San Francisco 49ers: Grading the Week 11 Win
I really had to take some time to cool down before writing this report card. It shouldn't be emotionally possible to be so upset after your team wins.
Everyone is saying how the Cardinals were steamrolled and the 49ers spanked them and this and that.
But the truth is, we didn't. We dominated the game from the beginning to the end; no doubt about it. But there were glaring problems.
For example, Alex Smith put up good numbers, but really played an average game. Kind of the opposite of usual. And since when does 44 minutes of ball control get you just 23 points? I knew things were kooky when Patrick Willis, of all people, got a penalty called on him.
Still, I realize I'm just a picky fan. (Perfection! I want it, I need it, I expect it.) Yet, I've taken the high road and focused on how much good outshone the bad at Candlestick today.
Grading on Sunday's game alone, it's going to be a pretty sexy report card. But it's going to be like the kid who skips class twice a week to fight behind the bleachers, and gets good grades because he cheats on tests.
We all knew that kid, and he didn't go very far. So while I restrained myself from the penalize-all-for-one's-mistakes approach when grading the secondary, it took a couple cold beers and an episode of New Girl to calm me down and write fairly.
With that in mind, against the Cardinals, the 49ers were rock stars. They are 9-1 and have a legitimate shot at clinching the NFC West by December. Cheers all around.
Without further ado, the Week 11 report card for the San Francisco 49ers:
Passing Game: B
As mentioned in the previous slide, Smith was a little erratic today. He put up great numbers, going 20-for-38 for 267 yards and two touchdowns. His QB rating hovered just north of 80, which is solid if you notice that the Cardinals' John Skelton registered a rating about 8 times worse than that.
But in all seriousness, Alex had a very bumpy game.
Some throws were perfect (I'm looking at you, touchdown pass to Vernon Davis). Some passes were horrid (Yeah, I see you, dumbfounding interception). And then other times, he took off like Mike Vick and scrambled that defense like tomorrow morning's eggs.
It all added up to an average game from Smith. He looked very crisp on a lot of his throws, but also threw his second career red zone interception (see, he hasn't been all bad) and missed a couple easy throws to wide open targets in the end zone. More good decisions than bad, though.
One thing that was working against Smith was a couple uncharacteristic drops from Davis and a lackadaisical, perhaps injury-related performance by Braylon Edwards.
Time to jump from the shoulder shrug to the jaw drop.
Can we all give it up for Michael Crabtree? Seven catches for 120 yards, in what was one of his best games as a 49er. He had sure hands, ran perfect routes, blocked like a mad man and was making defenders (especially rookie corner Patrick Peterson) look absolutely foolish with runs after the catch.
He converted a couple huge third down catches in the first half and was a menace all game long. Let's hope this was the spark he needed to become the elite receiver we've been waiting for.
And how about a quick round of applause for my man Kyle Williams? One of the most under-appreciated, unknown, yet hardest working guys on the roster, Williams had a huge day. He grabbed five passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. If speed kills, Williams is the reaper himself. He really needs to be utilized more, maybe in place of the stone-handed Ted Ginn, Jr.
Running Game: B
Frank Gore surprised me today. I thought for sure the ankle and knee problems he's had would hamper him a bit against the Cards. Instead, he rumbled for 88 yards on 24 carries and would have had more if he didn't sit for the last few possessions.
Kendall Hunter wasn't as electric as usual, but did a fine job off-setting Gore's carries.
Anthony Dixon was a nice surprise coming off the bench. He did some work, picking up almost five yards per carry in mop-up duty. I wish we could find a way to get him some more playing time, because he's never done anything but bulldoze his way for big chunks of yards since we drafted him.
The running backs didn't get into the end zone on Sunday, which is slightly disappointing considering how many red zone opportunities they had, especially in the first half. But, they did cause enough damage to upset the defense's rhythm and allow Smith a few easy passes.
I think we can all give a shout-out to this offensive line, too. They didn't allow a sack, paved the way for 164 total rushing yards and generally played smart, flag-free football. I was worried when Anthony Davis went down with a bum ankle in the first half, but a quick tape-job got him back on the field in a jiffy.
By the way, if you've read all my report cards, I definitely ripped the O-line a new one in the first couple weeks. They must be fans of Bleacher Report, because their quietly stellar play since can clearly only be explained in one way: They read my articles! Thanks guys, I'm honored.
Front Seven: A
I was very tempted to give them an A-, just to be that guy. And because it would be fitting.
I mean, honestly; Patrick Willis flagged for a 15-yard penalty? My world has been flipped upside down. That's like the kid in class who has a 4.0 every year, but gets a 99 percent on a mid-term. It's just an absolute shocker.
Anyway, this group did what they do best again, and have now held teams from having a 100-yard rusher in the equivalent of two full seasons—32 games in a row. The more I think about it, the crazier that statistic becomes.
You break it down, and during that time, they've faced guys like Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, Michael Turner, Jamaal Charles...the list goes on and on. It's just incredibly impressive. Add in the fact that not one single running back has strutted into the end zone against them this year, and you can understand why this team is starting to get some bandwagon Super Bowl love.
So back to the man with the plan, Mr. Patrick Willis. Sure, he had that weak penalty near the end of the game, but I think he more than made up for it. The guy led the Niners in tackles, defended two passes, had an interception and captained a defense that forced five total turnovers.
NaVorro Bowman only had three tackles according to Yahoo.com's box score (I'm sure that will be adjusted soon—even the best have off-days, but that's like Joey Chestnut only eating three hot dogs and saying "I'm full").
But, back to the positives, Aldon Smith recorded another sack to continue his torrid rookie campaign. He now has seven and a half on the season. I don't know exactly why—maybe because there hasn't been a dominant pass rusher in almost a decade in San Francisco—but every time Smith gets into the backfield I go insane with bro-fandom.
He really, REALLY needs to see the field more. Oh, and Ahmad Brooks registered a sack and Justin Smith hardly showed up today. Next!
This is where it gets tricky. Remember how I had to cool off before writing this? It's because of a certain safety who may or may not have gotten himself suspended for the Harbowl, which would be an absolutely devastating hit to our chances on Thursday.
Basically, my analysis of Dashon Goldson's actions can be summed up rather succinctly: Dashon, you're an idiot. While you can clearly see that Early Doucet started the melee, Goldson has to maintain his composure right there.
Easier said than done, I know, but look at what he's gotten himself into. Surely, he regrets throwing those (admittedly, awesome and very deadly-looking) hay-makers at Doucet, but he will regret it even more when His Dictatorness, Roger Goodell, smites him with fines and a possible suspension in the next couple days.
Whew, I got that out of my system; back to the good stuff: five turnovers.
Five more takeaways for the league's peskiest defense, which already led the NFL in that category. Goldson was playing a great game before getting ejected, and Donte Whitner had a nice game with a fumble recovery, tipped pass, interception and generally impressive ball-hawkiness. (Shut up, it's a word now.)
Perhaps most impressive is that this secondary, after getting burned last week by three receivers who are much less talented than Larry Fitzgerald, absolutely shut him down. He had three catches all game, and the touchdown catch was sort of a fluke.
I say sort of, because if anyone could have caught a tipped pass in mid-air with two defenders on him, it's Fitzgerald. Sure, the ball should have been picked or swatted down, but let's just call it luck and move on.
Overall, this secondary was outstanding today and we can only hope that Goldson (yes, it was his stupidity that knocked the grade down) is back against the Ravens so we have something to be thankful for other than turkey, stuffing and if you're like me, a lot of sparkly, fruity, alcoholic liquid.
Special Teams: C-
Well, this is surprising. Since when did bad weather or bad snaps ever bother David Akers before? He still booted some through, but three-for-six is only good in batting average or field goal percentage—not this field goal percentage, basketball's field goal percentage.
Basketball? It's the sport we used to watch every day there wasn't football on? Wow, you really don't remember. Okay, scratch that comparison then.
Anyway, Akers pushed a 49-yarder wide left, which was the most troubling to me. He was due for a game like this, and I'm just glad it came in one that was a win as soon as the coin was tossed. A choke-job like that against Baltimore or Pittsburgh would have been pretty terrible.
And I'm not going to hold too much against him, since he still made three and the two blocked kicks weren't really his fault. Bad snaps, missed assignments, and a 6'8", 300-pound monster in the middle of the defensive line will do that to you.
By the way, I had no idea Calais Campbell was that freakin' big; it's crazy. For the record, blocking kicks is about as frequent for him as pepper spraying students is for power-drunk police officers, so I'm not trippin' on that first block.
Yeah I went there...I said trippin'.
Ah, right. Ted Ginn, Jr. played today. He actually had an above average day returning kicks. Which is bad. Since his average is probably right around John Skelton's QB rating and all.
Honestly, Jim Harbaugh and company did a pretty fantastic job today. The game plan on both sides of the ball was solid, they made good challenges, managed the game well and of course got the "W." My only complaint is something that barely has to do with them.
First of all, I know it's tough in the heat of the moment, but the coaching staff cannot allow the Goldson situation to happen. He is too important to the defense to even have the thought of punching a player in his mind. The potential ramifications are too great.
This isn't really the staff's fault; I just hope there aren't any control problems. The last thing I'd like to see as a fan is the rest of the league viewing this team as thuggish and cocky, like many do the Lions now.
There's a difference between being tough and being a punk, and Goldson is flirting with it.
Also, the same problem I've had with the coaching showed up again against Arizona. And again, it was mostly the fault of the players on the field. But execution starts at the top, so when I see the 49ers up 16 points in the second half with a chance to step on the throttle and bury the opponent Buccaneer-style, I get hungry for points.
When my stomach is left growling, the first place I look is the sideline.
I know the passive approach has worked wonders this year, I'd just like these games closed out to the tune of pulling away, rather than idling. I eat way too much In-N-Out for my heart to handle such pressure at the end of a football game.
Overall, a good job by the staff today, especially defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. A win's a win, and these guys are all doing a hell of a job. Oh, and props to Harbaugh for going for it on fourth down twice when it wasn't necessary and converting both times.
Those are the kinds of balls I like to see on a coach! Like, figuratively...oh god, what have I done...
Look, no matter how it happens, the 49ers continue to win. They are 9-1 and ruling the NFC West with an iron fist. Or just a great defense. And great coaching. And a smart offense.
No matter how you cut it, beating the Cardinals was big. Any division win is important, even if the opponent contains the ferocity of a goldfish.
Yes, we should have won somewhere in the range of 55-0. Yes, we might have lost Goldson for our next game, which just happens to be the biggest game on the schedule thus far. Yes, Alex Smith looked shaky at times and yes, Akers went all senior citizen on us.
Also, the only thing more frustrating than watching the 49ers not quite get in the end zone even though they literally had the ball on offense for three full quarters, was the broadcast itself. Come on, FOX!
Seriously, should Brian Billick and Thom Brennaman even be allowed back in the booth (Kendall Hunter is not in his second season, he did not go to Oklahoma, the wildcat is effective, and we get it, Brian; we will never forget that Larry Fitzgerald was your ball boy in Minnesota...my goodness)?
The Niners will have to hope Akers pulls his act together, Goldson doesn't get suspended and the offense can close more effectively against the most intimidating defense in the NFL on Thursday.
But you can still tack one up in the win column for the red and gold. That's all that matters. Not necessarily how we win, but that nobody's got it better than us.
Enjoy your turkey, and take a drink for your 9-1 San Francisco 49ers. Here's to winning the Brotherly Bowl in Baltimore. I'm out of alliterations, so until next time, you stay classy Early Doucet.