Alex Smith Managed The Game Well Against The Browns
With the win over the Browns, the 49ers have moved one step closer in their goal of making the playoffs. The 49ers avoided the trap of coming off a bye week, where teams had a 3-9 record heading into this week's action.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh was extremely wary of complacency setting in with the 49ers. Staying focused and continuing to work hard were strong points Harbaugh made to his team heading into the Cleveland game.
We now look ahead to the 49ers' next opponent, the Washington Redskins. The Redskins are currently 3-4 in the tough NFC East. The Redskins were shut out 23-0 by the Buffalo Bills and will be determined to make good in front of their home fans.
If this upcoming game was in San Francisco, I believe the 49ers would have the decided edge. However, this will be another tough east coast travel game for the 49ers.
Let's take a look at five key predictions that will determine the outcome of this game.
Frank Gore has four straight 100 yard rushing games
Frank Gore was off to a slow start over the first three games, and there were rumblings that he had lost a step following his season-ending hip injury last year.
Gore has turned his season around and is now on a roll.
Gore has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last four games.
He now has 675 yards on 140 carries—a 4.8 yards-per-carry average.
The Redskins will be a formidable defense for Gore to run against. They are a solid group in the upper half of the league against the run.
The 49ers offensive line is jelling and providing running lanes for Gore and Kendall Hunter. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has also been very creative, using multiple tight ends and even utilizing nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and reserve Alex Boone in situations where the 49ers want to go heavy and pound the ball at the defense.
Expect another 100-yard rushing performance from Gore against the Redskins.
If he does that, the 49ers have an excellent chance of securing the victory.
Patrick Willis anchors an outstanding 49ers' defense
The San Francisco 49ers have not allowed a rushing touchdown this season.
The defense has also not allowed any running back to gain 100 yards on the ground in 29 straight games.
Expect that trend to continue against the Washington Redskins.
The 49ers have the league's top-rated defense against the run, and the Washington rushing attack is mediocre at best.
Against the Bills this past Sunday, the Redskins rushed for only 26 yards. They will find a similar tough road against the staunch 49ers defense.
If everything holds true to form, the Redskins will not even have 100 yards on the ground as a team.
Rookie Aldon Smith has 6.5 sacks to lead the 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers' overall defense under coordinator Vic Fangio has steadily improved throughout the year.
One of the main areas of improvement has been in the pass-rush.
Rookie Aldon Smith leads the team with 6.5 sacks, even though he primarily plays only on passing downs.
The 49ers have also received a strong pass-rush from Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Patrick Willis and Ray McDonald.
McDonald strained a hamstring against the Browns, and it remains to be seen if he will play against the Redskins. The loss of McDonald would be an important one, as his replacements Ricky Jean-Francois and Demarcus Dobbs are not the player that McDonald is.
The Redskins had a terrible game against the Bills this past Sunday. Their offensive line surrendered nine sacks to the Bills, a team not known for their pass-rush.
Expect the 49ers to play the run effectively, then come after Redskin quarterback John Beck on passing downs. My expectation is that San Francisco will get at least four sacks and a number of pressures on Beck.
This defensive pressure also aids the 49ers secondary, which has improved, but does have lapses periodically.
Dashon Goldson intercepts this Colt McCoy pass
The 49ers have been an extremely opportunistic football team.
They have a plus-10 turnover margin and have been quite adept at winning the turnover battle in their games.
A huge key to the early-season success of the 49ers has been their ability to create turnovers while giving up very few.
Alex Smith is a prime reason for this positive statistic for the 49ers. He has thrown nine touchdowns with only two interceptions.
Protecting the football and managing the game well are two things Alex Smith has really learned from Jim Harbaugh. Smith has turned into a competent NFL quarterback under Harbaugh.
The 49ers' ball-hawking secondary and hard-hitting defense will be looking to wreak havoc on the Redskins.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has done a masterful job of putting together game plans to take advantage of an opponent's weak areas.
I fully expect the 49ers defense to come out strong, play well and help the 49ers to win not only the turnover battle, but also the game.
Jim Harbaugh celebrates a 49er touchdown
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has turned this team around faster than anyone could have expected.
I, for one, expected the transformation to take at least two years because of the lockout and all the missed practice time that resulted.
Harbaugh has mentored Alex Smith and taught him how to be a decent NFL quarterback.
He also brought in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and turned the reins over to him to run the defense.
He has the 49ers' complete buy-in at this stage. This team believes in him, and now they believe in themselves.
Harbaugh will preach to his team this week about the importance of staying focused when going on the road.
Harbaugh will use the "us against the world" mentality as the 49ers embark on a long east coast travel game. This helps the 49ers play with a bit of a chip on their collective shoulder. They play a lot better with this mentality.
Harbaugh has also made the game fun for the players.
We saw offensive lineman Joe Staley and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who was lined up in the offensive backfield, both catch passes for big gains for the 49ers. Their teammates cheered, and we saw genuine smiles on the sidelines.
Harbaugh and Fangio have a unique knack for putting players in the best positions to utilize their talents and make plays. That is one of the true measures of a successful coach, and Harbaugh and Fangio both have it.
Do not expect a letdown against the Redskins, but do not expect a blow out either. The Redskins defense is solid, and they have a strong pass-rush.
Expect another hard-fought game, with the 49ers coming out on top, based on winning the turnover margin.
Final score: San Francisco 23, Washington 16