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Bills vs. 49ers: Final Game Grades, Analysis for San Francisco

Michael ErlerCorrespondent IOctober 16, 2016

Bills vs. 49ers: Final Game Grades, Analysis for San Francisco

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    It's a 45-3 final as the 49ers scored touchdowns on their final five possessions, with the last one a run by Anthony Dixon, and accumulated 621 yards of offense, going past the 300-yard mark both rushing and passing in their humiliation of the Bills

    They've broken a franchise record for yards, with the previous best (598) also coming, oddly enough, against the Bills, in 1992 in a game where neither team punted. 

    The effort level of the Bills' defenders was an embarrassment to pro football, but otherwise it was a fine game. 

    Alex Smith set several career records, the defense held firm and forced two turnovers and the second half was as one-sided as any in NFL history. 

    The 49ers are tied for the NFC West at 4-1 while the Bills, at 2-3, have allowed 97 points the past two games (and 48 to the Jets in Week, remember). 


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    Alex Smith: A+

    Smith set career-highs in passer rating (156.2), passing yards for a half (237), passing yards in a win (303), rushing yards (49) and tied his career-high with three touchdown passes against the Bills.

    Otherwise, it was just another game.

    Having an hour-and-a-half to throw each play certainly helped, but Smith sharp on his end, had no difficulty reading Bills’ “coverages” and constantly put the ball in spots where his guys could catch it comfortably and run with it.

    He even picked up a couple of first downs running, with a third-down scramble in the first half and a fourth-down scramble in the fourth quarter, wisely sliding to avoid hits on both plays. So-called “star” quarterbacks around the league (looking at you, Michael Vick) would be wise to emulate Smith’s decision-making.

    In killing Buffalo, Smith now has a winning record as a starter at 36-35, as he’s won 19 of his past 24 starts counting postseason. 

    Colin Kaepernick: B-

    Kaepernick got his most extensive playing time of the season, thanks to the blowout nature of the game, and even got his first completion, a 7-yard pass to Kyle Williams.

    During the meaningful part of the game he saw action in some wildcat packages and scored on a 16-yard keeper and set up another touchdown on a 15-yard carry. He also had a couple other runs negated by penalty, as well as a bomb on a trick play that Vernon Davis dropped, and fumbled in the second quarter to ruin what had been a great drive up to that point.

    Still, Kaepernick’s running ability has completely flummoxed the Jets and Bills’ defenses the past two weeks and by all accounts it will be a regular part of the offense going forward. 

Running Backs

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    Frank Gore: A

    Gore eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the 31st time in his illustrious career, doing most of his damage in the second half against a worn-down Bills’ front line. The blocking for him was outstanding and he often didn’t get touched until he was at the second or third level during his 14-carry, 106-yard outing.

    Gore scored on a 1-yard leap over the pile to finish off a third quarter drive before getting a rare chance to sit out most of the fourth quarter. He had a great game in blitz pickup as a blocker, but did get called for one chop block in the first half which wiped out a big play. 

    Kendall Hunter: A

    Had a career-high 81 yards rushing on just 11 carries, with most of the damage coming in garbage time.

    Probably had his biggest run of the game in the second quarter, where he picked up 12 on a 3rd-and-10 draw deep in 49ers' territory. Though the series ultimately culminated in a Colin Kaepernick fumble way down the field, a punt there would've given the Bills' offense the ball in good field position. 

    Anthony Dixon: B+

    Had 21 yards on four carries, including a 3-yard touchdown very late in the game. It's a tribute to Dixon's efforts that he's gone from a guy who looked like a "dead man walking" in training camp to someone who's not only made the team but is seemingly ahead of a healthy Brandon Jacobs on the depth chart.

    Bruce Miller: A-

    Terrific as a lead blocker inside and outside all game and even had a surprise 9-yard carry in the fourth quarter. 


Wide Receivers

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    Michael Crabtree: A+

    Crabtree had a season-high 113 yards and his first touchdown of the season and looked decidedly faster in this game than he has all season. Not sure if it was the Bills' defense or Crabtree just feeling healthier, but he had another gear on the afternoon and was able to not just get open but repeatedly run past defenders after the catch for big gains.

    Heck, he had a long catch-and-run wiped out by penalty and still posted impressive totals. His touchdown reception, just before half on a 28-yard corner route, was particularly impressive, as he shook his man completely and got yards of separation to make the catch. 

    It hasn't happened often, but today Crabtree looked like the guy he was drafted to be, an elite receiver. 

    Mario Manningham: B

    Manningham wasn't as featured as much this game as he had been the past couple of weeks, but he had four short receptions for 26 yards, including a 10-yard score early in the fourth quarter that made it 24-3 at the time and ended any semblance of drama. 

    Manningham's numbers aren't great, but he seems to have established himself as the team's official No. 2 receiver, when his role was an open question going into camp.

    Randy Moss: D

    Hardly played at all and he had one 11-yard reception in the third quarter on the only pass Smith threw him. Everything we read regarding Moss is that he's happy in his role, but his history suggets that can't possibly be true.

    Kyle Williams: B

    Had a pair of receptions for a season-high 50 yards, but the noteworthy one was a 43-yard score in the second quarter, when he hauled in an 11-yard sideline pass from Alex Smith, turned quickly and raced past his defender the rest of the way. 

    Williams' short-area quickness and burst are the main reasons why he's playing more than Moss these days, but the bigger question is why Ted Ginn is even on the team anymore considering Williams can handle punt returns just as well if not better. 

Tight Ends

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    Vernon Davis: A-

    A season-high 106 yards receiving on just five receptions, including a 53-yard bomb from Alex Smith that's the team's longest play from scrimmage on the season.

    Had a couple of nice jukes to turn a couple of short catches into long gains, but dropped another bomb from Kaepernick that wouldn't have counted anyway because of a penalty. 

    Unlike other star tight ends, Davis is just as much of an asset as a blocker and continues to neutralize opposing ends one-on-one. 

    Delanie Walker: C

    Was called for a tripping penalty which negated a first down run by Kaepernick on 3rd-and-7, but the offense picked it up on the next play anyway. Didn't get any opportunities as a receiver, but blocked well when called upon. 

    Garrett Celek: B-

    The undrafted rookie out of Michigan State (and younger brother of Eagles TE Brent Celek) had his first career reception in the fourth quarter and blocked well in extensive playing time. 

Offensive Line

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    Joe Staley: A-

    Was whistled for one holding penalty on a trick play where Colin Kaepernick threw a bomb, but was otherwise dominant. Bills DE Mark Anderson never came close to sniffing Alex Smith. 

    Mike Iupati: A

    Had a false start penalty, but the holes he opened up for Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter all afternoon more than made up for it. He's headed to the Pro Bowl barring injury. 

    Jonathan Goodwin: A

    No snapping miscues all game, which is easier said than done with two quarterbacks to adjust two instead of one. Another great game as a run blocker, and had a couple of tough tackles to deal with in Buffalo's Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.

    Alex Boone: A-

    Gave up some penetration on a couple of plays, but was very good overall and moved well on trap plays. 

    Anthony Davis: A-

    Did allow a couple of pressures, but mostly dominated the overpaid Mario Williams and has been outstanding all season. 

    Daniel Kilgore: C+

    Had an early holding penalty which negated a first down pass to Vernon Davis and stalled out the team's opening series. 

Defensive Line

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    Justin Smith: B

    Had four tackles and helped shut down the Bills' running game in the first half before spending the third quarter occupying blockers in the futile hopes of freeing up buddy Aldon Smith to chase down Ryan Fitzpatrick. 

    Got close to a sack once himself, but no cigar. 

    Ray McDonald: C-

    A quiet game for McDonald, who didn't show up on the stat sheet at all. Had to play tackle all game as the defense was always in the nickel.

    Isaac Sopoaga: Inc.

    Returned from injury but didn't really get a chance to play because the 49ers never got to use their base defense against Buffalo.

    Ricky Jean Francois: C+

    Played in the fourth quarter and got to rush the passer some, but Jean Francois is a guy who needs to know he's starting going into a game to be mentally into it.


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    Patrick Willis: A

    The newly-engaged Willis led the team with seven tackles and forced a huge fumble, stripping Bills TE Scott Chandler late in the second quarter. The turnover was quickly cashed in for a touchdown, a 10-3 game going into half was suddenly 17-3 and the 49ers ran away from Buffalo after that.

    NaVorro Bowman: B

    A relatively quiet afternoon for Bowman, who was in on four tackles and had a pass deflection. Going into the game I thought the Bills would try to exploit him by singling him one-on-one with C.J. Spiller, but it never happened.

    Aldon Smith: B-

    Had a couple of near-sacks of Ryan Fitzpatrick and a fine shoestring tackle in open space but was otherwise quiet. Missed out on a chance to tie or surpass Reggie White's record for most career sacks in a player's first 20 games. 

    Ahmad Brooks: B

    Had the only sack of the game, crunching Fitzpatrick for an 11-yard loss on a naked bootleg, and had an early tackle for a loss on a run play as well.

Defensive Backs

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    Carlos Rogers: B+

    Allowed a couple of receptions but was solid in wrapping his guy up for short gains. 

    Tarell Brown: B+

    Probably Brown's best game of the season, as he didn't allow anything long and didn't get called for any flags either.

    Chris Culliver: A

    The Bills tested him deep twice and he had one interception on a badly underthrown ball and had his guy tightly covered on the other one. Hasn't been beaten for a reception of consequence all season.

    Donte Whitner: B+

    Allowed a couple of receptions to Scott Chandler against his old mates, but overall it was a better performance against a good young tight end than one had reason to expect from Whitner.

    Dashon Goldson: B+

    Recovered Chandler's fumble off Patrick Willis' strip to set up the offense for a touchdown and threw his body around recklessly on some early runs, but didn't have much to do in the second half.

Special Teams

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    David Akers: B+

    Had a 19-yard field goal and a few touchbacks on kickoffs, but overall it was the quiestest game of Akers' 49ers career. 

    Andy Lee: B

    Was fortunate to not have his first punt returned for a touchdown as it sure looked like Lee outshot his coverage once again, but a holding penalty saved him. Boomed another one in the second quarter. His only work in the second half was holding for Akers' PATs.

    Brian Jennings: A

    Flawless as always for the 49ers' long-snapper.

    Kyle Williams: B-

    Averaged 22.5 yards on two kickoff returns, but he's not getting too many chances these days since nobody scores against the Niners.

    Ted Ginn: C-

    Averaged 6.7 yards on three punt returns and nearly muffed one, and his hold on the job is just as tenuous. 


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    Coaching: A-

    Full credit to Jim Harbaugh and his coaches for keeping the team focused on the task at hand with a game against the New York Giants, the team that eliminated them in the NFC Championship Game last season, coming up on the schedule.

    The 49ers were expected to beat the Bills, perhaps even handily, but few saw 45-3 coming and the game just got more and more one-sided as it went on, as the Bills simply quit competing. 

    Even when Harbaugh had nothing but reserves out there and the 49ers were trying to simply run out the clock and get the game over with, they were gaining chunks of yards and had no choice but to score another touchdown. 

    It looked like a gamble, especially after a lost fumble in the second quarter, but it sure appears that Colin Kaepernick will be used on a handful of plays each week regardless of how well Alex Smith is playing and it's just another dimension of the team's multifaceted offense opposing coordinators need to prepare for. 

    Harbaugh and his staff don't usually give in to criticism, but the game plan against Buffalo looked like a pointed rebuke against those who critiqued Smith and the dink-and-dunk passing game as the quarterback repeatedly looked long all game and had plenty of time to do so.

    The 49ers have one of the most balanced offenses in the league, one with a variety of weapons in the run and pass game and to this stage they haven't even needed to use Randy Moss much or Brandon Jacobs at all, not to mention their top draft picks.

    It has to be a scary thought for future opponents.  

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