Notching another win in 2013, the San Francisco 49ers (8-4) remain firmly in playoff contention as we close in on the final four games of the regular season.
This team has rolled in their second straight contest, defeating both Washington and St. Louis by double-digit margins in the span of a week. Their defensive performances have been ruthless and these sporadic explosions on offense are now becoming more frequent.
With how the roster is taking shape and the players' comfort with one another, as well as within the system, it appears as if this team is beginning to pick up momentum as we enter the month of December.
Evidently, Jim Harbaugh's 49ers are becoming quite a force, and perhaps at just the right time. So, after witnessing how this squad bowled through a familiar NFC West rival in the St. Louis Rams, it's time to reflect on the game and provide player-by-analysis complete with final grades.
Grading criteria is as follows:
- Expectations: Some players can look really good out there, but how much did they leave on the field?
- Statistics: If a player was 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 how 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?
Statistics provided by ESPN.com Game Center, unless specified otherwise.
Colin Kaepernick: B+
Not a multi-touchdown game, but Colin Kaepernick accounted for nearly 300 all-purpose yards, had a 111.5 QB rating and didn’t turn the ball over.
No. 7 made all the throws he needed to make to win the game, played smart football and exhibited visible strides when it came to going through his progressions, even though he was missing two of his starting offensive linemen.
Most notably, Kap effectively orchestrated the team's high-wire approach on offense, which largely favored the pass, and still emerged with one of his best passing days of the year.
There is room for improvement, and he left some plays on the field, but this game represented progress, which is more important than anything.
Frank Gore: C-
Hats off to the St. Louis defense for bottling up Frank Gore. After storming their defense in Week 4 for 153 yards on the ground, the 49ers' star tailback only averaged 2.8 yards per carry this time around and fumbled the ball away.
He was not a big factor on Sunday, although, he did find the end zone in short yardage, which saves his grade.
Kendall Hunter: N/A
Hunter also functioned in a very limited role, which makes him difficult to grade fairly. He finished with just three carries for seven yards (2.3 YPC). Though all seven yards came on one carry, wherein Hunter showed great burst in the open field.
LaMichael James: N/A
The 49ers' No. 3 running back did not receive any carries on Sunday, nor did he have a chance to make any receptions. He was strictly on punt return duty, where he muffed his second punt in as many weeks. Thankfully it was recovered. James, like Hunter, is a player that needs to see more time.
Bruce Miller: B+
Fullback Bruce Miller had two catches for 20 yards, including a long of 21. He also had to up his game in terms of pass protection and run blocking with Joe Staley and Mike Iupati out for the game. Miller played well all around in a win the 49ers had to have despite injuries on offense.
Anquan Boldin: A
Outside of Kaepernick, it was Anquan Boldin that benefited most from the return of wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
With No. 15 back on the field drawing coverage, Boldin was able to get free often, having his best day of the season since his explosive Week 1 showing. He tallied nine grabs on 13 targets for 98 yards.
Michael Crabtree: A-
A far better debut than most were probably expecting from Crabtree in his return from a full Achilles tear in May.
In his first game back, he played a majority of the team’s offensive snaps as a starter and hauled in a 60-yarder, which tied a career high. He was able to pivot and put a move on the defender, make the grab and then jet for 42 yards after the catch.
Mario Manningham: N/A
No sign of Mario Manningham on Sunday as the 49ers were busy getting Crabtree involved (no doubt readying him for Seattle in Week 14). He had his reps, but the 49ers used mostly “22” personnel and no more than two receivers at a time. As a result, Manningham was quiet, finishing with zero targets.
Vernon Davis: A+
Not only did Davis have himself a game, but he put on quite a show, leapfrogging St. Louis’ undersized defenders like they were cracks in the sidewalk. The 49ers’ acrobatic tight end averaged 20.5 yards per catch and scored what was essentially the game-winning touchdown.
Vance McDonald: N/A
Nothing on the day for rookie tight end Vance McDonald, who had to leave the game at one point with an ankle injury. He fulfilled his role as a run-blocker, but the run game didn’t get to far on Sunday. Nevertheless, it wasn’t all on him. His day was fairly insignificant as the Niners got their other stars going.
Joe Staley: N/A
The 49ers' Pro Bowl left tackle went down on the opening drive with an MCL sprain, missing the entire game.
He is being evaluated further, but the team has already confirmed that he will miss this week’s crucial rematch versus the Seattle Seahawks.
Adam Snyder: C+
With Adam Snyder filling at left guard for a second consecutive game, the 49ers have no run presence. They have not been able to move the ball at all on the weak side and are now without the devastating guard pull that Mike Iupati executes so well when the team wants to run right.
The only thing saving Snyder’s grade here is that he has not been a total liability in pass protection.
Jonathan Goodwin: C
Again, no interior run game by the 49ers for a second week in a row and that is supposed to be their bread and butter. Part of that responsibility falls on Goodwin, as the center was not getting to the second level as consistently and was even called for a hold that wiped away a nice run.
Not to mention, Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers also had five tackles and two sacks.
Alex Boone: B-
Boone is one of the 49ers’ other hulking linemen that tends to set the tempo in the trenches, but it was not apparent versus the Rams. He was not knocking guys off the football and opening lanes for Gore and Hunter, who were both stuffed for most of the day.
What helps his grade here is that, when called upon, Boone was able to switch to left tackle and protect Kap for the duration of the game.
Davis struggled in pass protection a bit on Sunday, getting beat around the edges on a day where the line gave up four sacks.
He was also another one of San Francisco’s offensive linemen to pick up a penalty, drawing a false start in a red-zone situation, which killed the drive. The 49ers had to settle for a field goal after being inside the 5-yard line.
Joe Looney: C+
Expectations were not very high for Looney, and he gets a passing grade here because the 49ers pulled out a win. Filling in at right guard after Boone moved to left tackle, Looney held up for most of the game. He wasn’t exposed to an embarrassing degree, which can happen with most backup offensive linemen.
Justin Smith: A-
As usual, Justin Smith was in the middle of everything, causing disruption in the pocket and collapsing running lanes.
On one occasion, the 49ers' All-Pro defensive tackle pushed Jake Long back into the pocket like he was a shopping cart. It was an unreal display of human strength.
Glenn Dorsey: A
Glenn Dorsey had another fantastic game in the middle for the 49ers, and even coach Harbaugh made it a point to highlight his play in the postgame presser.
The nose tackle racked up six tackles and one quarterback hit, beating blocks all day on his way to the ball.
Ray McDonald: B+
After missing two games with an ankle injury, Ray McDonald got back into the fold. It did not take him very long to make an impact either, as he contributed to a D-line group that had a terrific day versus the run. McDonald also had a sack of Kellen Clemens in his return.
Patrick Willis: A-
Once again, No. 52 was in the middle of this defense, orchestrating another dominant performance over a division rival. His numbers weren’t gaudy by any means, but Willis played solid in all phases of the game and managed to pick up a sack on a late green dog blitz.
NaVorro Bowman: A
Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman was all over the field on Sunday, piling up a team-high 11 tackles on the day. This is not just versus the run either. He continues to put forth complete defensive performances, once again sticking tight ends and backs in coverage while still managing to get after the passer.
Bowman was able to pick up his third sack of the season.
Ahmad Brooks: B-
After a few loud performances the past few weeks, Brooks simmered down versus the Rams, not doing much more than setting the edge. He was blanked in the box score, which is a bit of a surprise, but it doesn’t mean he was a non-factor. His presence was certainly felt versus the run and the pass.
Aldon Smith: B
It was just a quiet day for the 49ers’ outside linebackers, as Aldon Smith only had two takedowns of his own. He was still very much involved, officially returning to full-time duty at right outside linebacker, but it wasn’t one of his more dominant performances.
Carlos Rogers: A-
The 49ers' No. 1 cornerback had another very solid outing, shutting down this Rams receiving corps that was a threat to unleash Tavon Austin. Rogers wasn’t having any of it, running downfield with the speedster and also taking on a stable of different-style receivers.
He had one tackle, knocked down one pass and picked up his second interception of the season.
Tramaine Brock: B+
Like Rogers, 49ers starting cornerback Tramaine Brock tried his luck with a slew of different receivers and remained consistent in coverage. None of St. Louis’ receivers had more than three catches or 50 yards. The one touchdown that was allowed was in garbage time to Brian Quick.
Eric Wright: B
With players like Tarell Brown, Chris Culliver and Nnamdi Asomugha all not being available for different reasons, the 49ers have really had to test the depth of their bench at the cornerback position. Luckily, Wright has been able to fill in the past few games and play very good football.
The fact that he hasn’t been picked on or exposed in coverage is a good sign for the 49ers, as they can now patiently wait for Brown to return.
Eric Reid: B+
Rookie free safety Eric Reid registered another solid game on the back end for San Francisco, playing as consistent as a six or seven-year veteran.
Again, he was among the team’s tackle leaders, getting in on five takedowns. He misses out an A+ grade here because he dropped an easy interception.
Donte Whitner: A
Whitner out-tackled Patrick Willis in Week 13, believe it or not, racking up nine tackles on the day.This placed him right behind Bowman.
He was like a homing missile on the field, hitting receivers after the catch and contributing in run support. After making the Pro Bowl last year, Whitner is still making a case for 2013 as his best season yet in red and gold.
Andy Lee: A
Andy Lee kept the 49ers in the field position game all day when they struggled to keep drives alive. He punted four times for a net total of 191 yards (47.8 average). On one such occasion, Lee even pinned the Rams back at their own 2-yard line.
Phil Dawson: A
The 49ers placekicker finished 5-of-5 from the field, hitting all three of his field goal attempts and both of his point-after attempts. He would’ve had an A+ here had any of his tries had come from 50-plus yards out. His longest on the day only went for 43 yards, as the other two were chip shots when the offense failed to punch the ball in.
Tavon Austin found no room versus this 49ers coverage unit, which just had him boxed in all day. Having been able to contain the explosive track star, this game can be chalked up as a huge win for the special teams.
However, they still seem unable to produce anything notable in their own return game.