San Francisco 49ers Progress Report: Where Do Things Stand Heading into Week 11?
After a poor defensive effort this past Sunday against the Rams, I'm sure Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers were happy to escape with a 24-24 tie. St. Louis had multiple chances to put the game away, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime, but it just couldn't do it.
At 6-2-1 the 49ers still hold onto first place in the NFC West. With two straight victories the Seahawks are starting to climb the ranks, yet they are still two games behind San Francisco. A win on Monday night will be crucial in terms of the division and playoff positioning in the NFC.
With only seven regular-season games left, it's important that Alex Smith gets his head right for the final stretch run and Vic Fangio's defense needs to tighten up. Other than that 49ers appear to be making a strong push for another NFC Championship appearance.
Let's take a look at the good, the bad and everything in between as the 49ers host the 7-2 Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.
Even though the 49ers defense allowed an atrocious 458 yards of total offense to Sam Bradford and company—not all was lost on the defensive side of the ball. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman didn't have the best of days in the middle, but Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith fared quite well on the outside.
According to Pro Football Focus, both outside linebackers had positive grades overall and against the run. Not to mention they tallied eight quarterback pressures together. Smith finished the game with two quarterback sacks and one quarterback hurry.
His second sack proved to be the biggest as it was on the second to last play of the game. By no means were the Rams driving the ball down the 49ers throat on the last drive, but they had garnered a couple of first downs and were inching closer to midfield.
St. Louis' kicker Greg Zuerlein has quite the leg and had already made one 60-yard kick this season, so it was key that San Francisco's defense killed any momentum the Rams had garnered. Smith's two sacks put him at nine for the season. His two-sack performance also highlighted his second straight two-sack game.
Brooks didn't quite put up the same pass-rushing numbers as Smith, yet his five quarterback hurries and three batted passes stacked up well on their own. After watching the game film over a couple times it was clear Bradford was locking on to his receivers and that was giving Brooks the edge he needed to swat passes away.
Another leg up Brooks had over Smith was his ability to play the run. After playing 86 of the club's 88 snaps, he had amassed five defensive stops that constituted an offensive failure. Right tackle Barry Richardson constantly looked overmatched with Brooks' speed and strength just simply being too much.
When St. Louis decided to run behind Richardson they only were able to put together a total of nine yards. Steven Jackson did bulldoze his way to over a 100 yards rushing, but he did so by running primarily up the gut.
Fangio needs this same type pressure and run discipline off the edge if the 49ers' defense wants to slow down the Bears' biggest weapon, Matt Forte.
Outside of left tackle Joe Staley, we might have seen one of the worst performances the 49ers offensive line has turned in this year. As a unit it was strong on the ground as it propelled Frank Gore and the backfield to 183 yards rushing on 34 attempts.
However, pass protection was an issue once again this past week. St. Louis finished Sunday's game with six quarterback sacks, four quarterback hits and 18 quarterback hurries. Its six sacks were the defenses best output of the season next to the Arizona game in Week 5.
So, who were the biggest culprits in pass protection? Right tackle Anthony Davis had a tough time against the always dangerous left defensive end Chris Long. All by himself Long had a total of 10 quarterback pressures—one sack, one hit and eight hurries.
Long can thank Davis for his most productive game of the season.
One of the other poor performances on the offensive line came from an unsuspecting player, Alex Boone. Coming into Week 10 Boone had only allowed nine quarterback pressures through eight games, yet rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers and veteran tackle Kendall Langford had his number in Week 10.
Brockers by far had the best game of his young career collecting two sacks and three hurries. Langford didn't quite get home for a sack, but he did manage two quarterback hits and one hurry. Between both Brockers and Langford they averaged a quarterback disruption once every six snaps.
Surprising considering Brockers' pass-rushing ability hasn't been worthy of praise at any point prior to this game.
Chicago has some pretty stout pass-rushers up front as well, so 49ers offensive line coach Mike Solari has some work to do before Monday night.
Rising: Joe Staley
Staley just keeps getting better and better as the season goes on. San Francisco averaged 11 yards per carry when running of his backside. PFF has only dished out one negative run-blocking grade to Staley so far this season and he is easily the best run blocking tackle in all of football.
Falling: Vernon Davis
For the third game in a row Vernon Davis hasn't eclipsed 40 yards receiving. Moreover, he hasn't caught a touchdown pass since Week 3. Which begs the question, has coverage blanketed him or is he just not beating one-on-one matchups?
Rising: Justin Smith
After a few disappearing acts this season as a pass-rusher, Justin Smith found his groove against left guard Shelley Smith. Before Sunday, Smith hadn't had a whole lot of luck in terms of putting pressure on the quarterback, but things may be looking up as he registered two quarterback hits on Bradford.
Falling: NaVorro Bowman
Bowman's name on the stock is falling list won't last beyond this week, yet it's worth noting that he did turn in his worst performance of the year. He didn't show the ability to fill holes as strongly as he could in the run game, and on his four pass-rushing attempts he generated zero pressure.
The Outlook Heading Into Week 11
Heading into Week 11 the 49ers will need to do what they do best, run the football. Their game plan doesn't often change much from week to week, although San Francisco may need to rely on the run a little more than usual considering Smith's recovery from a concussion.
Plus, the Bears defense has been forcing turnovers at a record pace this year. The less number of passing attempts equals the less number of chances at making a mistake. No. 11 doesn't turn the ball over as much as a Ryan Fitzpatrick type, yet he has been know to turn the ball over when the Niners have to play from behind.
All time he is 1-1 against Chicago and the 49ers are 1-3 in their last four matchups against the Bears.
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