Regardless of last week’s result against the Seahawks last night’s Monday Night Football game was a must win for the 49ers. If they had beaten the Seahawks and with the win last night the 49ers would have pulled within one of the game the NFC West title along with the owning the tiebreaker against the Cardinals. The Niners are still technically alive for a playoff spot but in order for them to win the NFC West the Cardinals need lose their last three games (Lions, Rams, Packers) which seems unlikely but more importantly the Niners need to win to take care of themselves and win out the last three games (Eagles, Lions, Rams) to hope for a long shot spot in the playoffs. The 49ers have two teams in front of them for the wild card, Giants and Falcons. With the NFC East being played out like a slugfest and with the Falcons big two playmakers in Matt Ryan and Michael Turner hurting and not at 100% there is a small window for the 49ers to creep up in the playoff standings. Nonetheless the way the 49ers came out and defeated a very good Cardinals team that embarrassed the playoff bound Vikings last week the performance by the team, especially the D, showed that no matter the previous weeks results they learn from it, let it go and can come out and beat a team favored to win 24-9. Let’s hand out some game gold nuggets:
(Game gold nuggets are based on a one to five scale, one being the lowest, five being the highest)
Anytime you switch to a spread offense your run game will suffer. With rushing attempts of 9, 16 and 7 in the past three games for a total of 117 rushing yards it looked as though the 49ers best offensive player, Frank Gore, was becoming an afterthought in the run as offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye tried to suite the offense to Alex Smith’s abilities. Being down in the second half in two of the last three games the switch was natural for the team looking for any type of offense and a quick score. However last night Raye showed that the 49ers can still run the spread to move the offense but when the clock needs to be ran out to preserve a win you can always count on Gore. With 25 rushing attempts for 167 yards, 6.7 average per carry and one touchdown Gore reminded everyone that he is the best offensive player on the Niners and that offense should run, literally, through him. Smith did not have a spectacular game stat wise completing 19 of 35 passes for 144 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions but he ran the spread offense effectively. With the defense creating turnovers that got the offense back Smith’s two interceptions only yielded nine points for the Cardinals. But what does not show up in the stat book is how poised and how much of a presence Smith had on the field last night commanding the offense. Smith is emerging out of his old shell and becoming a quarterback that you can rely on in passing situations.
There were times last night when Smith and Michael Crabtree were off as far as knowing where the receiver was going to be and where the quarterback was going to throw. This is one of the negative side effects I see with Crabtree missing so much time before signing with the Niners but this is something that will correct itself as Smith and Crabtree work more with each other and it becomes instinct on where the two know the ball will be thrown and where the Crabtree needs to be. Crabtree finished with 5 receptions for 67 yards with one touchdown. His lone touchdown catch of the night gave the 49er Faithful a glimpse of his athletic ability and what to expect in the future when he pulled down a pass out of the air, continued running along the route and stiff-armed his way for a 35-yard touchdown. That gave the Niners a 17-0 halftime lead and added momentum on top of the five turnovers by the 49ers D in the first-half. The 49ers offense is starting to roll and finding its identity as maybe a pass first team but when the time calls for it they run the football effectively whether out of the spread or normal formations.
Another reason for the 49ers success last night was the excellent play by the offensive line that lead Gore to a big rushing night and protected Smith giving up only one sack. The play that stood out the most to me by the O-line was on Gore’s 36-yard run in the first quarter with right guard David Baas leading the way with a crucial block that allowed Gore’s big gain. Individually the O-line stats don’t show up in the box score but when you only give up one sack, the offense rushes for 189 yards and have 36:45 time of possession the offensive line as a whole has had a great game
The 49ers defense last night was stellar in all aspects: Seven turnovers, five in the first half, that included two interceptions (INT), seven forced fumbles (FF) recovering five of them to go along with 4 sacks. The D got everyone involved with interceptions by safety Dashon Goldson, who also had 2 FF, and cornerback Tarell Brown. The five fumbles were recovered by defensive end Parys Haralson, cornerback Dre’ Bly, safety Mark Roman forced the fumble he recovered and defensive end Justin Smith. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks was the most impressive with a FF and recovery to go along with three sacks. It is well known how good of an offense the Cardinals have and with the way quarterback Kurt Warner was playing the last four games in which he had 12 touchdown passes and no interceptions with at least a 120 passer rating in each of the games the 49ers D proved it is a force to be reckon with. The 49ers D have been great against the run this year but it was the weak play against the passing game that opponents exploited so to shutdown a high-powered offense like the Cardinals (Anquan Boldin 5 receptions for 40 yards; Larry Fitzgerald 2 receptions for 22 yards) and limiting their big play makers the 49ers D showed to the nation how good their defense can be and how they rise to the occasion.
A lot has been said about Alex Smith and his development as a quarterback being hindered because of all the various offensive coordinators he has been through. The 49ers D have shown what the team can develop into if they have consistent coordinators on the sideline. Greg Manusky is in his third year as the 49ers defensive coordinator and with big games this year against the Rams (five turnovers, shutout), Colts (held Peyton Manning and company to 18 points) and holding Pro Bowl running backs Steven Jackson, Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner and Maurice Jones-Drew all under 100 rushing yards the 49ers are showing a blueprint for the offensive side of the football.
SPECIAL TEAMS :
The only blot on the special teams was Joe Nedney’s 53 yard miss in the second quarter. It was a long field goal but there was no wind last night at the ‘Stick. Because of the defenses performance the missed field goal did not matter but at the time the 49ers were to add to a 10-0. 53 yards is within Nedney’s kicking distance and he will need to make these kicks in the last three games of the season. Andy Lee was his normal self averaging 41.2 yards on each punt. He did shank one punt in the third quarter that set up a Cardinals field goal. The big play of the game on special teams came from defensive end Ray McDonald who blocked an extra point which made the score 17-9.
A lot of credit has to be given to Mike Singletary in the way he prepared the 49ers for last night’s game and for making the team forget about the tough loss against the Seahawks that was a win within their reach. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye called a great game by starting out in the spread formation and passing a lot making the Cardinals D think that was going to be the case all night. But slowly and effectively Raye called running plays for Gore and it worked out to their advantage. Another great defensive scheme was set-up by defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. The 49ers brought pressure all night on Warner and made him look like a rookie and forced him to throw into double coverage. Manusky masked his zone coverage very well and most passing downs he was dropping seven into the zone and on one play only had two rushers and the 49ers caused an interception. What the coaches need to do now is make sure the 49ers can carry this confidence and momentum over to the next three games if the Niners even want to entertain thoughts of making the playoffs.
Up Next @ Philly:
The 49ers will travel to Philadelphia on Sunday against an Eagles team fighting for the NFC East. The 49ers have only won once on the road this year which was in week one against the Cardinals and the 49ers have a short week. Anything is possible but the 49ers will need a performance like last night to be able to keep up with the Eagles.
Topics: 2009, 2009 Free Agency, 49ers, 49ers 2009 Season, 49ers Offensive Coordinator, 49ers QB, 49ers Quarterback, 49ers Training Camp, Adam Snyder, Alex Smith, Arnaz Battle, Brandon Jones, Chilo Rachal, Dec. 14, Frank Gore, Glen Coffee, Greg Manusky, Jimmy Raye, Joe Nedney, Joe Staley, Josh Morgan, Kentwan Balmer, Mike Singletary, Moran Norris, Niners Ride 7 Turnovers To Victory, Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers, Scot McCloughan, Tarell Brown, Vernon Davis, Week 14