Given the team’s output over the past two weeks, which has been substandard and greatly out of character, the Niners knew they had to see significant improvements all over their field in order to get back to winning.
While striving to re-establish their identity as a football team—in a shortened week no less—S.F. also had to do so with marquee players like Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Michael Crabtree all watching the game in street clothes.
So, all things considered, this wasn’t exactly a fully loaded performance, wherein all the stars were out to shine. But nevertheless, the 49ers managed to execute and get back to smash-mouth football, which included winning in the trenches, fundamentals, ball control and high-percentage passing.
With Week 4 in the books, let’s see how last week's 49ers team graded out at Bleacher Report.
Colin Kaepernick: B-
On Thursday night, 49ers rock star quarterback Colin Kaepernick played the role of game manager, finishing 15-of-23 for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
His job versus the Rams was to act as the supporting role for this fierce ground game, spearheaded by running back Frank Gore.
After having a 20.1 and 49.9 quarterback rating the past two weeks (losses to Seattle and Indianapolis), Kap got back over the century mark, hitting 115.7. It was a solid performance, but he did cough up a fumble, failed to spread the ball around and, once again, remained hesitant as a runner.
Kaepernick receives an admirable passing grade here, but he was not the star that led to this victory.
Frank Gore: A+
As far as Week 4 goes, Gore’s breakout performance in 2013 could not have been timelier—really pulling the team out of the quicksand on Thursday night. The Niners were really in a bind. Fortunately, the coaching staff gave its all-time leading rusher a very real opportunity to reclaim this team’s identity, and the back followed through, and then some.
While Gore only had 20 touches, he banged this Rams defense out of 153 yards and a score.
Frank Gore: "We had to get back on track...that's playing smash-mouth football." #49ers— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) September 27, 2013
Kendall Hunter: B+
Backing up Gore, the 49ers primary relief back, Kendall Hunter, stumbled for a good amount of yardage and a touchdown. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry and kept this ground game going throughout. With hardly anyone else contributing on the offensive side of the ball, Hunter’s touches brought a lot of value.
LaMichael James: N/A
The 49ers' second-round pick from a year ago remains an enigma.
After returning from a strained MCL, James only had three touches for zero yards. He was also neglected as an option on the kick and punt return team. As explosive as he is, and as much as S.F. needs big-play contributions, it is a real surprise that he was as underutilized as he was.
Anthony Dixon: C+
Surprisingly, the unheralded No. 4 running back, Dixon, had as many carries as dynamic runners like James and Kaepernick, finishing with three attempts for six yards and a touchdown (2.0 YPC). Frankly, the Niners have been at a loss for offensive weapons with an NFL callous, so Dixon was able to get a key goal-line carry.
Bruce Miller (FB): A
Whether he is blocking or receiving, the 49ers' big-time athletic fullback has been finding ways to contribute on offense. It is hard to fault him personally for being a key part of the offense (that falls more on the coaching staff and injuries), but he has stepped up when needed, particularly in the run game and on third down.
Vernon Davis: B
Vernon Davis gets an A for effort and a C for production, which averages out to a B in the end. He was activated after missing Week 3 with a hamstring injury and still was not at 100 percent. However, he found the end zone once, giving S.F. just enough offense to get the job done on Thursday.
Vance McDonald: C
The 49ers' second-round pick has only had one reception in each of his first four games, even though the team has been starving for playmakers on offense. The hammer has to come down a little harder on McDonald for this, seeing as how he has had a featured role in this system.
All in all, he had a much bigger impact as a blocker than he did as a receiver, only finishing with nine yards.
Anquan Boldin: B+
After two weeks of being shut out, Boldin finally returned to the limelight, finishing with five grabs for 90 yards and a touchdown. The effort from No. 81 has been outstanding—particularly on his only score of the night—and even more so when you consider that he is the only healthy receiver. Secondary units have been able to zero in on him, but this was one of those nights that he was able to power through and make it happen for the 49ers.
Good bounce back win for our team. It's a long season with peaks & valleys along the way. Always important to get road wins in the division.— Anquan Boldin (@AnquanBoldin) September 27, 2013
Kyle Williams: F
Speed and knowledge of the system notwithstanding, Williams has done nothing for this 49ers offense in 2013. Another week, another lackluster performance. He had no catches versus the Rams and was even supplanted in the lineup by the younger, less experienced wideouts.
Quinton Patton passed Marlon Moore and Kyle Williams on depth chart this week. That catch for zero yards was his first NFL reception.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) September 27, 2013
Quinton Patton: N/A
Following an eye-popping preseason clinic, it has been a fairly sluggish start to Patton’s NFL career, who had to leave Thursday Night Football with what turned out to be a foot fracture—once again prolonging his integration in this passing offense. He had one catch for zero yards before heading to the locker room.
Harbaugh on Quinton Patton: "Looks like he has a fracture in his foot…he's going to miss some time."— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) September 27, 2013
Jon Baldwin: C+
All told, Baldwin was pretty aggressive, making his presence felt in his first active game as a 49er.
In a limited appearance, the 6’4”, 230-pound WR was targeted twice by Kaepernick, securing both balls for 19 yards. With the injury to Patton and an inadequacy from the rest of the corps, Baldwin could be in line for some more targets and higher grades this season.
Joe Staley: A
The big man put forth quite an effort for San Francisco, protecting Kap’s blindside and using his power and athleticism to create running lanes for the tailbacks. It was one of those all-around performances for Staley that made this game possible. Hat tip to the Pro Bowl left tackle.
Mike Iupati: A
One Pro Bowler begets another.
Iupati is the branded road-grader of the 49ers and their elite-level rushing attack, which finally had a reconfirmation of its offensive identity in 2013. San Francisco’s plan was to get back to basics, attacking St. Louis on the ground—everyone knew it—and Iupati managed to clear the way regardless.
This was a great bounce-back game for Iupati, who struggled a bit early in the season.
Jonathan Goodwin: B
The integrity of the line was hardly compromised at all during this contest, which was a positive indicator of Goodwin’s performance. The run and pass game were up to par, and the interior rush did not get to Kaepernick. It was an admirable showing by the former Pro Bowl center.
Alex Boone: A-
Again, this line is significantly strong on both sides from guard to tackle.
The other guard to mention here, Alex Boone, has really grown into himself since stepping into a starting role. On Thursday, he had a chance to get back to what he does best, which is trouncing defenders at the line of scrimmage and into the second level, opening interstate-sized running lanes for the backs.
Anthony Davis: A-
Edge-protector and bad boy Anthony Davis has been another rock for this stout 49ers offensive line. With defensive end Chris Long firing off that edge and the 49ers utilizing play action the way they did in Week 4, his performance was certainly notable, allowing Kap the time he needed to operate in the pocket.
Justin Smith: B+
It’s no mystery—whenever the 49ers stop the run and generate pressure on the opposing passer, it is a guarantee that Smith is at the root of it all. San Francisco only allowed 18 net yards rushing from St. Louis and managed to sack Sam Bradford five times without Aldon Smith.
While the Cowboy only had one assist and a half-sack, his dominating performance had a ripple effect on the rest of the defense.
Glenn Dorsey: B+
According to Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus, Dorsey has been a silent killer against the run, racking up eight stops, which leads all defensive tackles. He is their second-highest rated DT in 2013 after taking over for Ian Williams, who was lost for the season with a broken ankle.
Ray McDonald: B+
One of the unheralded talents on this defense, McDonald is very dependable, whether it's run stopping or pass rushing. He is not a weakness that offenses can run at, and they must respect his ability to collapse that side, getting after the quarterback himself or freeing up the left outside linebacker.
Dan Skuta: B
In his fifth-ever NFL start in five seasons as a pro, Skuta recorded three quarterback hurries in 10 pass rushes. He was not exactly a tackling machine, but starting in place of All-Pro rush linebacker Aldon Smith, it is amazing enough that he was not a liability during the game.
Ahmad Brooks: A-
As one of only two of the regular starting linebackers that the 49ers had available on the night, Brooks made sure to bring his lunch pail. In the end, he racked up five tackles, two assists and 1.5 sacks. He was even getting vertical, going up to disrupt passing lanes and had a noticeable deflection seen here.
Corey Lemonier: B+
Very disruptive—Lemonier had a hit, two hurries and three tackles in his first regular-season game as a featured defender. It was an inspiring demonstration by the rookie, whom the 49ers are counting on to replenish the pass-rush productivity left by Aldon Smith in the immediate future.
Michael Wilhoite: B
In a next-man-up situation, Wilhoite did a great job in the sense that he made the audience forget that No. 52 was not in the lineup. He fulfilled his assignments and was not an apparent weakness by any means. He could run sideline to sideline against the run and play disciplined pass coverage.
Solid first start by the former street free agent.
NaVorro Bowman: A+
With fellow linebackers Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith out of the starting lineup, Bowman played out of his mind. He finished the day with five tackles and one assist, which included two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass deflection. He is a bona fide All-Pro with or without Willis.
Tarell Brown: B+
The 49ers top cornerback was the leading tackler on the night, finishing with six solo tackles and one assist. He also made several plays on the ball, looking like he was an inch away from a game-changing interception. Brown’s consistency in the secondary has been very refreshing in San Francisco’s time of need.
CB Tarell Brown has turned his night around quite nicely.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) September 27, 2013
Carlos Rogers: B+
The 49ers No. 1-listed corner was targeted three times on Thursday night—all versus the electric Tavon Austin—and did not allow a single reception. This was a matchup to watch, in the sense that St. Louis might be in a position to exploit it for its own benefit, but Rogers answered the call to duty.
Perrish Cox: B
The 49ers were without Nnamdi Asomugha in Week 4, who was yet another soul on San Francisco’s mile-long injury list. This created a window for Cox to get involved at the three spot, and he held up quite well. His ability to run and cover allowed Carlos Rogers to act as a free blitzer.
And again, Cox was one more fill-in that was not a liability on game day.
This is just the beginning! #49ers— Perrish Cox (@pcox16) September 27, 2013
Tramaine Brock: B
Brock contributed to a strong performance by the 49ers secondary, helping to fill the void left behind Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown. In fact, the combination of Brock and Cox seemed like a better option than Asomugha, who has been an exploitable player on the defense so far in 2013.
It will be interesting to see if the rotation is affected once Asomugha is healthy again.
Eric Reid: B+
The 49ers rookie free safety had zero recorded tackles on Thursday night, per NFL.com Game Center. Although, he did make a play on special teams that was missed by the stat-keepers. Also, the fact that he did not make any tackles and the 49ers D played as well as it did means Reid had a good night in coverage.
Eric Reid is better than Kenny Vacarro. One of the things pretty much everyone got wrong.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) September 27, 2013
Donte Whitner: A-
More often than not, critics are quick to jump on Whitner’s case, characterizing him as a linebacker playing defensive back. But in a situation where the 49ers needed help in coverage and people to step up as defensive leaders—with Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis out of the lineup—Whitner stepped up.
He had a few nice hits and a super-athletic interception when the Rams were threatening to score.
Donte Whitner just wanted to make sure there was air in the ball for Jared Cook.— SportsNation (@SportsNation) September 27, 2013
Andy Lee: A+
With the 49ers offense struggling still, Andy Lee had to punt seven times versus the Rams, averaging 52.0 yards per punt (60 long). Outside of Frank Gore and perhaps NaVorro Bowman, there might not be another player right now in the San Francisco organization more consistent than its All-Pro punter.
Phil Dawson: C
Dawson had a free kick at the end of the game that went down as a 71-yard missed field-goal attempt. He is technically 3-of-6 on the season from the field, also missing a 53-yarder in the game versus the Rams.
Seeing as how he only missed two attempts all last year and was perfect from 50-plus yards out, it is surprising that he has been in a funk. This was not a perfect performance from the All-Pro kicker.
Coverage/Return Unit: B
The important thing to note here is that San Francisco did not lose the field position battle to the Rams and did not allow Tavon Austin and his sub-4.3 speed to rip them for chunk yardage. The unit tackled well and controlled the alleys (Eric Reid, C.J. Spillman and Ray Ventrone, in particular, stood out).
The 49ers could become more explosive in the return game, though.