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Monday, 6 October 2014

San Francisco Outlasts Kansas City: Three Things We Learned

A report by Deion Sanders last week laid a dent into the San Francisco 49ers season, when he proclaimed that players are not particularly fond of Jim Harbaugh and they are growing tired of his antics. There’s been rumblings over the last few seasons that not only players, but executives, such as general manager Trent Baalke are butting heads with the 4th year head man of the 49ers. Well, it didn’t seem to affect the 49ers on the field as they have won two games in a row, and displayed a very solid performance against the Kansas City Chiefs, a team quarterbacked by the former 2005 number one overall pick, Alex Smith.

Smith’s return to Northern California left much to be desired after he carved up the New England Patriots last week. This was a tightly contested game that the 49ers pulled away at the end, winning 22-17, thanks to their ball control and timely field goal kicking by Phil Dawson.


Here are three things we learned from the Week Five matchup between the Chiefs and 49ers.


1. 49ers offensive line looks back to form (from a run blocking standpoint)

I had mentioned from the 49ers-Cardinals game review that Mike Iupati had been struggling to find form, but this week, against a formidable front seven, he was the star of the offensive line along with fullback Bruce Miller and Daniel Kilgore. Iupati was back to his old ways dominating the Chiefs front seven, and moving players from their spots. When he is on, he's as good a pulling guard in the league.

The 49ers combined for 40 carries and 173 yards, with Frank Gore continuing to dispel the notion of the declining 30-year running with a 18 carry, 107 yard performance. Gore looked spry, and fresh with Jim Harbaugh giving his veteran runner a blow after every 2 or 3 carries to monitor his stamina. Harbaugh and his staff deserve praise for how they’ve handled Gore’s carries in the last two weeks, while still allowing him to be the bellcow that he absolutely can be.


I’ve watched every 49ers game this season and this was the one in which it really felt like they were committing to the run as opposed to the pass. As such, Colin Kaepernick had a season-low 26 pass attempts. This is the formula for success while that offensive line works out the kinks from a pass-blocking standpoint (Kaepernick was sacked 3 times).


2. Andy Reid’s play-calling is still shoddy

How do you have a thoroughbred runner in Jamaal Charles and only opt to give him 15 carries and only one catch for 4 yards. In fact, the Chiefs have another promising running back in Knile Davis who only saw 2 carries for 6 yards. Last week against the Patriots, Charles and Davis combined for 34 carries, 199 yards, shredding their front seven. The Chiefs running backs combined for 38 carries versus Smith’s 26 pass attempts. Charles played relatively well against the 49ers, with a 5.3 yards per carry, but he was mostly non-existent in the tail end of the fourth quarter, due to the way Reid called the game. Smith ended the game with 31 pass attempts, far too many for a quarterback not privy to great talent at wide receiver. The result was Smith pressing in the fourth quarter to convert a first down and throwing an ill-advised interception to Perrish Cox.

There’s no excuse for such a low carry amount as the game-flow had the Chiefs leading up until the fourth quarter. It was not like they were behind in the contest, which would force them to use Charles solely as a pass-catcher. Kansas City was winning in time of possession before after the first half-hour of play. Reid also opted to throw the ball in short-yardage situations, with poor execution.

If you have followed the Eagles in the past, this was always an issue for Reid. He falls in love with passing the ball far too often. At least in Philadelphia, he had more talent on the outside. Kansas City is built to be a run-oriented unit, as Alex Smith, except for a few offensive surges, really does fit into his game-manager role.

The argument would be that the 49ers entered into the game as the 7th best defense against the run, having held the likes of Matt Forte, Andre Ellington and LeSean McCoy to 21, 62 and 17 rushing yards respectively. But Charles, who was a runner up for the MVP trophy last year has been dominant when healthy this season and neither of those teams can feature a backup runner with the talent of Knile Davis.

Andy Reid’s play-calling was a detriment to the Chiefs and potentially cost them the game (not to mention a penalty for 12 men on the field, that he should take the blame for as well). The sooner he realizes that the Chiefs will go as their running game does, the more they will look like they did last Monday against the Patriots, which will result in more wins.


3. Phil Dawson is automatic

In terms of converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns, the 49ers have been one of the weaker teams during Jim Harbaugh’s tenure as 49ers head coach. In 2011, they were 30th in the league at a shade over 40 percent. In 2012, they were 15th at 55 percent. In 2013, they were also 15th at 53 percent and so far this season, entering the game against Kansas City, the 49ers were 21st at 50 percent.

Suffice to say that the 49ers offense has been prone to being stagnant inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. It has never been more important for them to have a blue-chip kicker and that has been the case with Phil Dawson, especially this season and yesterday against the Chiefs where he hits field goals of 31, 55, 52, 27 and 30 yards. Dawson has been one of the best kickers in the game for a long time and during a day where the 49ers were 1 of 4 in the red zone, the 16-year veteran bailed out the 49ers all game long.


Other notes:

Brandon Lloyd can still catch acrobatic passes as beautifully as Lynn Swann. His snatch in the fourth quarter was a thing of absolute beauty. He finished with a pretty good stat line as well with three receptions for 76 yards...Trent Baalke should be commnded for the amount of depth the 49ers have. Stevie Johnson isn't getting many looks, but he's had back-to-back games with a touchdown and of course Lloyd has made a nice contribution. On the offensive line, Jonathan Martin, played well at right tackle as well. Baalke knows that in the NFL, injuries or ineffective play will happen, but it is imperative to have the needed depth to prosper...Travis Kelce is going to be a stud, but he was corralled most of the game after a touchdown early in the first half. Not to worry, as the 49ers have been terrific against tight ends in the last three seasons...The Chiefs definitely miss Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito, who are out of the season with injuries. The Chiefs run defense was carved for a total of 150 yards between Gore and Carlos Hyde.


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