San Francisco 49ers: Breaking Down the Week 2 Game Tape
The Lions, who feature a tough, physical defense and a formidable passing attack, came to San Francisco with a chip on their shoulder, having lost to the 49ers in the now-infamous game in which 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Lions coach Jim Schwartz got into a post-game beef.
Schwartz took offense to Harbaugh's overly exuberant handshake and slap on the back, and the two nearly came to blows.
The 49ers led from start to finish as they held the potent Detroit offense, led by QB Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, at bay.
The win was a strong statement by the 49ers that they are a team to be reckoned with. In the first two weeks of the season, the Niners have defeated Aaron Rodgers and Stafford, two of the NFL's top quarterbacks who lead very good teams.
Let's take a deeper look at 10 of the most noteworthy developments for the 49ers in this game.
10. The 49ers' Pass Protection Is Still a Bit Suspect
The 49ers did an adequate job of pass protection against the Lions. However, there is still room for improvement. Alex Smith was sacked three times and has now been sacked seven times in the first two games.
When given time, Smith is able to find receivers. So look for defenses to try to apply more pressure to rush his throws and force a key mistake.
The 49ers' offensive line has had a few breakdowns in pass protection, so it will be important to keep Smith upright this week against the Vikings.
9. Vic Fangio Put Together an Excellent Defensive Game Plan
The 49ers had an excellent defensive game plan against the Lions. Coordinator Vic Fangio's defense was strong against the run and contained the explosive Detroit passing attack.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford went 19-of-32 for 230 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. He had a pedestrian 78.9 QB rating.
The key for the 49ers was containing Lions' All-World receiver Calvin Johnson. He did catch eight passes but for only 94 yards. He did not have the game-breaking plays that have become his calling card. In fact, Johnson did not even find the end zone.
Typically, the 49ers bracketed Johnson, rolling a safety in his direction. They also did an excellent job of tackling to make sure Johnson was not able to break off any large gains after the catch.
Fangio often employed nickel coverage, with Chris Culliver acting as the fifth DB. Unlike against the Packers in the season opener, when the 49ers frequently used Perrish Cox, a sixth defensive back, and removed linebacker Patrick Willis, Willis stayed on the field for the vast majority of defensive plays.
Willis and fellow linebacker NaVorro Bowman got good depth on their drops and were quick to make tackles on passes underneath.
On only one play did we see Johnson evade a would-be tackler, but he still advanced only a few yards before another 49er defender brought him down.
The 49ers also held the Lions to 82 rushing yards on 26 attempts. Detroit's leading rusher Kevin Smith amassed only 53 yards on 16 carries. This is the 21st consecutive home game in which the defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher.
8. David Akers and Andy Lee Were as Good as Ever
Kicker David Akers and punter Andy Lee are two of the most reliable specialists in the league.
Both were selected to the 2011 Pro Bowl and earned first-team All-Pro honors. Thus far in 2012, neither has missed a beat.
With two more field goals against the Lions, Akers is 5-for-5 on the season. He also boomed his six kickoffs, allowing only two returns.
There was a great deal of concern about Lee heading into the Detroit game. He injured his thumb trying to make a tackle on Green Bay's Randall Cobb in the Niners' opener, and it was not known how well Lee could catch the snaps on punts and field-goal attempts, where he serves as the holder.
The 49ers were so concerned they activated third-string quarterback Scott Tolzein, who was available to hold for Akers' field goals and extra-point attempts. However, Lee proved able to handle the job.
He punted eight times for a 45.6-yard average. That is a bit deceiving, however, as many of Lee's punts were designed to pin Detroit deep in its territory. He was successful, as five of his punts were inside the 20-yard line and there were no touchbacks.
Akers and Lee are tremendous assets. They proved that again this past week.
7. Too Many Dropped Passes
The 49ers had an uncharacteristic six dropped passes against the Lions. In a few instances, the receiver started looking upfield to run before he caught the ball. In others, the pass was simply missed.
Bruce Miller, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker and Mario Manningham all missed passes that should have been caught. Even with these drops, Alex Smith went 20-of-31 for 225 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His QB rating of 107.7 and yardage total easily could have been much higher.
For NFL receivers, dropping a pass is often a matter of concentration. The 49ers' receivers must make sure to secure the ball before looking to run upfield.
6. Frank Gore Has Great Vision and the Ability to Burst Through Holes
At the age of 29 and in his eighth NFL season, Frank Gore looks as good as ever. He has always had excellent patience and vision as a runner. What has been impressive is how Gore has retained that quick burst to hit an open hole. In watching him this year, he looks even quicker than he was in 2011.
Gore rushed for 89 yards on 17 attempts, an average of 5.2 yards-per-carry. He also scored a touchdown, his second of the year. On the season, Gore has rushed for 201 yards on 33 carries, an average of 6.1 yards per -carry.
Kendall Hunter, Gore's backup, has carried the ball 14 times, lightening the load on Gore. It's critically important for the 49ers to keep Gore healthy. That Hunter is getting meaningful playing time should help.
5. The Offensive Line and Tight Ends Are Blocking Well for the Run
The 49ers' offensive line and tight ends did an excellent job of run-blocking. In addition, we saw Bruce Miller and defensive lineman Will Tukuafu do a good job blocking from the fullback position. Several downfield blocks by the wide receivers also contributed to the 49ers' success on the ground.
The 49ers' average of 5.7 yards per carry ranks second in the NFL.
Against the Lions, the 49ers rushed 27 times for 148 yards. Several of the runs were sprung by trap blocks by tight end Delanie Walker, as the 49ers used both Walker and Vernon Davis on several plays.
The offensive balance the 49ers have shown is impressive. On running plays, the 49ers' offensive line and tight ends have been imposing their will on the opposing defense.
4. The 49ers Are the Best Tackling Team in the NFL
After watching the 49ers over the past two seasons under Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, I have reached the conclusion that the 49ers are the best tackling team in the league.
Against the Lions, the 49ers had only a couple of missed tackles, which were quickly covered up by other defenders. In particular, the Lions had a minimal number of yards after the catch.
The Lions were also unable to break free on the ground. They rushed for 82 yards on 26 attempts, an average of 3.15 yards per carry. Matthew Stafford had the Lions' longest run on the day, an 11-yard scamper on a quarterback draw.
Patrick Willis led the 49ers with nine tackles and fellow inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman had eight. Those two are arguably the top inside-linebacker tandem in the NFL. Tackle Justin Smith, safety Dashon Goldson and linebacker Aldon Smith each had at least five tackles.
3. Too Many Special-Team Mistakes
The 49ers have not had the same level of special-team play they had in 2011. Both the return game and coverage units made key mistakes against the Lions.
Kendall Hunter lost a fumble on the kickoff after the Lions' first field goal. This gave Detroit the ball deep in 49ers' territory. The defense was able to hold the Lions to a field goal, which was an important series early in this game.
The 49ers were also carelessly offside on a kickoff, which should never happen. Reserve lineman Daniel Kilgore committed an illegal block on another return.
The 49ers gave up another big return, this time on a third-quarter kickoff following a David Akers field goal. Stefan Logan took one back 40 yards against the 49ers' kickoff coverage unit.
In the first week of the season, Randall Cobb returned a punt for a touchdown. The 49ers must improve their coverage units, which were a strength in 2011.
2. The 49ers Executed a Diverse Offensive Game Plan
Head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman put together an excellent offensive game plan against the Lions and the team executed it well. The 49ers used multiple formations and several personnel groupings to keep the Lions' defense off balance.
Alex Smith also made several offensive adjustments and audibles at the line of scrimmage that proved to be effective. The 49ers spread the ball around throughout the game.
Michael Crabtree led the way with six catches for 67 yards. Tight end Vernon Davis had five receptions for 73 yards and two touchdowns. Mario Manningham had a productive game.He had three receptions for 28 yards and ran for 29 yards on a end-around. In all, seven players had receptions.
On the ground, in addition to Manningham's burst, Frank Gore led the way with 89 yards on 17 carries. Kendall Hunter added 23 yards on five carries and Alex Smith also had a 10-yard run.
The multiple formations, men-in-motion and various personnel groupings were exciting to see. What was even more exciting was the way the 49ers executed the myriad things they tried. We are now seeing much more of the playbook, unlike last year when the lockout and limited practice time restricted what Harbaugh was able to use.
The offense looked good and came through when needed in the fourth quarter to eliminate the possibility of a Detroit comeback.
1. Alex Smith Was in Command of the Offense and the Game
Alex Smith is playing with a supreme confidence. He is showing an excellent command of the offense and throwing the football with greater conviction and accuracy.
Against the Lions, Smith completed 20-of- 31 pass attempts for 226 yards and two touchdowns. These numbers would have been even better had the 49er receivers not dropped six passes.
Two sequences best exemplified Smith's growth. On the 49ers' first scoring drive, Smith came to the line and switched the play-call when he saw the Lions' defense was vulnerable in a certain area.
The 49ers executed the play perfectly, as Smith hit Vernon Davis for a 21-yard touchdown pass. This gave the 49ers a 7-0 lead, one which they would never relinquish.
The other sequence occurred in the fourth quarter. Smith converted three 3rd-and-long situations as the 49ers went on a 13-play, 79-yard drive that Smith culminated with 23-yard touchdown pass to Davis. Smith found Michael Crabtree for all three of those key first downs.
The 49ers Are Off to a Great Start
The San Francisco 49ers are 2-0 and off to a great start. The defense has looked as good as it did in 2011. With all 11 starters returning, the defense is extremely foreboding.
Offensively, the 49ers have come out with different formations and position groups in both games. Their execution of a complex game plan has been essential to both wins.
This week, the challenge will be containing Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin as they head to Minnesota to face the Vikings.
Jim Harbaugh will not allow his players to get complacent and the Vikings are rebuilding.
The 49ers should be 3-0 after this game.