Michael Crabtree and company rolled to a 23-13 victory.
The San Francisco 49ers easily could have looked past the last-place St. Louis Rams as they prepare for a critical showdown with Seattle next week. Instead, they had one of their most important wins of the season.
The 23-13 victory moves San Francisco into sole possession of the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC, and the 49ers are beginning to get rolling at precisely the right time. Michael Crabtree returned, opening up new levels in the San Francisco passing attack, Colin Kaepernick went over 200 passing yards for only the fourth time this season and the team is prepared to try to take a small degree of revenge for the Week 2 loss to Seattle next week.
Read on to discover who stood out, and who didn't, in the Niners' big win.
Anquan Boldin earned nine first downs in the game.
While Crabtree’s return grabbed most of the headlines, the truth of the situation is that it will take some time before he’s able to contribute effectively as an offensive weapon. His main value right now is as a player who has to be accounted for, freeing up matchups for his mates in the receiving corps.
Enter Anquan Boldin, who took advantage of the more open secondary to haul in nine catches for 98 yards. He also had two more plays in the first quarter where he drew penalties, resulting in San Francisco first downs. All told, Boldin was targeted on 15 different plays in the game, and nine times, San Francisco moved the chains. An additional time, he had a seven-yard gain on 1st-and-10. You can’t get much better production than that.
Most of Boldin’s work came in the short passing game—he was never targeted more than 20 yards downfield—but he was able to operate in space, gaining 33 yards after the catch. With Crabtree demanding coverage, look for Boldin to continue finding space and producing for the rest of the season.
Brock shut down Chris Givens and the Rams
In only his second start for San Francisco, Tramaine Brock continues to show fans why San Francisco opted to sign him to a long-term deal a few weeks ago. Ignore the fact he gave up a late touchdown to Brian Quick on one of the last plays of the game, when San Francisco was in a prevent defense shell—Brock had yet another solid game for the 49ers.
Brock found himself mostly in coverage on Chris Givens on the day; he was targeted three times while in coverage on Givens and kept him off the stat sheet entirely, using a combination of excellent positioning and, it must be said, poor throws by Kellen Clemens, to leave him without a single reception.
All in all, Brock was targeted eight times out of 46 plays in which he was covering someone, and six of those passes fell incomplete. Brock was perfect on the day until the fourth quarter, only allowing Quick’s garbage-time touchdown and a 16-yard reception to Stedman Bailey on the day.
As Pro Football Focus reports (subscription required), Brock has only allowed 78 yards passing since the bye week and has quickly developed into a very solid starter for the team. Brock’s development may allow the 49ers to save some money in the offseason, as Carlos Rogers' cap number balloons to $8.1 million next season. It is entirely possible San Francisco will let him go and trust the developing Brock as an every-game starting cornerback.
Davis got airborne multiple times against St. Louis.
Like Boldin, Davis benefited from Crabtree’s presence, as he found more room to work over the middle of the field. He was targeted five times, catching four of the passes for 82 yards, doing most of his work in the 10- to 20-yard range, abusing Alec Ogletree in coverage.
Davis scored the 50th touchdown of his NFL career against St. Louis and continues to be the clear second option for Kaepernick during games, as well as a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties throughout the league.
If there’s one area of his game that he could stand to improve, it’d be the selection of protective gear he opts to use. Davis is one of many players who opts to play without a protective cup, and on one particular third-quarter reception, after hauling in the ball across the middle of the field, he was tackled in a rather painful manner by T.J. McDonald. San Francisco fans breathed a sigh of relief when he only missed one play after the tackle.
Davis suggested in a now-deleted tweet that the play was “the most painful thing ever,” and that the particular maneuver used to bring him down should be banned. Perhaps it’s only karma after San Francisco brought Robert Griffin III down last week in a similar manner.
For the first time in weeks, Brooks was ineffective.
Ahmad Brooks had been setting the world on fire in recent weeks, recording seven sacks in the three games since the bye week as well as being a force setting the edge week after week. With the returning Aldon Smith, the 49ers had one of the top outside pass-rushing duos over the past month and were looking for more against St. Louis.
Instead, for the first time all season, Brooks was left entirely off the stat sheet. Not only did he not get to Kellen Clemens, he didn’t record a single quarterback hurry, not to mention a tackle.
It wasn’t a matter of missed opportunities—Brooks played 50 of San Francisco’s 70 defensive snaps. It was simply a matter of never having anything to do.
When he rushed the passer, St. Louis right tackle Joe Barksdale did an admirable job of forcing him out of the play. It was arguably Brooks’ worst game of the season, which is still fairly admirable—it’s not that he missed key tackles or let the Rams sit back and throw with impunity, it’s just that he was a complete non-factor out there.
Best to get that sort of game out of the way against the Rams rather than the Seahawks next week.
Reid dropped a sure interception, ending up resulting in a Rams score.
On a day like Sunday, no one really had a particularly bad day, as there was a general level of competence across the board. Thus, to fill out the worst players of the week, we need to focus on individual plays where a player failed to execute.
The biggest single play of that nature came with 4:12 left to play in the second quarter. Clemens was looking for Tavon Austin deep, but overthrew him, leaving Eric Reid back to essentially pull off a fair catch deep. Looking back over his shoulder, Reid appeared to momentarily lose track of the ball in the sun and ended up letting the ball slip right through his outstretched arms to the turf below.
It landed right in his breadbasket, and he couldn’t make the play.
The Rams went on to kick a field goal on that drive, bringing the score to 13-3. Although the play ended up not meaning anything in the long run, those are the sorts of plays you have to make in close games. Reid’s been having an excellent rookie season, placing among the top vote-getters for the Pro Bowl. That play, however, is one he’d like to have back.
McDonald has failed to impress in his rookie season.
Vance McDonald left the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury, missing most of the first half of the game. Even when he returned in the second half, he didn’t exactly light the scoresheet on fire.
McDonald was never targeted on any of his nine pass routes, as he was fairly well covered each and every time, but more concerning was his run-blocking efforts. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave McDonald a minus-2.4 grade when it came to run blocking, the lowest number for a tight end on the week. This is the fifth week that McDonald has ended up deep in the red in PFF’s charting numbers; he’s yet to have a significantly positive day.
The charting is a bit harsh on McDonald, overall, but it is true he hasn’t quite lived up to his drafted reputation.
He was drafted as an offensive weapon, yet has only eight receptions on the season, ranking fifth worst in the league, again according to PFF. The 49ers knew coming in that he was used mostly in the slot in college and would need to work on his in-line blocking. That hasn’t happened either.
McDonald’s going through some rookie struggles, and can be expected to improve as he gains more experience, but for this season, he’s looked, at times, a bit like a fish out of water.