San Francisco 49ers Progress Report: Where Do Things Stand Heading into Week 16?
Fans and analysts alike weren't sure if quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers would be able to take down the New England Patriots. Granted, the last time the Pats had lost at home was in 2002, so the skepticism was warranted.
However, Jim Harbaugh's club disregarded any standing record that stood in their way and went across the country to take care of business. The 49ers relied on Kap's big arm as he tossed four touchdown passes and an opportunistic defense that secured four takeaways.
Week 15's Sunday night win over New England means San Francisco has guaranteed itself a playoff spot, one way or another. Currently, they sit atop the NFC West at 10-3-1—with a win over the Seattle Seahawks they will clinch their second straight NFC West crown.
Yet, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's take a look at the good, the bad and everything in between from Week 15.
This should come as a surprise to no one, but the one area where San Francisco was exposed was its pass rushing ability in the second half. Tom Brady and company went to work as they piled up consecutive touchdown drives of 73, 86, 66 and 92 yards.
The four straight touchdown drives started with 10:21 left to play in the third quarter and didn't end until the game was tied at 31-31 with 6:43 left to play in the fourth quarter. During that span, Brady was 16-of-24 for 236 yards and two touchdowns. One touchdown was a run from one-yard out and the other was a five-yard pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez.
So, you may be wondering what happened while the Pats marched up and down the field? There's really no other explanation than No. 12 is one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game and you are never out of it when he is under center.
While that is true, the 49ers' pass rush could have used a little bit more juice on those four series as well. After a strong first-half showing, outside linebacker Aldon Smith never really got going in the second half and the outside linebacker opposite of him, Ahmad Brooks, never got going at all either.
According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus, Brooks registered a total of three quarterback pressures on 53 pass-rushing attempts. By the numbers it was his second-worst outing of the season as a pass-rusher.
Smith fared a little bit better as he managed six total pressures against opposing left tackle Nate Solder on 54 pass-rush snaps, yet he wasn't able to gain any more ground on Michael Strahan's single season sack record.
As a whole, Vic Fangio's defense finished with 16 total pressures—three quarterback sacks on Brady, four quarterback hits and nine hurries. Given the fact that Brady dropped back 65 times, the 49ers only averaged a pressure 24 percent of the time.
Not awful numbers, considering the Patriots offensive line has played well this season, but they will need that number to be higher as they gear up for a postseason run.
Despite not generating the pass rush they had hope for, the 49ers did exactly what the Patriots did to them. San Francisco's offensive line stonewalled the Patriots' defensive line, which helped the unit earn some of its highest marks of the season.
The only offensive lineman who allowed Kap to get sacked was left tackle Joe Staley, but other than that he was only under duress five other times. Outside of the sack, I can't even recall him getting hit. Credit has to go to the interior of the offensive line.
Left guard Mike Iupati, center Jonathan Goodwin and right guard Alex Boone all worked together in unison to keep the pocket clean. Even though Kaepernick only threw the ball 25 times, his average time to throw in the pocket was 3.13 seconds.
That explains why 14 of his 25 throws were so effective. He averaged 8.6 yards per attempt and had a quarterback rating of 107.7 in addition to his four touchdown passes. Kap also became the only player to toss four touchdown passes at Gillette Stadium outside of Brady and Peyton Manning.
Heading into Week 16, the 49ers' offensive line has done a great job of keeping the second-year quarterback clean. Through his first five starts, the line has surrendered a mere eight sacks against the Bears, Saints, Rams, Dolphins and Patriots.
The biggest weakness during that five-game stretch has been right tackle Anthony Davis as he had a little bit of trouble with defensive ends Cameron Wake and Chris Long. Half of the sacks allowed have been accredited to Davis and only two to the interior offensive line.
It's hard to argue that there is a better interior offensive line in all of football right now.
Stock Watch (Week By Week Evaluation)
Rising: Mike Iupati
After a couple of recent disappointing performances penalty-wise, Iupati got back on track this past weekend. For the first time in five games, he wasn't flagged for a penalty. His penalty-free performance only marked the second time it has happened this year since the 49ers' bye week.
Falling: Vernon Davis
Since his monster game against the Bears, Vernon Davis has become a part of the witness protection program. Over the last four weeks he has caught four balls for 29 yards. During that same time period he has two drops. Hopefully, Kap and Davis can get in sync sooner rather than later.
Rising: NaVorro Bowman
Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman had a strong game as enforcer. As the Patriots tried to work the middle of the field, Bowman was there to limit their opportunities. New England completed four of eight targets on him for 25 yards. He also had a nice pass breakup and seven tackles.
Falling: Justin Smith
Justin Smith's stock didn't take a hit based on his performance, but more based on the fact he was injured on Sunday Night Football. It doesn't appear as if Smith will miss anytime due to injury, yet it could still effect his individual impact for the rest of the season.
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