49ers vs. Seahawks: Final Grades, Analysis for San Francisco

Michael ErlerCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2012

49ers vs. Seahawks: Final Grades, Analysis for San Francisco

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    In a game that surely left millions both confused and disappointed both by the result and the lack of drama, the 10-4-1 San Francisco 49ers got walloped by the surging 10-5 Seattle Seahawks 42-13, behind rookie phenom Russell Wilson's four touchdown passes, two to ex-Stanford Cardinal Doug Baldwin, who played for Jim Harbaugh collegiately.

    With the win the Seahawks have clinched a playoff spot and can still win the NFC West if they can beat the St. Louis Rams next week and get some unlikely help from the Arizona Cardinals who'll play at San Francisco.

    It was a costly loss for the 49ers, who've fallen a half-game behind Green Bay for the second seed in the NFC. Now the only way they can earn a first-round bye in the playoffs will be if the Packers lose to the Vikings next week, while the Niners take care of business at home to the Cardinals.

    At the least San Francisco will need to win next week just to secure a second consecutive division title.

    The 29-point loss was easily the worst of the Jim Harbaugh era in San Francisco and it was never a game, as the Seahawks scored their first touchdown 1:07 into the game on a 24-yard run by Marshawn Lynch and led 14-0 in the first ten minutes.

    In fact, the play that basically decided the outcome occurred 41 seconds into the second quarter, as Seattle's huge lineman Red Bryant blocked a short David Akers field goal attempt, with the ball falling perfectly into the path of corner Richard Sherman to return it 90 yards for a shocking 10-point swing, turning a potential 14-3 score into 21-0. 

    Justin Smith missed his first start in 195 games and his loss was felt badly by the defense, who allowed the Seahawks to convert 11-of-13 third down attempts, with one of the "stops" coming on the final kneel down play. 

    To add injury to insult, Vernon Davis left early on with a concussion and Mario Manningham suffered what looked like a serious right knee injury in the second half, on a play in which the pain caused him to fumble. 

    It's hard to fathom that this was the same 49ers team that was up 31-3 at New England last week, but that's the NFL for you. San Francisco's pattern of losing (or not winning) every third game on the season continues, but they've never been so soundly thrashed like this. 

Quarterbacks

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    Colin Kaepernick: D

    Kaepernick finished 19-of-36 for 244 yards with one late, cosmetic touchdown pass to Delanie Walker and an equally meaningless red zone interception to Richard Sherman.

    Obviously it was his worst game in six starts, but statistics aside the most troubling aspect of it was how confused, unprepared and bewildered he appeared at times in trying to get the plays in on time, in trying to make audibles at the line, in trying to read the defense.

    Basically, he looked like the inexperienced player that he is, and a performance like this sure gives ammunition to the pro-Alex Smith faction of the fans and media. Sure, Smith isn't as dynamic as Kaepernick is, but he wouldn't have been as rattled by this environment and he would've at least had the team set to line up and snap the ball. 

    What Kaepernick's performance also proved, definitively, is that there is no fool proof, "blowout proof" solution on the roster. The team is quite talented, but they can look terrible just like anybody else in the league, in every facet. 

    Kaepernick had some bad decisions and bad reads, but he made a number of accurate throws downfield and most of the times he decided to tuck it and run, it was probably the right call. He had virtually no help from his line, his receivers had some drops and the play-calling basically left him marooned all night. 

    Does the game signal that perhaps the Niners should go back to Smith for the playoffs? It's probably too late in the season to switch back. Harbaugh has made the commitment, for better or worse. 

Running Backs

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    Frank Gore: C-

    Six carries for 28 yards for Gore, the least work he's ever had in a game in which he didn't leave with an injury. The Niners were down 21-0 before they knew what hit them and the coaching staff, in one of their rare moments of lucid thought, decided it was the perfect time to give Gore a breather after wearing him down the past two months. 

    Gore did cough up an early fumble, but the Niners recovered. For whatever reason, he gets very butter-fingered at Seattle. 

    LaMichael James: C-

    It's hard to put a finger on it because he hasn't played much yet, but for whatever reason James can't make his explosiveness as a kickoff returner translate to plays from scrimmage as a back. He doesn't have the suddenness or the power that Kendall Hunter had. 

    Bruce Miller: D

    Caught a couple of passes and probably wishes he wouldn't have caught any, as he got swarmed immediately on both. Did not have many opportunities to lead block.

Wide Receivers

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    Michael Crabtree: C-

    Some early clank-mittery, to borrow a phrase from the extraordinary Grant Brisbee, and overall only four receptions on nine targets for Crab. Seemed to mentally check out in the third quarter, which was the same as when I did too. 

    Mario Manningham: Inc.

    Returned from a two-week absence from a shoulder injury to hurt his right knee on a bubble screen in the second half. Jim Harbaugh said X-rays were negative during his press conference, but he was similarly positive in the immediate aftermath about injuries to guys like Justin Smith, Demarcus Dobbs and Alex Smith as well, and none of them play the week after. 

    Randy Moss: C+

    More involved lately, partly out of necessity due to all the other receivers around him dropping like flies. Still caught three passes for 44 yards, but wasn't targeted deep.

Tight Ends

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    Vernon Davis: B-

    After being a well-compensated decoy for the past month Davis looked like he was going to be a factor in this one and had a terrific diving catch of a low Kaepernick pass for 27 yards early in the game. 

    However, that would be his lone highlight. Davis got open on a wheel route and it looked briefly that he would score an easy touchdown, only for Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor to blast him with a helmet-to-shoulder hit that nevertheless drew a personal foul flag.

    Davis left the game with an apparent concussion and didn't return. Jim Harbaugh characterized the severity of the concussion as "minor." 

    Delanie Walker: B

    Continues to trend upward and while his inconsistent hands continue to be an issue, he did catch four passes and had the team's lone touchdown, late in the game. Played quite a bit of receiver, due to injuries. 

    Garrett Celek: B+

    Rookie free agent had a bunch of reps late and caught a pair of passes, including a career-long 35-yarder. 

Offensive LIne

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    Joe Staley: D

    Gave up pressures all night and had a terrible block against Red Bryant on David Akers' field goal attempt, which was blocked and returned for a touchdown.

    Mike Iupati: B 

    Not his best game, but was effective when he got to move on blocks. Was beat a couple of times in pass protection.

    Jonathan Goodwin: B-

    No snapping issues with Kaepernick, and sprung a couple of holes for Gore early on.

    Alex Boone: B

    Kaepernick had some nice lanes to run through up the gut thanks to his work.

    Anthony Davis: C-

    Got worse as the game went on and his concentration waned. Was spoiling for a fight by the end.

Defensive Line

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    Ricky Jean Francois: D

    Gave good effort chasing down runs on the opposite side, but was mostly rag-dolled at the point of attack. A few decent pressures early on before fatigue hit.

    Isaac Sopoaga: D+

    Was credited with the team's lone sack, a whopping 1-yard loss for Russell Wilson. Seattle's rushing statistics tells the story.

    Ray McDonald: C

    Very strong early on, less effective in each quarter. Ahmad Brooks' ineffectiveness started to wear on him. 

Linebackers

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    Patrick Willis: D+

    The interception in the second quarter, where he reacted to a highly-thrown screen pass that bounced off Robert Turbin's hands, was an impressive play. Sadly, Willis made few others and had a half-dozen plays where he flat out missed a tackle, got juked, or just took a bad angle to the ball. 

    NaVorro Bowman: C-

    The scorekeeper gave Bowman a dozen assisted tackles as well as four solo stops, which I found adorable. I suppose it's akin to Bob Eucker's old adage about how to catch the knuckleball...  "Pick it up after it stops rolling." 

    Ahmad Brooks: D-

    I'm not sure how to put this politely, but I have no idea what Brooks was doing out there. Might be time to invest in some Lasik surgery. There were plays where he was on predetermined route like those motorized electric football pieces and he wasn't in control of his actions. 

    Aldon Smith: C+

    Showed good effort, chased down plays both in the run game and Wilson on all of his broken scrambles, but just couldn't make a play. Was blocked at the point of attack by smallish tight ends. 

Defensive Backs

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    Carlos Rogers: F

    Bar none the worst game he's ever played, and I remember watching him on Washington. Rogers allowed at least a half dozen completions and a touchdown and was being roundly beaten in coverage by all comers. He looked like he was on roller skates out there.

    Was much better in coverage when Steven Rice was the quarterback, but dropped an interception.

    Tarell Brown: C-

    Hurt his kneecap, left the game and checked back in. Had the usual holding penalty and some completions down the sideline. 

    Chris Culliver: D

    A personal foul call against him was questionable, but Culliver had a number of bad plays in the game and he's been steadily getting worse after a blistering start to the season. Lined up in the slot in place of the awful Rogers and promptly gave up an easy touchdown to Doug Baldwin, who shook him with ease.

    Donte Whitner: C-

    The only defender at all enthusiastic about playing this evening, Whitner laid out a couple of hits in the early going. Had a fine play where he closed well on a bomb attempt, but he dropped the interception because that's what he does. Was beaten for a touchdown.

    Dashon Goldson: C-

    One early suplex aside, seemed oddly uninspired about returning to the scene of his collegiate glory. 

Special Teams

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    David Akers: B+

    Hard to blame him on the blocked kick, it didn't appear as he did anything wrong. Absolutely hit the snot out of a 54-yarder before the half though would've been good from 65, easy. 

    His kickoffs though were disappointing. Akers had to tackle Leon Washington to prevent a touchdown. 

    Andy Lee: B+

    Not the best punt to open the game and it helped the Seahawks score a touchdown right away, but he was his usual dominant self after that. 

    Brian Jennings: B+

    The snap on the blocked field goal looked okay, but maybe something was amiss organization-wise. 

    LaMichael James: B+

    It will be very hard for the 49ers to win games if LaMichael James is their best player on the night. 

    Ted Ginn: Inc.

    Fair caught one punt. 

Coaching

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    Coaching: F-

    The players as a whole should sue the coaching staff for lack of support.

    Whatever the game plan was, it never had a chance of working. 

    Why not establish the run first and then use the play-action to build off of that? Why not run off the pistol formation and use the read option with Kaepernick, Frank Gore and LaMichael James? Why not get the running backs more involved in the passing game, since the Seahawks struggled so mightily to stop that last time? 

    The game plan seemed similar to the one that worked against New England, but the Patriots have totally different strengths and weaknesses defensively than Seattle does, and even against the Pats the offense at least had balance. 

    The coaching staff gave up on the run, though the truth is to give up on something suggests you actually tried it in the first place. This looked more like an Andy Reid kind of game plan. 

    In the second half, with the result long decided, the decision to keep throwing, throwing and throwing some more instead of just swallowing your pride and seeing the game out with carries by Anthony Dixon and LaMichael James likely cost the team Mario Manningham for the duration of the season. 

    For the second straight year they'll be shorthanded at receiver thanks to an injury suffered in a blowout. Why? Because the coach doesn't believe in the concept of blowouts, for or against. 

    It's kind of absurd that Garrett Celek, an undrafted tight end was getting valuable reps (and making something of them) but first-round pick A.J. Jenkins was still a healthy scratch. He should've played the entire second half, especially if the coaches were determined to keep throwing. 

    It's like the plan late in the game was to try and get Kaepernick hurt so the coaches would have an excuse to quietly slide Alex Smith back into the lineup without appearing wishy washy. It just made no sense to keep throwing. 

    Defensively, the plan seemed equally confusing. Why were they not prepared for Seattle to run at Ricky Jean Francois? Why didn't the corners press more? Why was there no spy against Russell Wilson? 

    Was practicing against Scott Tolzien all week really the best way to simulate Wilson's speed? 

    Just a head-scratcher all around.