
So with the statement win against a Packers squad that went 15-1 in 2011, how do I grade the team's overall performance? Read on.
Passing Game: B+
Someone help me— how do I convince someone that I've been an Alex Smith fan since day one? Will you believe testimonials from my closest friends? Fantasy football buddies? Either way, it's true. And a game like this makes it all worth it.
Smith looked absolutely fantastic against Green Bay, easily outplaying Aaron Rodgers en route to a 125.6 QB rating. Smith completed 77 percent of his passes for 211 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The franchise record for consecutive passes without an interception fell in the process, as Smith leaped Hall of Famer Steve Young to set the mark.
Not only was Smith an efficient "game manager" yesterday, but he looked like a top tier quarterback. Great decision making, great accuracy and a sense of fearlessness that 49ers fans haven't ever seen from him.
On the receiving end, Randy Moss made a statement by catching a touchdown and having a solid all-around game. Michael Crabtree took a big step towards what I believe will become a breakout year by catching seven balls for 76 yards.
The only black mark on the passing game was Joe Staley at left tackle, who got obliterated by Clay Matthews to the tune of 2.5 sacks and two penalties. Staley admitted it was a terrible game, but his job is to contain the opponent's best pass rusher every week. He'll need to step it up next week against Detroit.
Running Game: A-
I was really looking forward to the potential four-headed monster that Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James could have been at Lambeau. Unfortunately, Jacobs and James were both inactive so we'll have to wait another week to see that combination.
Luckily, the 49ers didn't need the other two backs, as last year's tandem was too much for the Packers defense to handle as it was.
Gore looked like his old self, rushing for 112 yards on just 16 carries (seven yards per attempt) and a momentum-swinging touchdown. Hunter only got the ball nine times, but seemed to make a move to get extra yardage every single touch.
Hunter ended with 41 yards on his nine carries, and Colin Kaepernick contributed a 17-yard scramble on his one play. The offensive line did a great job opening up holes all night for the backs to run through, and Vernon Davis and Bruce Miller continued their fantastic blocking from last season.
Front 7: A
The Packers had 45 rushing yards. Rodgers accounted for 27 of them. Rodgers was also sacked three times, had two passes tipped and one picked off by Navorro Bowman. A large chunk of it happened with All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis on the sideline.
Do I really need to say more?
Okay, I will! Even with sub-par performances (mostly due to schemes, not performance) from Justin Smith and Willis, the Niners absolutely throttled the Packers in the trenches.
There was no semblance of a rushing game from Green Bay, and Rodgers never had a ton of time to set his feet and throw.
Ahmad Brooks played a huge game, including getting a crucial sack, and Aldon Smith started his march towards double digit sacks with one in the first half.
The regulars (Dashon Goldson, Carlos Rogers, Donte Whitner) picked up right where they left off the 2011 season: great coverage and big hits.
But it was the emergence of Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver that really caught my eye. Both youngsters played fantastic games. They combined for 12 tackles and two tipped passes.
You look at the numbers Rodgers put up against this unit, and it's pretty disheartening. Then you take into account that it was Aaron freakin' Rodgers, and it looks pretty darn good. He has no limit to the number of receiving weapons to spread the ball to, yet the 49ers' secondary held him to an un-Rodgers-esque 93.3 QB rating.
Rogers had a big sack, and the array of blitzes used on defense was creating some much needed havoc. Even though the Packers QB put up over 300 yards on nearly 70 percent completions, it seemed like he was mostly throwing short outs and slants to pick up yardage.
The deep ball was mostly taken away by the secondary, and if they could hold Rodgers to a performance like this, I'm confident that nobody will be able to throw on this unit.
That being said, there were some times that the coverage was a little soft, and though I had no reason to be really worried, the ease with which Rodgers hit James Jones over and over again on the final Green Bay scoring drive was frustrating.
By the way, the newest secondary addition to this group, Perrish Cox? He didn't have a great debut, missing tackles like it was the fall fashion.
Special Teams: B+
Let's do a good, bad and ugly segment here. For your debating pleasure:
Shouldn't we say "great?" Besides the fact that Akers almost single-handedly accounted for the difference in my Week 1 fantasy football loss, that record-tying 63-yarder was absolutely epic. Akers booted three long ones on the day and nailed all three PAT's.
Andy Lee did his thing, booting the ball an average of more than 51 yards on five punts, though he looked silly on the Randall Cobb return "touchdown" trying to make the tackle. It looks as if the 49ers might have the best all-around kicking game in the NFL.
Don't get me wrong—Kyle Williams is one of my favorites on this team. And he didn't make any season-ending blunders in the kick return game. That being said, he had six chances to return punts and only took one and ran with it. The other five were either fair caught or ignored.
I'd simply like to see Williams take a chance when he fields the punt around the 15. Make a move and see what his speed can do. I know he has the ability to do so.
Forget the fact that Anthony Dixon was crushed on a block in the back that somehow went completely unnoticed on Cobb's return touchdown. The coverage all together on that play was absolutely horrendous. We can sit here complaining about the replacement refs, but the normally reliable 49ers coverage unit was absolutely torched on that play.
Reigning Coach of the Year Jim Harbaugh is back to his old tricks —except he's gotten better.
This roster he has in 2012 is all together more talented and determined than 2011's. And that's saying something, considering how well last year's squad played.
I don't know how Harbaugh does it, but he has this team even more high-energy than last year, and they look like a team capable of outplaying every opponent each week by a mile.
The offensive play calling was smart and balanced, the defensive scheme worked to perfection and Harbaugh didn't rip a replacement ref's throat out at any point. I consider all these things big time victories.
Oh, and bonus points for getting the win in Lambeau Field against last season's best team, I guess. Whatever.
There were a few penalties. A bad special teams play (which was subsequently squashed by the record-breaking boot from Akers). Some laziness in the secondary, and a poor game by Joe Staley.
But all in all, this win was absolutely dominant. Yes, the score was 30-22, but it really wasn't that close. Alex Smith looked like a great quarterback, Gore and Hunter are still a ferocious 1-2 punch, and Crabtree may just be on his way to a huge season.
As usual, the front seven did a great job effectively ending any semblance of an opposing running game, and the entire defense kept the elite Green Bay offense on its heels for much of the afternoon.
If Smith continues to pass like he did against the Packers, and the secondary really is that good, the rest of the NFL may be in for a very long season when they play against San Francisco.
Who's got it better than us?