It took a trip to overtime, but in the end the San Francisco 49ers emerged victorious over rivals St. Louis this week, putting San Fran back into contention for the NFC West title. While it was certainly not a pretty game by any standards, the 49ers' 23-20 win over the Rams today provided plenty of highlights, and plenty of items to discuss.
For everything that went right for the 49ers today, it seemed like something was going wrong as well. Here are my thoughts on what worked and what didn't coming off today's big win over St. Louis.
17/28 for 356 yards and 1 TD
Troy Smith deserves a lot of credit for this win. He did not cause a turnover, and limited stupid mistakes on offense. Officially he only threw for one TD, but anyone who watched the game knows he threw for three only to have two called back because of penalties. He moved very well in the pocket, and made some amazing throws off of his back foot (maybe that 46-yard pass to Delanie Walker in London wasn't such a fluke after all!)
Had Alex Smith or (God forbid) David Carr been starting under center, no doubt this game is a loss for San Francisco. At the end of the day, Troy Smith played an NFL starter needs to play—he made smart decisions, he made plays with both his feet and his arm, he made use of all his available weapons and, most importantly: he won
The 49ers had eight plays of 20+ yards, and most of those came through the air. Mike Johnson did a great job of calling plays to open the field for Troy Smith and his receivers, allowing Troy Smith to make big plays all day. We finally got to see all of the 49ers weapons in actions, and it was a sight to behold.
Walker- 80 yards on four catches;
Davis- 79 yards on four catches;
Gore- 67 yards on three catches;
Crabtree- 61 yards on four catches (including a TD).
It seemed like everyone was getting in on the action, allowing the 49ers to gain 421 total yards of offence (323 through the air). This was the first game in a while that the 49ers used every weapon available, and it definitely paid off today.
The 49ers continued their schizophrenic defensive play-calling today, but the defensive line and linebackers made up for it. Patrick Willis, Manny Lawson and Takeo Spikes were beasts all game; each finished with five or more tackles, and they all put pressure on Bradford at key times throughout the game. Lawson and Ahmad Brooks did a great job all game of sealing the corners, forcing Steven Jackson and the Rams up the middle of the field into the defensive line and Willis.
Justin Smith continued his fantastic play today, finishing with a sack and five tackles. The front seven managed to keep the Rams' offense in check (for the most part) and allowed the 49ers to keep in the game and eventually pull out the win.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Aside from a gaffe here or there, (i.e. allowing Steven Jackson to break off a 26 yard run up the gut) San Fran`s run defense held all game. Jackson was held to 80 yards, and the Rams only managed to put up 104 total rushing yards all game. This forced St. Louis into calling a lot of pass plays, and by the end of the game Bradford, who threw the ball a whopping 42 times, didn`t have it in him to keep it up.
No-one should be surprised by the stout run defense (it has been one of San Fran`s few strengths in the last few years) but it was nice to see nonetheless.
The 49ers did their best work on defense when they locked down the receivers tight. Too many times throughout the game did San Fran give up first downs and other big plays (including a touchdown) because St. Louis receivers found their way into open spaces between coverage. On the other hand, big plays and key plays for St. Louis were broken up because of tight man-to-man coverage, such as the flea-flicker the Rams attempted. The 49ers have a strong enough defensive line that just rushing 3 and allowing everyone else to drop into coverage is not such a bad idea.
San Fran`s blitzes worked well for most of the game as well, simply because the San Fran secondary had to go man-to-man, allowing the linebackers time to get to the quarterback. If Troy Smith really is the QB we`ve been looking for, then San Fran needs to acquire a top cornerback and go man-to-man all the time.
14 penalties cost the 49ers 105 yards. That in itself is absolutely terrible, but it gets worse. Consider this: penalties cost San Francisco not only a great interception that put them into great position early in the 1st quarter, but also caused the 49ers to have THREE touchdowns called back. As a 49ers fan I was flabbergasted at the number of mistakes being committed. During St. Louis` second quarter TD drive, the 49ers committed three big penalties, giving up all kinds of yardage on what should have been a short, unremarkable possession. Instead, penalties allowed the Rams to gain momentum and stay in the game.
Then there was the 49ers`last drive of the fourth quarter, where penalties not only pushed them further and further back, but also caused a beautiful touchdown reception by Vernon Davis to be wiped out. Or two drives before that when an equally impressive TD reception by Crabtree was nullified by a stupid penalty, forcing the 49ers to settle for a field goal. If the Niners don`t learn some discipline fast they won`t have any chance at the playoffs—other, better teams will capitalize on that many mistakes.
Oh man. A potential game-winning touchdown was called back because of him. What more do you want? In the end, Davis did not play like a first-round draft choice. San Francisco could not run the ball up his side of the field, forcing them to take it left nearly every time. He caused a GAME-WINNING TOUCHDOWN TO BE CALLED BACK WITH A USELESS HOLDING CALL.
I cannot and will not get over that. Sure, Joe Staley caused a TD to be overturned as well, but he played great otherwise, giving San Fran the push to be able to run the ball effectively most of the game, and he even came back from an injury to keep playing.
I really don't like Anthony Davis right now.
As well as the 49ers front-seven played, the secondary played equally as bad. Aside from a couple nice plays, the San Francisco defensive backs played poor, uninspired football. Shawntae Spencer blew two easy tackles allowing St. Louis critical first downs. Donald Goldson missed an easy tackle in the backfield, allowing Steven Jackson to rush for a touchdown.
The coverage was soft almost all game,as the 49ers defense gave up 332 yards, 228 of which were passing yards. The San Francisco secondary was a very weak spot for the team today, and they will need to figure out a system that works if they want this season to go anywhere.
Where was the return game today? Ted Ginn had a total 42 yards on three returns, an absolutely unacceptable performance altogether. As someone who is supposed to be a kick-return specialist, Ginn sure did not look the part today. Part of the blame can be placed on his supporting cast for not blocking very well some of the time, but other times he just needed to take a risk and go with it. Also, too often was he out of position waving for the fair catch.
Ginn didn't seem to track the ball very well today, allowing St. Louis to put San Francisco in poor position to start drives a number of times. One of the 49ers strong points recently has been their return game, so hopefully this was just a one-off bad performance. Otherwise, they'll have to find a way to inject some life into their special teams.
All in all I, like the rest of the 49ers faithful, am happy with the win. At 3-6 San Francisco is still in the hunt for the NFC West title, as Arizona falls to 3-6 this week as well. San Fran hosts the 6-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week in a tough NFC test.
If the 49ers can keep the pressure on Freeman the same way they did on Bradford, and if Troy Smith continues his excellent play, expect big things from San Fran next week; otherwise, it could be the start of long second half of the season. In any case:
Keep the Faith!