San Francisco 49ers Progress Report: Where Do Things Stand Heading into Week 17?
Was it a Week 15 hangover? Was it the 12th man, or was it a combination of both? No one really knows for sure—the only thing we do know is that the 49ers were not on top of their game on Sunday Night Football.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was average at best, running back Frank Gore never had the opportunity to get in a rhythm and Vic Fangio's defense looked overmatched the entire game. Yet, one bad performance shouldn't allow fans and media members alike to write the 49ers off going forward.
San Francisco still holds the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoff picture and is 10-4-1 on the season. Heading into Week 17 the 49ers will host the 5-10 Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park with the hopes of bringing home an NFC West crown for the second-straight year.
Before we look too far ahead, let's take a look at the good, the bad and everything in between from Week 16.
On a night where the 49ers couldn't stop the run or the pass, the most glaring hole was the void of defensive tackle Justin Smith. We saw a snippet of this effect during the second half of San Francisco's Week 15 matchup against the Patriots.
Smith is obviously an integral part of Fangio's system and it almost seems as the life blood of the defense runs through him, yet I didn't expect his absence to be as massive as it was. I assumed the defense would struggle at times, especially against the run, but in no way did I expect them to allow 346 yards on 62 plays.
Not to mention I didn't think a top-five third-down defense would allow the Seahawks to convert 11-of-13 third down opportunities. This conversion rate marked the worst performance of the year for the 49ers defense. Normally the opposition converts a minuscule 33.5 percent of their third-down conversion attempts against San Francisco.
In addition to poor third-down defense, San Francisco did an awful job of rushing the passer with Smith out as well. On 24 pass rush attempts, the 49ers only managed to get their hands on quarterback Russell Wilson one measly time. The one sack came from nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga.
Moreover, the defense did force 12 quarterback hurries, but six of those 12 hurries turned into Wilson scrambling for 29 yards. The rookie quarterback didn't quite do the same damage he did one week prior against the Bills, yet his ability to elude defenders in the backfield allowed the Seahawks to turn 35 percent of their plays into first downs.
Even though there are many who don't like to believe it, Aldon Smith's play is directly influenced by the play of Justin Smith. As you can see above, the analysts at Pro Football Focus have concluded that Aldon Smith was the teams pass rusher by game's end on Sunday.
His negative-2.4 grade is the second worst outing he has had this season. The only game where he had less of an impact was against the Packers in Week 1.
It is obvious blasphemy to believe Justin Smith holds on every play and helps Aldon Smith in that way, but it is logical to think that Justin's ability to eat up blocks and create havoc does indeed help Aldon.
With the playoffs right around the corner, the 49ers will be looking to get the "Cowboy" back sooner rather than later.
Even in the midst of a 42-13 blowout, not all is lost and not all areas of the game garnered poor performances. Like the 49ers' pass rush, the Seahawks' pass rush never got going at any stage throughout the game.
Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone and Anthony Davis all turned in fine pass-blocking performances. Staley surrendered two quarterback hurries, Iupati allowed one quarterback hurry, Goodwin gave up three pressures total, Boone surrendered one quarterback hit and Davis stonewalled the competition.
Extraordinary considering the Seahawks have two double-digit sack masters on the defensive line. The only sack Seattle was awarded was on a play where Kaepernick held onto the ball way too long. Which in turn means he gets the credit for allowing the sack.
After Week 16, Pro Football Focus concludes that the Niners' offensive line is still the best run-blocking unit in the NFL and the 10th-best pass-blocking unit. Fair placing if you consider how great the running game is when it gets cranked up.
The pass-blocking efficiency is a little low based on what I have seen this season, yet I can understand the reasoning based on a couple of players who have hurt San Francisco's pass protection numbers. For example reserve offensive lineman Leonard Davis has only played 39 snaps in pass-blocking situations, yet he has allowed a sack, a hit, two hurries and has been penalized twice.
It's also worth noting that Gore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James have all been either average or below average when called upon to protect the quarterback. Between the three of them, they have surrendered two sacks, two hits and 12 hurries.
Stock Watch (Week By Week Evaluation)
Rising: Anthony Davis
As I mentioned above, Davis didn't allow a single sack, hit or pressure against Seattle. It marked the third time in 2012, where the opposition hasn't been able to get near Kaepernick or Smith. Looking ahead, Davis will have his hands full against two of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the league in Week 17. Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett always wreak havoc.
Falling: Vernon Davis
The slump continued for tight end Vernon Davis, and to make matters worse, he left the game after 18 plays with a concussion. On the 12 pass routes he did run he was targeted one time and had one catch for 27 yards. Kaepernick and Davis still have a long way to go before they are on the same page.
Rising: NaVorro Bowman
After a less than impressive game against New England, inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman bounced back in a big way. He registered 13 solo tackles and three assisted tackles to go along with six defensive stops. Even after a slight drop off during the second half of the season, Bowman is still one of the 10 best inside linebackers in the NFL.
Falling: Carlos Rogers
Tough, tough week for cornerback Carlos Rogers. Rogers was targeted five times by Wilson while allowing four completions. He gave up 72 yards on those four completions and one touchdown. Additionally, his quarterback rating against was an abysmal 158.3 and the Seahawks receivers netted 14.4 yards per catch in his coverage area.
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