After this week's bounce-back win, it appears that the San Francisco 49ers (7-4) are beginning to hit their stride as the regular season winds down and playoff seeding is finalized.
In all three phases—offense, defense and special teams—there were positives to take from their Week 12 showing versus Washington. Adjustments by the coaching staff were visible, and it appeared as if everything had been fine-tuned and enhanced to a degree.
Against the 26th-ranked Washington pass defense, it was an opportunity for Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers' aerial unit to get back on track, and that's just what they did. It wasn't about running the rock with No. 21. They know they can do that.
No, this week it was about hard-nosed defense and beginning to establish a rhythm with a receiving corps that, as a whole, is essentially brand new. Defensively, Aldon Smith continued to ease his way back into the lineup, while the 49ers supplanted the production of Tarell Brown (ribs) and Ray McDonald (ankle), who were both out.
Overall, there was a lot to be seen and quite a bit to digest. For final grades and analysis from San Francisco's most recent outing, proceed through the following.
- Expectations: Some players can look really good out there, but how much did they leave on the field?
- Statistics: If you were blanked, booming or something in between, this plays a significant role as to how a player is graded.
- Impact: Stats are great and all, but did those yards come in garbage time or on a 3rd-and-long? The clutch value factors in here.
- Consistency: One big play can change a game, but consistency down-to-down can make sure you win it. Who was bringing it on every play?
Colin Kaepernick: A-
Not perfect, but certainly one of Colin Kaepernick’s best showings of the 2013 season.
On the national stage, where he was the focal point of the offensive game plan, the 49ers' star quarterback delivered as a pocket passer. Going in, the pressure was on: The team needed a win and Kap had to make a statement coming off back-to-back losses in which he posted an average Total QBR of 26.8 (including a career low of 7.7).
Against a bottom-ranked pass defense, he knew he was going to have to make throws, and he didn’t hesitate too much when the windows were there, showing off his arm by powering the ball through the coverage and hitting on multiple deep balls. There were vivid glimpses of the confident 2012 version of Kap.
He managed to finish with a stat line of 235 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 62.5 completion rate. This was also the first time he’s thrown more than a pair of scores since Week 1 vs. the Packers, and it happened to be his best passer rating in 22 career starts behind center.
Frank Gore: C-
This is Frank Gore's lowest grade of the season to date.
Granted, his attempts were limited, but Gore did not show a lot with the ball in his hands (14 total touches for 34 yards).
He had a few spurts here and there but was stuffed for the most part, only managing a long of eight yards. He was also held out of the end zone.
Kendall Hunter: D
49ers backup running back Kendall Hunter made a special teams tackle to open the football game, exemplifying the tough-as-nails type of player he is. Unfortunately, that was his most notable contribution to the team, as he rushed eight times for only 12 yards (1.5 YPA).
LaMichael James: B-
While James did not earn any rushing attempts on Monday night, he was the team’s most productive tailback. Very impressively, the 49ers’ No. 3 man pitched in greatly on special teams, averaging 14.4 yards per attempt on punt returns, while totaling 125 return yards altogether.
His explosive ability helped position the offense throughout.
Bruce Miller: B
Fullback Bruce Miller was quiet and the 49ers' run game was irrelevant, but it does not mean he had a poor showing. Washington played the run well, Gore couldn’t find a rhythm with so few attempts and the team was also without mauling guard Mike Iupati (knee). Miller has been a model of consistency.
Vernon Davis: A
It was a big day for the 49ers tight ends and it started with Vernon Davis, who averaged 17.5 yards per catch on four receptions. He posted the long connection of the day, bringing in a 40-yarder from Kap and barreling for extra yards after the catch.
San Francisco’s hybrid weapon also found the end zone again, scoring for the ninth team this season.
Vance McDonald: B+
49ers rookie Vance McDonald was targeted once and had one reception for 23 yards, demonstrating his ability as a big-play threat yet again. This season, McDonald has picked up six first downs on his only eight grabs, including catches of nine, 10, 19, 20, 23 and 25 yards.
Mario Manningham: B-
While Manningham did not have any significant gashes of the defense or scoring plays, he had some clutch catches and displayed chemistry with Kaepernick on the field.
There seems to be a trust between the two and a timing, which helped the 49ers offense stay on the field at times.
In his third game back since returning from a double ligament tear, Manningham had four catches on seven targets for just under 50 yards.
Anquan Boldin: A
With Manningham back in the lineup, Anquan Boldin is able to operate with much more freedom, and it’s now beginning to show up on the box score as well. On Sunday, San Francisco’s man-sized receiver caught five of six balls thrown his way, finishing with 94 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
As anticipated, Boldin was beast versus this porous Washington secondary.
Joe Staley: A
Joe Staley is one of the best tackles in the National Football League, not only because he plays at a high level, but because he does so every single week. He pitches shutouts against top pass-rush specialists, gets moving in space to help this running game and sets the tempo up front.
Week 12 was just another epic chapter in what has been a career year for Staley.
Adam Snyder: B
The 49ers got the win and kept the quarterback clean, and Adam Snyder did not have his name called for any of the wrong reasons. Sure, San Francisco’s rushing attack did not have the same pop to it with Pro Bowl left guard Mike Iupati out of the lineup, but that was to be expected.
Overall, it was an efficient game by Snyder, who may have a couple more starts ahead of him as Iupati comes back from an MCL sprain.
Jonathan Goodwin: B
As a cerebral player and the center of the 49ers offensive line, the functionality of the offense as a whole also falls on Goodwin. On Monday, it was clear to see that there was a great flow on certain drives, while there were no delay of games, false starts or premature use of timeouts.
Goodwin and Kap were definitely in sync, and his play during the snaps was just fine. He falls short of a B+ or A- since the 49ers' rushing game had no interior presence, despite several attempts.
Alex Boone: B-
At times, the depth of the pocket was certainly compromised, but Boone was fairly solid throughout. Although, given the circumstances, it also would’ve been nice to see Boone take the initiative and help get the run game going a little more as the primary pulling guard with Iupati inactive.
Anthony Davis: B+
49ers right tackle Anthony Davis has not been having his best year, but this most recent matchup was definitely a bounce-back game for him. After getting burned by Cameron Jordan last week, Davis was able to get his head right on Monday, holding his own versus outside rushers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
Justin Smith: A
The 49ers' 34-year-old All-Pro defensive tackle is playing like he’s in his 20s—it's truly remarkable. He had six tackles, including four solos, one quarterback hit and one forced fumble, making life miserable for Robert Griffin III. How he was able to track Griffin down behind the line of scrimmage all night was really something else.
Prior to kickoff, there wasn’t an analyst who wouldn’t have given the world-class runner the advantage over the aging 3-4 defensive lineman. But that’s just not at all how it played out when the pads were on. In his 13th NFL season, Smith is still dominating the sport.
Glenn Dorsey: B+
Though he is filling in for the would-be starter this year in Ian Williams, who is out for the season with an ankle break, 49ers lineman Glenn Dorsey is having a tremendous season as the team’s starting nose tackle. It has arguably been his best year as a pro.
He had four stops on Monday night, penetrating the line and bottling up Alfred Morris and Roy Helu. Not only Dorsey has been an asset versus the run, but he’s also been able to push the pocket back and create opportunities for the linebackers, like Vic Fangio instructs his players to do.
Tony Jerod-Eddie: B+
Tony Jerod-Eddie is another defensive player stepping up to the plate this season for San Francisco. With Ray McDonald (ankle) out for a second consecutive game, Jerod-Eddie posted five tackles—which was among the higher numbers on the day—and managed to always be where the action was.
Superstar linebacker and team captain Patrick Willis went on to lead the day in tackles, totaling 11 (the only defensive player to hit double digits). He had an all-around strong performance, containing the run, a mobile quarterback who can be dangerous if he catches an edge and a pair of balanced tight ends.
NaVorro Bowman: A
While he is typically the team’s tackle leader, Bowman finished second to Willis in Week 12, racking up eight stops on the night. Nevertheless, he was flying around, making plays just the same and getting the stops when they were needed. As a total linebacker, performing at the level he is, Bowman is as close to flawless as they come.
Ahmad Brooks: A+
For a second week in a row, Ahmad Brooks was the team’s MVP, absolutely taking over the game from the outside linebacker position. This was about as dominant a performance as you’ll see from an OLB, as it included seven tackles, two sacks, three tackles for a loss, a pass deflection and two QB hits.
Against Washington, Brooks looked like an NFL superstar performing in the Canadian league.
Aldon Smith: A
Pass rush maven Aldon Smith was in the lineup for his third straight game following a five-week leave of absence. Being out of football shape, it was slow going early on, but the 49ers' All-Pro rush linebacker finally broke through and had his official comeback game.
He posted three tackles, two sacks and four QB hits, knocking RGIII senseless.
Carlos Rogers: A
With last year’s featured corners in Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver being unavailable to the defense, Carlos Rogers is the last of the team’s familiar cornerbacks holding it down for the secondary this year. Fortunately, he has upped his game and is having one of his better seasons.
On Monday, the 49ers' starting cornerback had four tackles, took away the deep ball and had a great pass breakup on a deep shot from Robert Griffin III.
Tramaine Brock: B+
49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock was just rewarded with a four-year extension, and not long after, he was thrust into the starting lineup. Taking over for an injured Tarell Brown (ribs), Brock did not allow a 100-yard receiver. In fact, both Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan had fewer than 50 yards receiving.
Eric Wright: B+
Eric Wright also received a sudden bump up in the rotation, moving into the third spot in the defense. Going against Washington as a No. 3 CB is no easy feat either, seeing as how that third slot belongs to speedster Santana Moss. He only caught three of four targets for 27 yards.
The fact that RGIII had 127 yards passing, one pick, no touchdowns and a 58.7 QB rating also speaks to Wright’s ability to step into the lineup and play well. For most of the year, the 49ers have been testing their second- and third-string defense, and everyone has been able to perform.
Eric Reid: A
The rookie free safety is already one of the strong links in the 49ers defense, which is really saying something when you consider the caliber of this unit. Reid was thumping receivers once again, helping in run support and taking away throwing windows down the field.
He finished with five tackles, one pass deflection and a couple of solid tone-setting licks.
Donte Whitner: A
While he doesn’t earn as much recognition as the other players on defense, the 49ers' veteran safety has been stout. It’s true, he caught flak for his shortcomings in coverage at times, but he’s cleaned that part of his game up and is still a hard-hitting presence for the team. It’s getting harder and harder to knock Donte Whitner.
The reigning Pro Bowl safety had five tackles, including three solos, one tackle for a loss, one pass deflection and an interception.
Andy Lee: A
All-Pro punter Andy Lee netted 196 yards punting on four attempts, with an average of 49.0 yards Monday night. He’s been stellar all season and a valuable cog in the team’s special teams unit.
Phil Dawson: A
49ers place-kicker Phil Dawson remains perfect this year, hitting five times from the field this week. His last missed attempt was a 71-yard free kick in Week 4 that, let’s just say, Harbaugh wasn’t betting the house he’d make. Against Washington, Dawson hit both field-goal attempts, including a 49-yarder.
LaMichael James highlighted the special teams performance, providing a real shot in the arm for the return game. He was able to help position the offense, while Andy Lee, C.J. Spillman and the Tony Montana Squad were able to provide their strong-armed defense with favorable scenarios.