Tuesday, October 4, 2011
2011 49ers Week 4: Five observations
By Mike Sando
Five things I noticed while watching the San Francisco 49ers defeat the Philadelphia Eagles on the road in Week 4:
- The offensive line firing off the ball. The 49ers' previously struggling line was off the ball and across the line of scrimmage in a flash to spring Frank Gore's 40-yard run early. This was an aggressive game from the line against a suspect Eagles run defense. Vernon Davis and Jonathan Goodwin stayed on their guys at the line of scrimmage on Gore's big run early. Mike Iupati pulled as Davis released to the linebackers. Joe Staley buried weakside linebacker Brian Rolle. Davis locked onto linebacker Jamar Chaney while Gore shot into the secondary. Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha took a bad angle and Gore went past him easily. On another big run, Staley pulled and stayed on Chaney for eight yards, with receiver Michael Crabtree blocking two guys -- first cornerback Joselio Hanson, then Asomugha -- as Kendall Hunter popped into the secondary. Iupati pulled repeatedly and with great effect as the 49ers ran out the clock late.
- The NaVorro Bowman show continues. General manager Trent Baalke was correct during training camp when he said Bowman would team with Patrick Willis to give the 49ers perhaps the best inside linebacker tandem in the league. Bowman blew up LeSean McCoy on a pass to the flat early. He decked Michael Vick on a third-and-3 blitz, forcing an incomplete pass. The Eagles did beat Bowman with a play-action pass to tight end Clay Harbor in the red zone. Vick was already down when Bowman knocked loose the ball on a scramble, but still, this was a heady play. Bowman tagged McCoy again on a play in the flat after nearly picking off a pass during the same drive. With Vick scrambling on third-and-3 in the third quarter, Bowman charged from 10 yards away and took down Vick short of the marker. This was a phenomenal play against the NFL's most dynamic player.
- Defense gave up 500 yards and played well. That would appear impossible on the surface, but it's scary how productive the Eagles can be offensively. The 49ers' offense helped Philly's cause when Alex Smith lost a fumble. The 49ers also had a field goal blocked. This defensive unit punished the Eagles' skill players with physical tackles at all levels of the defense. When the Eagles got away with holding Aldon Smith, allowing a dump pass to Jeremy Maclin, safety Reggie Smith chopped down the receiver at the legs violently. Free safety Dashon Goldson lit up Maclin late in the game. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks tipped a pass for a key incompletion late in the game. The game-saving fumble Justin Smith forced on Maclin came after Smith made sure he wrapped up Maclin with his right arm. Goldson could not have been more alert in pouncing on the ball within inches of the sideline. Justin Smith's pressure was also critical to Carlos Rogers' interception.
- Alex Smith seems more accurate on the move. Too many of the quarterback's conventional passes aren't quite on target even when completed. But when Smith scrambles, his accuracy seems to improve. The sideline throw he made to Crabtree in the third quarter was one example. Smith committed a football sin when he scrambled nearly to the right sideline before throwing back to the middle for Hunter along the yard lines, but the pass was right on target.
- Patrick Willis blitzed, as promised. The 49ers' Pro Bowl linebacker finished last season with a career-high six sacks. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he wanted Willis to take the next step as a pass-rusher. Willis has no sacks through four games and hasn't been a big factor as a rusher. The 49ers sent him at one point in the third quarter Sunday, but Willis ran right into guard Evan Mathis, who blocked effectively on the play. San Francisco rushed only three a short time later when Vick found Jackson deep. Aldon Smith rushed, but the Eagles doubled him while Willis lurked.
This was a fun game to watch and a great victory for the 49ers, but also one in which the Eagles were complicit. Philadelphia kicker Alex Henery missed twice in the fourth quarter from inside 40 yards. The 49ers can be grateful the Eagles let David Akers sign with San Francisco in the offseason. Akers missed twice from longer range, including one that was blocked, but I highly doubt he would have missed twice from inside the 40. He has made all five from inside the 40 this season.