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2011 49ers Week 6: Five observations

10/25/2011

Five things I noticed while watching the San Francisco 49ers defeat the Detroit Lions, 25-19, in their most recent game:

  • Which one is Suh again? Corey Williams, not Ndamukong Suh, was the Detroit defensive tackle posing the most problems. That was the word from a scout I spoke with earlier in the season. It sounded like a contrary opinion, but after charting the 49ers' handling of Suh through the first half of this game, nothing much about him stood out. Of the 28 first-half plays I charted, Suh was not on the field for eight of them. He made one play on the remaining 20 snaps, shedding 49ers guard Adam Snyder to tackle Frank Gore for a short gain. That was it. The 49ers assigned a true double-team to Suh one time in the half. On one play, tight end Delanie Walker surprised Suh with a wham block to free Gore for a 47-yard gain. Walker sealed Suh with a similar block to spring Gore's 55-yard run in the third quarter. The Lions have allowed three 100-yard rushers since Oct. 10.

  • Talent, scheme enable key safety. Aldon Smith's talent came into play on the safety he collected midway through the second quarter. The scheme was another factor. The Lions lined up with three wide receivers. A tight end and running back flanked quarterback Matthew Stafford in the shotgun. The 49ers' Ahmad Brooks and Ray McDonald were down linemen on the left side of the defensive line. Defensive end Justin Smith stood upright about 2-3 yards off center Dominic Raiola, with linebacker NaVorro Bowman behind him. Linebacker Patrick Willis lurked behind Brooks and McDonald, across from the tight end in the backfield, Brandon Pettigrew. Aldon Smith leaned forward from a two-point stance over the left tackle, Jeff Backus. At the snap, Aldon Smith rushed into Backus, then disengaged from him with great suddenness, sidestepping the veteran tackle and rushing toward Stafford while Backus stood there without recourse. Raiola appeared acutely aware of Justin Smith before the snap. Not long before, the 49ers' Pro Bowl end had thrown Raiola to the ground.

  • Whitner times up his blitz perfectly. Veteran safety Donte Whitner gives the 49ers a strong presence against the run. He was 10-plus yards off the ball before rushing into the backfield on a second-and-3 play. Whitner crept toward the line of scrimmage before the snap, but he was still seven yards off the ball when the play began. He knifed through a gap in the line and the Lions did not account for him. The run was to the opposite side, but Whitner was in the backfield quickly enough to bring down Maurice Morris for a 1-yard gain. Whitner latched onto Morris and brought him down decisively with an alligator roll. The 49ers' defense is playing with attitude.

  • 49ers' linebackers due for interceptions. The 49ers have eight interceptions this season, but none by linebackers. That figures to change given how close Bowman, Willis, Brooks and Aldon Smith have been to picking off passes. They all had chances against the Lions. They'll have more chances if they keep playing at a high level.

  • Crabtree's blocking shows up again. Receiver Michael Crabtree was sprinting some 50 yards downfield on Gore's 55-yard run when he dipped his shoulder and drilled unsuspecting Lions safety Louis Delmas. The block wasn't really necessary at that point because cornerback Chris Houston was about to make the tackle, but it showed Crabtree's mentality. He's been blocking well all season.

Making it through a 49ers observations item without mentioning Alex Smith stood out to me. I think it reflected the degree to which the 49ers played this game without relying on him heavily, at least until the final two minutes.