The San Francisco 49ers did exactly what they should do to inferior opponents; dominate them. As we expected the 49ers controlled every aspect of the game Sunday versus the Rams, and as we expected they were able to wrap up their first division title in nearly a decade.
3 Things to take away from last week
Now with the division wrapped up and a home playoff game guaranteed for the first time since 2002, we need to start turning our focus to getting players healthy and keeping them that way. RB Frank Gore is still listed on the injury report for his ankle, WR Braylon Edwards has his knee, and more importantly LB Patrick Willis went down this last weekend with a hamstring injury. While the other 2 players should be fine, Willis’ injury worries me. Even if its not that bad the best and only remedy for a hamstring is rest, so barring MRI results I would sit him until week 16 or 17. Hamstrings also have a way of happening in bunches and not always is it the same one being aggravated. If your right hamstring is strained a lot of the time a player can come up limp just weeks after with a left hamstring issue.
Playing against the league worse rushing defense, you think we could have gotten Gore back on track, but honestly he was held in check throughout the game, 21 carries 73 yards 3.48 yds/carry. Don’t get me wrong the 49ers ran the ball well, but it was on gimmick plays to Williams, Ginn, and Walker that made the stat sheet look good. The 3 combined for 3 carries 55 yards. Compare that to the 3 running backs who combined for 29 carries 79 yards and you’ll quickly see that the ground game wasn’t what it should be. The 49ers all time leading rusher still seems bothered by that ankle and I would seriously think about limiting his carries until he is 100%.
QB Alex Smith continued to show that he is a different quarterback this year. He was accurate, he was efficient, he was dominant. After being pummeled in the Ravens game 2 weeks ago, he looked just fine behind center against the Rams. Once again thank you Coach Harbaugh. Alex had his best game of the year in my opinion with a 74% completion percentage, 274 yards, 2 touchdowns, and most importantly no turnovers.
What to watch for
The 49ers gear up this weekend to play the 5-7 cardinals, a team who is on a hot streak winning 4 of their last 5.The Cardinals one loss came against the Niners back on November 20th in San Francisco, the final was 23-7. They just came off an emotional win over the cowboys, their old division rival, in an overtime thriller which helped the 49ers in terms of playoff seeding.
The Cardinals were able to pass on the 49ers late in the stages of that game, a lot of that being junk yards along with a garbage time touchdown, but with how this run defense is playing the passing game is all we need to worry about. Larry Fitzgerald can go off at anytime, and when it comes to premiere receivers you don’t look to shut them out, you look to just limit the damage.
The Cardinals are in the bottom half of every main defensive category. With that said I don’t want to have to rely on Alex Smith to come thru with a fantastic showing. I want to pound the ball, limit Gore to about 15 carries, give rookie RB Kendall Hunter somewhere around 10 carries and a few to Anthony Dixon. In all we should have somewhere around 35 carries with only 25 passing plays. If this sounds familiar it’s exactly what we did against the rams, control the clock, and control the game. Only difference is I want to see more efficiency out of the running backs.
I think getting K David Akers was one of the best pickups in free agency this last year. With all the talk about how the Eagles were gaining good players, they lost a great one. The problem is I’m tired of watching him kick field goals instead of extra points. He kicked another 4 field goals inside the red-zone last week. He’s made more field goals or 40 or less yards than half the league’s kickers have field goal attempts. It’s great we are moving the ball, but finishing with 3 points instead of 7 isn’t going to work in the playoffs against Green Bay and New Orleans.
Go in get a win and come out healthy. The division is wrapped up and I don’t see us catching the Packers for the 1 seed at this point, and honestly I’d rather play them at Lambeau field in the cold then in California. Yes, call me crazy but the Packers don’t have a run game and playing on the frozen tundra with a cold slick ball would play right into our hands. That back shoulder throw becomes harder to throw and catch. At this point in the regular season an injury free game is almost as important as a win. That statement becomes even more true in the Saints slip up one more time this season. Even if the Saints win out at this point, we could still lose 1 game to end up with the same record and we would have the 2 seed based on conference record. With our schedule there’s no reason we shouldn’t be the number 2 seed and getting a bye in the playoffs. First thing though is take care of business and it starts this Sunday at 4 pm ET.