Giants vs. 49ers: Final Game Grades, Analysis for San Francisco
The 49ers hold on for a 13-6 win over Seattle after some goofiness at the end, where coach Jim Harbaugh declined a safety after LB Aldon Smith was chop-blocked in the end zone, because he preferred to just have the ball on the 21-yard-line since the result of the Seahawks' final play wasn't enough to gain a first down.
While some gamblers might night be too happy with the Niners coach at the moment, the result is still a win, pushing the team's record to 5-2, giving them at worst a tie for the NFC West lead and sending the team into their mini-bye week with some momentum before their next game, two Mondays from now, at Arizona.
It was by-and-large a defensive affair as predicted, but outside of a shaky second quarter the 49ers controlled the game and were propelled by a huge second-half effort from Frank Gore, who finished with 131 yards rushing and another 51 receiving to lead the way.
The Niners haven't allowed a touchdown following any of their five regular season defeats under Harbaugh, proving that like the Incredible Hulk, "you shouldn't make them angry, you won't like them when they're angry."
Harbaugh meanwhile improved to 5-1 all time vs. coaching nemesis Pete Carroll, including 3-0 in the pros. The Niners haven't lost a division home game in their last 11 tries, since October of 2008.
I think I can I think I can I think I can
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Alex Smith: C-
Smith's numbers (14-of-23, 140 yards, one touchdown pass, one interception and a 74.5 passer rating) scream "game manager," don't they?
To be fair to him, he's had many better performances, games where he was a reason they won rather than one where they didn't lose, in the past year-and-change under Harbaugh's tutelage.
And the Seahawks, with their Godzilla-sized corners and their imposing safeties and their speedy pass-rushing duo of Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons, are about as good a defense as you'll find in the league.
Smith took some shots down field in the first half, missed, and couldn't seem to figure out a Plan B in the second quarter. After offensive coordinator Greg Roman made some half time adjustments he settled down, took the dump offs, and was for more effective.
Smith finally found a rhythm in his second series of the third quarter, hitting on five straight short passes for 60 yards and a touchdown to Delanie Walker. He hasn't been accurate at all going for the sidelines or the big play, but the Seahawks do have a pretty good secondary, to their credit, and the Niners are a bit shorthanded at receiver without Mario Manningham.
Smith hasn't played a great game by any means, but he's outplayed his counterpart, and that's usually been a winning formula for the 49ers.
He'll be kicking himself for that red zone interception in the fourth quarter, but it's still a win over a strong division opponent, so you take it and move on.
Colin Kaepernick: Inc.
Played one snap, on second-and-goal in the fourth quarter, and was whacked for a 1-yard loss on a quarterback sweep. Shockingly, the Seahawks defense saw it coming.
It's hard to imagine the coaches making the mistake of under-utilizing Gore again.
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Frank Gore: A+
On a night where the receivers struggled to get untracked against the physicality and freakish height of the Seahawks secondary, the running backs, particularly Frank Gore, carried the day.
Gore was good in the first half, but underused. In the second half he got to touch it early and often, both in the run game and pass game, and he finished with 131 yards rushing and a team-leading five receptions for another 51 yards. Trap plays inside worked wonders repeatedly and Gore had ample running room inside, often not having to take a hit until he was 15 or 20 yards down-field.
Gore seemed to suffer a ding late in the game, possibly due to fatigue from the short week, but he'll have some time off before the next game.
Kendall Hunter: B
Had 45 yards on 11 touches, with his biggest play probably being a 12-yard reception on a flare pass midway through the third quarter during the offense's lone touchdown drive. Had a couple of successful runs outside but struggled to find much room up the gut, and his average suffered late when the coaches were just sending him into a pile and making Seattle burn time outs with Gore out of the game.
Bruce Miller: B
Like TE Delanie Walker, blocking has gone from the weakest part of Miller's game to the strongest. He's excellent at picking out the right guy on those wham blocks and eliminating him.
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Michael Crabtree: B-
Had an early reception where he turned a simple 5-yard hitch into a 15-yard gain with a sweet broken tackle and a clutch 3rd-and-10 grab in Seattle territory on the touchdown drive, but was fairly quiet overall with four catches for 31 yards. Did block well.
Randy Moss: C-
Had an early third down conversion and should've drawn a holding flag to set up a first-and-goal in the second quarter. Was open along the back of the end zone on a fourth quarter play, but Smith saw him too late and threw too low.
Kyle Williams: B
Had one catch-and-run for 18 yards in the second half but could've been huge early in the game had Smith hit him with a bomb when he was open.
If only Walker's fingers were as nimble as his feet...
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Vernon Davis: C-
I can't recall a game where Davis was never targeted even once, but it speaks to the talent of the Seahawks secondary and how much attention they paid to him.
Davis blocked like a beast in the run game and had a key seal on the goal line to free Delanie Walker for his touchdown.
Delanie Walker: B
Caught the only pass thrown his way, on a short crossing pattern in the red zone, and deftly squeezed tiptoed his way inside the pylon for his first touchdown since the game-winning 4th-and-goal slant at Detroit in Week 6 last season.
It had to be sweet vindication for Walker, whose jaw was shattered in three different places at Seattle last December.
Staley stood tall against the Seahawks
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Joe Staley: A-
Considering that he suffered a concussion just four days ago against the Giants, Joe Staley had an honorable performance against the Seahawks, keeping Chris Clemons at bay all night and generating all kinds of push in the running game. He's responsible for the backside seal on the linebacker on those wham plays and excels at blindsiding people on that play.
Mike Iupati: A
Iupati wasn't flashy or demonstrative, but games like this are why he'll be a perennial Pro Bowler. For all the coaches' creative scheming the biggest reason -- literally -- that the team can run inside the way they do now and they couldn't before is the team didn't have anyone like Iupati at guard, mauling people.
Jonathan Goodwin: A-
Was smart and technically sound, proving double teams when he had to and seeking targets on the second level when there were opportunities. No bad snaps.
Alex Boone: A-
Rebounded well from a poor game on Sunday and was once again a force on inside runs. His short-area quickness and agility have been a godsend. I just didn't think he had the feet to trap and pull this well.
Anthony Davis: B+
Had a few sloppy plays, but generally pretty good. Seemed to lose focus on times when he was blocking lesser guys than Bruce Irvin.
By striking me down you make me more powerful than before.
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Justin Smith: A-
After an alarmingly quiet game against the Giants, Smith had his finest performance of the season on Thursday night, with a game-high nine stops, a couple of pressures against Russell Wilson, and a would-be sack that was wiped out by penalty.
Smith was very active, and though the Seahawks had plenty of success running the ball, it wasn't because he was missing tackles.
Ray McDonald: D+
McDonald, on the other hand, was quite poor, with just two tackles, almost no penetration to speak of in the run game or versus the pass, and just a forgettable game overall. Playing twice in five days did not help him at all.
Isaac Sopoaga: D-
Sopoaga also was woeful. He played a lot, for him, with Seattle operating in a pro set fairly extensively, but he just couldn't anchor against the run and made his linebackers look bad, with Lynch getting a full head of steam at them.
Demarcus Dobbs: C+
Played a few snaps early on and drew a big penalty, which stymied a potential Seahawks scoring drive.
Sadly for Smith, most fans don't have the memory of a hummingbird.
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Patrick Willis: C+
Had a bad first quarter, giving up an early completion to Michael Robinson and was burned for a touchdown pass on a wheel route. Lucky for him, Robert Turbin dropped the ball.
Willis also missed a couple of tackles on Marshawn Lynch, who has a habit of breaking them.
The 49ers' captain got better in the second half, and he blitzed a few times, causing a few incompletions from Russell Wilson.
NaVorro Bowman: B-
Was also guilty of missing a couple of tackles on Lynch, but he had a blitz on Wilson that forced an interception and a chase-down sack in the first half.
Aldon Smith: D+
Had a late sack and was chop-blocked in the end zone on Seattle's final play from scrimmage, which would've been a safety if Harbaugh didn't decline it.
However, those two, mostly meaningless plays aside, Smith had one of his worst games as pro, as his tackling against Lynch at times bordered on embarrassing. At times Smith can wrap up guys in the open field around the ankles, but it seems his style is to only try to hit quarterbacks hard, if anyone, and he's not too keen to slam into running backs.
Ahmad Brooks: D
Two tackles, practically invisible, no pressure to speak of. So far it's hard to argue that the 49ers are getting the proper return on their long-term investment in Brooks.
Goldson has a way of drawing attention to himself, for better or worse.
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Carlos Rogers: A-
Excellent in coverage in the second half and showed some courage sticking his nose in there on those bubble screens and playing with some physicality. Stood up to every challenge.
Tarell Brown: B
Gave up a couple of early completions, but tackled well. A nice bounce-back game overall for Brown.
Chris Culliver: A
As the Giants showed last week, it's going to take something pretty spectacular to beat Culliver in coverage these days. The Seahawks went after him for a stretch in the fourth quarter and he thwarted every attempt, nearly intercepting a couple.
Without a doubt he's the team's best corner and a darkhorse for a Pro Bowl candidate if he can find a way to corral a couple more picks.
Donte Whitner: B
A quiet game for Whitner, who didn't have to cover an elite tight end and didn't make many plays crashing down in the box to stop the run. Was fortunate Ben Obomanu slipped on a cut or he would've been deeked out of his jock for a touchdown.
Dashon Goldson: B-
Had an interception early in the fourth quarter and a pass breakup, but some rough moments in the first quarter too. He was bulldozed by Lynch on a tackle attempt and took it so personally that he taunted Lynch after a tackle a couple plays later, costing the team a 15-yard penalty and a first down.
Goldson has to find a way to control his emotions, but it's not like his coach can serve as a role model in that regard.
Perrish Cox: D-
Played a couple of snaps in the dime package early in the game and was immediately targeted by the Seahawks, giving up a long completion to Obomanu. Didn't see him much in the second half.
Ginn found considerably more room against the Seahawks than the Giants.
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Ted Ginn: A-
Taking over as the full-time returner perhaps to allow Kyle Williams to focus on receiving, Ginn was the unsung hero of the game for the Niners, averaging 23.3 yards on three punt returns and repeatedly gaining field position for the offense.
Had a less-flashy 20.5-yard average on a pair of kickoff returns, with a long of 26 yards.
David Akers: A
Made two field goals inside of 40 yards and had touchbacks on all of his kickoffs, which was a welcome change.
Andy Lee: A
Dumped four of his five punts inside the 20, including two inside the 10-yard-line. His other punt, meanwhile, traveled a mere 66-yards. The Seahawks had five return yards total on those five efforts.
Brian Jennings: A
Par for the course for the team's peerless veteran long-snapper.
A familiar pose for Harbaugh against Pete Carroll.
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Coaching Grade: B-
Full credit to the offensive coaching staff, not just for the adjustments they made, but for the ones they didn't make.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman kept it simple, saw the way the Seahawks corners were man-handling his receivers outside, and decided the best way to move the chains would be via his backs, running and receiving.
Alex Smith hardly needs his arm twisted to be told to check the ball down, but the clever design of the Niners' route concepts allowed for some clear outs in the short middle of the field and let Gore work with some room to pick up a couple of first downs on dump off passes, and it worked for Michael Crabtree on a third down as well.
As far as the moves the coaches didn't make, they resisted the temptation to use Colin Kaepernick, even with Smith's first half struggles, and their veteran star showed he was worth the confidence, eventually finding his groove in the third quarter.
Also, the coaches have stuck by slumping backup tight end Delanie Walker, and he finally hung on to a ball and scored his first touchdown of the season.
Of course, I gave the coaches plaudits for not inserting Kaepernick in the game and disrupting Alex Smith's rhythm, so surely enough they bring their wildcat specialist in for the first-and-only time on 2nd-and-goal in the fourth quarter, with a chance to put the game away, and of course the Seahawks defense all keyed on Kaepernick, knowing a QB sweep was in the offing and buried him.
Smith, who was red-hot at the time, re-entered the game on 3rd-and-goal from the 7-yard-line and threw an interception on the next play. Maybe it was a coincidence, and maybe it wasn't.
Also, Frank Gore walked slowly to the locker room before the end of the game, perhaps tweaking something after getting so much work in the second half. Why not use Brandon Jacobs a bit in that situation? The veteran was finally activated for this game but never got off the bench.