Welcome to the first ever edition of Upon Further Review, a weekly article on the San Francisco 49ers' most recent game. It's simple: I watch the game live, then re-watch it the next day—using the glorious pause, stop, and rewind buttons—to see what stands out.
You see, watching film is sometimes like reading a pop-up book. Things just jump out at you, and you can't help but notice them. Things that you may have missed the first time through, or most importantly, things that the box score fails to mention.
So each week I will highlight three major points; sometimes more, but never less. This week it's four. Feel free to add your thoughts—what did you see?—in the comments below.
What is this, a re-run of the "Bizarro Jerry" episode of Seinfeld? At least that's how I felt watching this game unfold.
David Akers, who is usually as reliable as kickers come and who earlier in the season nailed a 63-yarder, missed two field goals. Alex Smith, the turnover prude who had thrown just one interception in his 12 previous games combined, threw three interceptions. The offense, which leads the NFL in rushing yards per game at 176.8, completely abandoned the run. The defense, which is known to be stout against the run, gave up 149 yards on the ground. And a pass-rush featuring Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks and Co. failed to register a single sack.
All in all, just a strange day at the office; the opposite of what we expect from the 49ers led by Coach Harbaugh.
Colin Kaepernick in Moderation
I like the idea of using the "WildKaep," or whatever you want to call it, but not in a flow-disrupting way. On Sunday it was just that. Take the opening series for example: the 49ers drive down the field, Kaepernick comes in on a critical third-down, fails to get the first down, stalling the drive and then Akers misses a field goal.
Then later on, after Smith completes a confidence-building 55-yard strike to Randy Moss, Kaepernick is again subbed into the game. He plays two consecutive downs, gains zero net yards, and Smith returns to face a third-and-long—which, yup you guessed it, the offense fails to convert.
There were also the moments Kaepernick was effective, including a 36-yard completion and seven-yard scamper. He can run, he can throw with zip and provides a different look and change of pace. But, and I say this in my most grown-up voice, he is to be used with caution, in other words, in moderation.
It's about finding that balance between not enough and too much—which I say lies in the 4-7 snaps per game range. Enough to keep defenses on their toes but not too much to disrupt the rhythm of the offense, specifically that of Smith.
Manning vs. Smith
A quick look at the box score, and Manning totally outplayed Smith. Upon further review, though, he did not perform significantly better. Gasp!
Manning had much more time in the pocket, but completed just 53.6 percent of his passes for 193 yards and one touchdown. He also had, by my count, three potential interceptions dropped—I'm talking right off the hands of the corners. After dissecting the secondary in the first half, Manning struggled in the second half but managed to limit mistakes.
His counterpart, however, was less fortunate (and less productive). Smith had little to no time in a constantly collapsing pocket, completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 200 yards and zero touchdowns. But when he did misfire, the Giants capitalized. He threw three interceptions that resulted in 17 points for the visiting Giants.
The Elimination of Vernon Davis
It's not too often you watch the 49ers, scratch your head and wonder "Where the heck is Vernon Davis?" The tight end tends to pop out on film with his top-end speed and athleticism. Not this time. Before Sunday he had 20 receptions for 303 and four touchdowns this season. On Sunday he had three receptions for 37 yards and zero touchdowns. He was, simply put, a non-factor.
Hats off to New York for clearly making Davis a top priority. They came in with a game plan, stuck to it and eliminated Davis as a receiving threat. By getting after the quarterback early, the Giants forced Davis to stay in as an extra blocker, and when he did run routes, Smith/Kaepernick had little time to get him the ball downfield.
While this may serve as blueprint for teams around the league, few have the personnel to accomplish such a feat. Even the Giant would have a hard time duplicating this if the two teams meet again later on.
Dun, dun, dun...