49ers vs. Rams: San Francisco's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 13
Normally, I would try to isolate at least five winners and five losers from each contest; however, today's game was a lot different. I have my five winners, but there are nine losers based on today's game.
Let's take a closer look at the winners and losers from today's game.
Loser No. 9: LaMichael James
LaMichael James has seen no action in any regular-season games this season. If there was ever a time for James to be active, it was today.
Backup running back Kendall Hunter was lost for the season due to an injury suffered last week, so it seemed likely that James would be activated. James is a small, quick running back, in the same mold as Hunter.
Being inactive for this game shows that the 49ers' coaching staff still does not have confidence in him. To be a Round 2 draft selection and never active for any games makes this pick very suspect.
I hope James can contribute this year, but at least for today, he was a loser.
Winner No. 5: Mario Manningham
Mario Manningham was my fifth winner from today's game against the Rams. He caught five passes, mostly on quick slants, as the 49ers took advantage of the St. Louis corners playing off the receivers.
Manningham was an integral part of the passing game until he sustained a shoulder injury in the second half. If Manningham is forced to miss any significant amount of time, the winner-rating will immediately shift to the loser category.
Loser No. 8: Anthony Dixon
The 49ers' coaching staff is also showing that they have little confidence in Anthony Dixon. With Kendall Hunter out for the year, I fully expected Dixon to get a few carries.
Dixon played on special teams, but did not get any carries from scrimmage.
Loser No. 7: A.J. Jenkins
A.J. Jenkins was technically active for today's game, but in reality he did not leave the sideline. With wide receiver Kyle Williams lost for the season with a torn ACL, Jenkins did not participate in a single play.
Jenkins has yet to play a snap during the regular season, which, like LaMichael James, makes his selection in the draft very questionable. For the 49ers to not have their first-round draft pick playing at all is a concern.
Until Jenkins can gain the trust of the coaches and get into a game, he will continue to be considered a game-day loser.
Winner No. 4: Andy Lee
Andy Lee had a very strong game against the Rams. He punted six times for an average of 51 yards and nailed four punts inside the St. Louis 20-yard line. Lee continues to be one of the top punters in the NFL.
However, it doesn't bode well anytime your punter is one of your top players of the game.
Loser No. 6: Alex Smith
Alex Smith had completed 25 of his last 27 passes and led the 49ers to the NFC Championship game last year. Following his last full game, Smith was named the Player of the Week.
Then, in the first half against the Rams three weeks ago, Smith was hit and suffered a concussion. Colin Kaepernick finished the game and has started ever since.
Even though Kaepernick played a subpar game, Smith never was asked to remove his baseball cap. He has obviously lost favor with head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has opted to go with potential versus consistency and security.
In his postgame press conference, Harbaugh said he will likely stick with Kaepernick as the starting quarterback. Smith will continue to be a game-day loser and barring injury to Kaepernick, may have played his last game for the 49ers.
Winner No. 3: The 49ers' Defense
The San Francisco 49ers' defense played a strong game. Collectively, in five quarters, the defense allowed only 293 yards and three points during regulation play.
Wide receiver Chris Givens did catch 11 passes for 92 yards, although those were on shorter routes. Givens' longest reception was for 16 yards. The 49ers also held Steven Jackson to 41 yards on 21 carries, although he did gain 69 yards on five receptions.
Defensively, the 49ers defense was solid and deserves a positive mention for their effort in today's game.
Loser No. 5: Brandon Jacobs
Brandon Jacobs has been a disappointment for the 49ers this season. After sustaining an injury in the preseason, Jacobs was inactive for the first several games of the year.
With Kendall Hunter injured and out for the remainder of the year, now is the time for the veteran Jacobs to step up. He carried the ball four times today for only six yards.
Jacobs is a big, lumbering back, which is polite for slow. He is best utilized as a short-yardage specialist, whereas was a dynamic, quick change-of-pace back. With Hunter out, Jacobs is proving that he is not the answer to back up Frank Gore.
Winner No. 2: Michael Crabtree
Michael Crabtree caught seven passes for 101 yards. He was targeted a game-high 11 times by Colin Kaepernick. Crabtree played well and is our No. 2 winner from today's game.
Crabtree has emerged as a reliable, consistent receiver. He is easily the top wide receiver on the 49ers' roster.
Loser No. 4: Dashon Goldson
Dashon Goldson is one of the fiercest hitters in the league. Coming up from his safety position, Goldson loves to drill receivers and running backs with the devastating hit.
Unfortunately, this penchant for trying to make the highlight-reel hit can cause Goldson to lose his tacking fundamentals or make mistakes. This occurred on three noticeable plays against the Rams.
Goldson hit Rams' receiver Chris Givens high and instead of wrapping him up, tried to strip the ball from him, which allowed Givens to gain an extra five or six yards.
On a swing pass to Steven Jackson, Goldson came in hard, but Jackson made a little side-step and eluded him. This turned a short gain into a big, 20-yard play.
Then, late in the game on the Rams' final drive, quarterback Sam Bradford took off to run. As he saw Goldson coming towards him, he went into a slide. The play is immediately dead, but Goldson put a hit on Bradford, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty.
That 15 yards gave the Rams the ball at the San Francisco 40-yard line. The Rams went on to kick the game-tying field goal and eventually won in overtime.
It's great that Goldson is flying all over the field looking to make big hits, but he also needs to be smarter about it. Missed tackles and dumb penalties will kill any defense, so Goldson needs to be more consistent with his play.
Loser No. 3: Delanie Walker
Delanie Walker was having a strong game, then two consecutive plays turned that from good to bad.
After a 50-yard run by Colin Kaepernick late in the game, Walker was targeted on a pass which should have resulted in a touchdown. Unfortunately, Walker dropped the ball.
To magnify the mistake, Walker committed a holding penalty on the next play, which put the 49ers in a 2nd-and-20 late in the game. This forced the 49ers to settle for a field goal when they had a great chance to score a touchdown.
Winner No. 1: Justin Smith
Justin Smith played a great game today against St. Louis. He was the best player on the field today, in my opinion, constantly destroying the Rams' offensive plays.
For the game, Smith had eight tackles (including three for a loss) and one sack. His presence also helps teammates like Aldon Smith get to the quarterback and make plays.
Loser No. 2: Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick did not have a good game against the Rams. He wasn't awful, but he did make some critical mistakes.
Kaepernick completed 21 of his 32 pass attempts for 208 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. These are very pedestrian stats.
The way the 49ers' defense was playing, the only way the Rams could beat them was if the 49ers gave away points. Unfortunately, the 49ers were in a very giving mood.
Kaepernick made a mistake in the third quarter with the 49ers ahead 7-0. Deep in San Francisco territory, Kaepernick was pressured aggressively by the Rams' pass rush. He ran in the end zone and threw the ball out of bounds.
He was called for intentional grounding and the Rams were awarded a safety and two points. In reality, Kaepernick's throw probably did cross the line-of-scrimmage and should not have been called grounding.
However, in that situation Kaepernick needs to make sure he throws it away properly so he does not leave it in the judgement of an official.
The 49ers and Kaepernick also gave the Rams their only touchdown on a botched pitch play. Deep in their own territory, the 49ers called for an option pitch to Ted Ginn who had lined up in the backfield. This was a risky play call at that point of the field, especially in the fourth quarter.
Kaepernick pitched it wildly and Ginn was unable to control the ball. He also failed to fall on it or swat it out of bounds as the Rams' Janoris Jenkins scooped it up and ran it in for a touchdown.
Granted, this was a dumb play call, but the execution of the pitch by Kaepernick was terrible and gave the Rams their only touchdown of the game.
Late in regulation, Kaepernick scrambled for a nice gain deep into Rams territory, but inexplicably ran out of bounds stopping the clock and allowing the Rams to conserve their only remaining timeout.
Had Kaepernick slid or fell down on the field of play, the Rams would have called their final timeout and gotten the ball back with under a minute to play instead of 1:34. This was a mental blunder that played a huge role in the Rams' final drive.
In the overtime period, I noticed a couple of times when Kaepernick looked a bit rattled. The offense was out of sync and ultimately, that's his responsibility.
The Rams had studied the film on Kaepernick and they used a variety of blitz packages and coverages to keep him from being totally comfortable. The Rams also employed a two-deep zone for most of the game, which negated Kaepernick's ability to throw the ball deep and find anyone open.
Look for other teams to use a similar style of defense to try to keep Kaepernick off balance. He showed his inexperience at times and the three major mistakes he made were critical to the 49ers' loss.
Loser No. 1: Frank Gore
Frank Gore was the 49ers' biggest loser based on today's game. This is not because he played poorly, but because if the 49ers continue to utilize him as they did today, Gore will wear down.
Gore got off to a good start against the Rams, rushing for 34 yards on his first three carries. Then the Rams defense stepped up to take away Gore's running lanes. The offensive line was unable to open any holes for him and he was stifled for the remainder of the game.
After those first 34 yards, Gore managed only 24 yards on his next 20 carries. The Rams were very physical with Gore, who appeared to injure his wrist or shoulder late in the game.
The injury to Kendall Hunter last week was a major blow to the 49ers' offense. He provided an ideal change-of-pace to Gore and his performance allowed the 49ers to reduce the punishment endured by their No. 1 running back.
With Hunter lost for the season, the 49ers need to get Brandon Jacobs, Anthony Dixon or LaMichael James some meaningful action. Jacobs rushed for only six yards on four carries, while Dixon only played on special teams. James was on the 49ers' inactive list, as he's been all season.
Failure to give Gore more rest will spell doom for the 49ers in the postseason. He is already banged up and needs to be healthy for the 49ers to have a good chance to get to the Super Bowl.
Gore is today's biggest loser, only because the 49ers seem to have no viable alternative to give him that much needed rest now that Hunter is out. Gore is a true warrior, but he's also 29 years old and cannot take all the punishment like he endured today.
The 49ers Have a Lot of Work to Do
Head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff have a lot of work to do over these next four weeks, as the 49ers close out the regular season and prepare for the playoffs.
They must find a way to give Frank Gore more rest. They also need to hope kicker David Akers returns to form as his miss in the overtime period also cost the 49ers the victory. Akers has been battling a groin strain which could factor into his recent inaccuracy.
Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman must also resist the temptation to get cute with their play-calling. The option pitch to Ted Ginn was a terrible play call and the only thing worse was the execution of the play. The risk-reward was definitely not worth it.
Colin Kaepernick struggled in his third professional start. This is to be expected as defenses have film on him and will be better prepared to stop him. He and the 49ers coaching staff must now make adjustments to what the opposing defenses are using against them.
The 49ers' defense gives them a chance to win it all this year. They will keep the 49ers in every game and if the offense can start clicking and avoid critical mistakes, they still have a chance.
I believe the status of Gore's health and how quickly Kaepernick matures as a quarterback will write the final chapter for this season.