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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

San Francisco 31, St. Louis 17: Three Things We Learned

The San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams concluded a wild week six with their Monday Night Football matchup. The Rams were commemorating the 15 year anniversary of the Greatest Show on Turf. Having Kurt Warner must’ve provided Rams quarterback Austin Davis with some sort of added motivation as he was gunning the ball in the first half.

The Rams started the game on fire, with offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, using multiple formations, including Tavon Austin, getting carries out of the backfield.  We also finally saw the 2013 Heisman Trophy Finalist Tre Mason, who showed some explosiveness out of the backfield. The Rams running game allowed them to take an early 7-0 lead.

Subsequently, on their next drive, the Rams opened up the offense, with Davis pushing the ball downfield. He was able to find Jared Cook down the seams. This allowed the Rams to exploit some deficiencies in the 49ers weak secondary where Chris Culliver was exploited on an easy touchdown to Lance Kendricks and secure a 14-0 lead.

The 49ers stormed back thanks to Colin Kaepernick narrowly escaping being sacked by the Rams defensive line. Towards the end of the 1st half, Janoris Jenkins bit on a double move by Brandon Lloyd, for an 80-yard touchdown and cut Rams lead to 14-10 at the end of the first half. Kaepernick had his best game of the season, completing 22 of 36 passes for and three touchdowns and 343 yards.

In the second half, the 49ers offensive line dominated the Rams defensive front and allowed Kaepernick, who’s been one of the most pressured quarterbacks this season, to carve up the Rams defense. He hit Michael Crabtree on an absolutely beautiful route for a 32 yard touchdown to make it a 24-10 lead. Kaepernick was still passing off his first read, but when you are not pressured (Kaepernick was hit only twice all game), you can get away with being average at reading defenses. Kaepernick continued to make good reads and the Rams inexperienced secondary paired with a lack of pass rush, allowed the 49ers offense to sustain drives easily.

Austin Davis cooled off after a fast start, as Brian Schottenheimer’s offense, as has been the case throughout his entire career as a coordinator, became predictable and complacent with the Rams abandoning the run once they fell down 24-14.

The 49ers played one of their most complete games of the season. Here are the three things we learned

1. Either the 49ers pass protection has finally arrived, or the Rams (and Robert Quinn) are just terrible at rushing the passer this season.

The Rams entered this game with only one sack. Yes, one sack. The team that many thought would have a tremendous defense, with Robert Quinn amassing 19 sacks in 2013, has managed to get to the quarterback only once this year. Meanwhile, the 49ers have been awful protecting Colin Kaepernick for most of the season. Surely, the Rams and especially Quinn, would finally be able to get something going. It didn’t happen. Kaepernick had a clean pocket to throw, the Joe Staley absolutely erased Quinn for the entire game (from my charting, Quinn didn’t even lay a finger on Kaepernick). The Rams have blitzed on nearly half of their passing plays against, coming into the game, but that was a non-factor against San Francisco.

As such, the 49ers had one of their best passing games of the season and Kapernick, looked once more like a quarterback who can play in the pocket.

So to answer the question, is it the Rams who are just that bad at rushing the passer, or has the 49ers offensive line finally emerged as the dominant unit they have been for years. I’m willing to say it is a little bit of both, but regardless, it bodes well for San Francisco going forward.


2. Janoris Jenkins will never be a top-flight corner

Not much more needs to be said here. The 80-yard touchdown he gave up to Brandon Lloyd near the end of the first half is inexcusable. Jenkins has been known to be overly aggressive and bite on pump fakes and double moves, but he has to be more judicious against Lloyd who beat him clean on a stop-and-go route. Especially when defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, inexplicably opted to play ‘zero coverage’ with no safety help in case his corners got beat.

Then, in the third quarter, he got caught looking in the backfield and he completely lost track of Anquan Boldin in the endzone. Yes, amazing throw by Colin Kaepernick, but Jenkins’ coverage was putrid.

The former North Alabama  Lions cornerback showed great potential during his rookie season and already has five career sixes. Those plays look great when the player gambles and is able to make the play, but against the 49ers, Jenkins’ aggressive nature bit him and the Rams square in the ass.


3. 49ers defense is finally hitting stride.

Teams cannot call their defenses world-beaters after shutting down one-dimensional offenses in the Chiefs and Rams on back-to-back weeks, but the 49ers have to be pleased with their last two contests on the defensive side of the ball. The 49ers came into their Monday Night tilt against the Rams 16th in team DVOA and 7th in pass-defense DVOA (thanks to the great folks at Football Outsiders),  solid for a unit that is dealing with injuries, in all three levels of their defense. San Francisco gave up 265 total yards last week against the Chiefs and after a rough first quarter, allowed only 216 yards  against the Rams. San Francisco sacked Davis five times and in the second half, completely shut down the Rams attack.

The worry prior to the season was finding replacements for NaVorro Bowman (out at least the first eight weeks with an ACL injury) and Aldon Smith (suspended for the first nine weeks). Then, during the season, Tramaine Brock got hurt and Glenn Dorsey was lost for the season.

Michael Wilhoite, has filled in nicely for Bowman and Dan Skuta recorded two sacks against St. Louis.

In the secondary, Perrish Cox has played brilliantly in his last two games and for most of the season filling in the place of Brock. Against Kansas City, he shined with three tackles, two pass deflections and an interception to seal the game late in the fourth quarter on Alex Smith. Last night against the Rams, he completely shut down Brian Quick, who’s been a force for Austin Davis. Quick entered the game with 21 catches, 322 yards and three touchdowns with a 15.2 average yards per reception. Quick was relegated to one catch for 10 yards.

The 49ers are manufacturing pressure with the loss of Smith and Bowman and are  forced to blitz more than their 30th ranking in that department from last season.

The legal process has also allowed Ray McDonald to continue playing, despite a looming domestic violence dispute and he’s been very good as well.

It will be scary to think of how good this defense can be with Aldon and Bowman, as they are still 3rd and 5th against the pass and the run respectively. Vic Fangio deserves a tremendous amount of credit.


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