2011 49ers Week 13: Five observations

Five things I noticed while watching the San Francisco 49ers during their 26-0 victory against the St. Louis Rams in Week 13:

  • The 49ers came out throwing. The Rams entered (and exited) the game with a No. 32 ranking in run defense. The 49ers tested that run defense on their first play, running Frank Gore for an 8-yard gain with a block from fullback Bruce Miller. Overall, however, the 49ers called passes on seven of their first nine plays (one was a scramble). They called passes on their first four second-down plays. That was a bit of a surprise.

  • Short-yardage rushing wall. The 49ers generally kept the Rams in third-and-long situations. When St. Louis did get into third-and-1, it didn't matter. Defensive lineman Ray McDonald blew up the play, allowing linebacker NaVorro Bowman to stop fullback Brit Miller for a loss. McDonald was so quick off the line, I initially thought he was offside. He was not. Right guard Jason Brown blocked straight ahead and made no contact with McDonald or anyone else. Right tackle Harvey Dahl did make contact with McDonald, but that was actually bad for the Rams. The play was already doomed. Sufficiently redirected, McDonald fell into the back of guard Jacob Bell's legs, leaving Bell with a season-ending knee injury.

  • More short-yardage considerations. The 49ers are allowing minus-0.1 yards per carry on third and fourth down with 1-2 yards needed for a first down. Every other team allows at least 1.0 yards per carry in those situations. The Rams allow 5.7, third-worst in the league. The 49ers have allowed first downs on 45.5 percent of these runs, the third-lowest percentage in the league (Seattle ranks fifth at 53.8 percent). Those numbers come courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information.

  • 49ers' dominance in field position. The Rams began drives at their own 19-yard line on average. The 49ers began drives at their own 39 on average. A 20-yard head start on drives put the 49ers in position to kick field goals without generating much offense. Their four field-goal drives began at their own 35-yard line or better. One began at the St. Louis 6. That's too easy.

  • About that physical offense narrative. There's no question the 49ers are a physical team on defense. Their use of heavy personnel on offense reveals a desire to play that way on that side of the ball, too. But how physical are they on offense? Gore gained nothing on a third-and-1 rush. Teammate Kendall Hunter lost seven yards after taking a direct snap on third-and-2. Thanks to those plays, the 49ers are the only team in the NFL converting first downs less than half the time on third or fourth down with 1-2 yards to go. Another time, guard Adam Snyder committed a false-start penalty when the 49ers lined up in a running formation on fourth-and-2 (they punted instead).

A few things to consider as the 49ers head into their game Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. Earlier: five observations on the Cardinals.