San Francisco 49ers: 2011 NFC West Champions: 3 Keys to Win Against the Rams

Patrick HightowerContributor IDecember 6, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Aldon Smith #99 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after sacking quarterback A.J. Feeley #4 of the St Louis Rams at Candlestick Park on December 4, 2011 in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won the game 26-0. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers (10-2) were crowned as NFC West Champions on Sunday after defeating the last place St. Louis Rams 26-0. It is safe to say that nobody in the NFL predicted this much success in year one of 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh’s regime. One thing that 49ers fans should be grateful for is this: the 49ers simply did what they had to do—beat a struggling and injury-plagued team. The following key plays were crucial to last week’s 49ers victory:

Blitz pick-up/Recognition:

This seems to be where quarterback Alex Smith and running back Frank Gore seem to shine. In other words, If Alex Smith can recognize a blitz, and Frank Gore can pick-up the block, more often than not, good results are going to happen. Sunday’s game against the Rams was no exception to this concept.

Had it not been for Gore’s crucial block, Alex Smith would not have been able to step up in the pocket and find wide receiver Michael Crabtree beating his man down the right sideline for a 52-yard touchdown pass. This play was one of Smith’s two touchdown passes, both of which were over 50 yards.

Wide Receiver Kyle Williams:

In prior seasons, the Kansas City Chiefs had Dante Hall. The Oakland Raiders have Jacoby Ford (when healthy).The Eagles have DeSean Jackson (when emotionally healthy). All of these players can change the game with one single burst of speed, one juke, and they can really make defenses pay a big price for missing a tackle.

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The 49ers are hoping that wide receiver Kyle Williams can be this type of x-factor player. With the unfortunate injuries to Josh Morgan and the nagging injuries of Braylon Edwards, Kyle Williams could be the receiver that the 49ers could use as a slot-receiver on three-wide-out packages to exploit some speed mismatches.  

Kyle Williams introduced himself, and his speed to the Rams with 12:51 to go in the game as he used his speed to turn an eight-yard catch into a 56-yard touchdown. It is also important to note that this play was yet another recognized blitz from 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.

Entire 49ers Defense:  

With the 49ers defense ranking first in points allowed per game (14), first in defense versus-the-run, first in takeaways and first in red zone defense, coming up with a game plan to make sure that these rankings remained in tact would center on stopping the Rams persistent running back Stephen Jackson. This became more important once it was clear that Rams quarterback Sam Bradford would not play, and back-up quarterback A.J. Feeley had to lead the Rams’ offense.  

With 4:28 remaining in the first quarter, however, the injury bug had bitten the 49ers defense. Linebacker Patrick Willis injured his hamstring (currently reported as a grade-two hamstring strain) after attempting to tackle Rams running back Brit Miller.  

The 49ers' defense needed a breakout performance from someone other than their defensive captain and defensive leader. Fortunately for them, that spectacular play came from two players—Willis’ back-up linebacker Larry Grant (a former player on the Rams) and outside linebacker Aldon Smith.

Specifically, Larry Grant not only ignited the 49ers home crowd at Candlestick Park, but he also provided a spark to teammates after delivering a devastating tackle to Stephen Jackson on the last play of the third quarter. In fact, this hit was so hard that it caused Grant’s helmet to fly off his head. Grant finished the game with six tackles, including one sack.

Aldon Smith finished the game with three solo tackles, including two sacks and a fumble recovery. One of the most memorable moments of the game came from Aldon Smith when he began his own attempt at an anti-celebration statement. After sacking A.J. Feeley on 4th and 12 with 7:24 to go in the game, Aldon Smith, giving no high-fives, chest bumps or fist-pumps, sprints to the sideline, takes his helmet off, and sits down on the bench. 49ers teammates definitely enjoyed and respected that display.

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