NFC West: 49ers-Bills

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers' offensive line suffered at times through personnel changes last season, particularly on the right side. I would not necessarily take that to mean the line was headed in the wrong direction once Mike Singletary took over as head coach, as K.C. Joyner suggested in a provocative entry on the New York Times' Fifth Down blog.

Among the potentially mitigating factors:

  • The decision to play Chilo Rachal at right guard late in the season was a move made with the long-term future in mind. He probably wasn't as consistent as he might be in the future. I cannot document that; it might not be true; but it is my impression.
  • The situation at right tackle lacked stability all season. How did that affect the line's performance late in the season, not just in one-on-one matchups but in overall cohesiveness? Might be worth consideration.
  • The 49ers made a more concerted effort to run the ball late in the season. They more frequently ran the ball when the opponent likely knew a running play was coming. This probably allowed opposing defenses to brace for the run more effectively. It was a price the 49ers were willing to pay as they tried to establish an identity in the run game.

This last point is the most important one to consider, I think. For example, the 49ers ran the ball five consecutive times to open their game against Buffalo. They averaged only 2.1 yards per attempt in that game, but I thought the run game was effective.

My take at the time:

(Read full post)

49ers tighten defense in red zone

December, 3, 2008
12/03/08
11:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers' defense in the red zone ranks fourth in the NFL, one reason the Bills' struggling offense had trouble finishing drives in Week 13.

Buffalo failed to score on two drives spanning at least 15 plays and 75 yards. The other 31 NFL teams have combined for 29 such drives this season. They scored on all 29 drives (21 touchdowns and eight field goals).

The 49ers' defense hasn't been able to get off the field quickly this season, but solid play in the red zone has minimized the damage. The Bills' failures featured a missed field goal and an incomplete pass on fourth down. Thanks to Doug Kern of ESPN Stats & Information for uncovering the note.

Niners weren't only big winners on road

December, 2, 2008
12/02/08
2:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers' victory at Buffalo marked the first time a West Coast team won in the Eastern time zone this season, but the outcome was part of a broader pattern Sunday.

Ten of 12 road teams won Sunday:

  • 49ers over Bills
  • Ravens over Bengals
  • Colts over Browns
  • Panthers over Packers
  • Dolphins over Rams
  • Giants over Redskins
  • Falcons over Chargers
  • Steelers over Patriots
  • Broncos over Jets
  • Chiefs over Raiders

The Bucs and Vikings were the only winners among home teams Sunday. Elias Sports Bureau notes: That equals the highest winning percentage (.833) by road teams on any day in NFL history when at least six games were played.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, please rise and acknowledge Leesters and evenkill72 for comings closest in our latest "You called it" score predictions for NFC West games.

Leesters, who predicted the Bears' 27-3 victory against the Rams in Week 12, forecasted a 24-12 Dolphins victory over the Rams in Week 13. Actual score: 16-12. The eight-point differential for this game came closer than anyone. Noahhasabs was second with a 20-6 prediction, good for a 10-point differential.

Evenkill72, who came closest to predicting the Eagles' 48-20 victory over the Cardinals in Week 12, predicted a 20-17 victory for the 49ers in Week 13. He missed by 24 points -- 10-3 was the final score -- but no one came closer. Quite a few people predicted a Bills victory.

Four people predicted every NFC West outcome correctly in Week 13: evenkill72, digitool, sremuggs1 and poolenium. Of the four, evenkill72 came closest to hitting actual scores on average. Way to go.

The Wall of Fame remains unchanged following Week 13. We take a quick moment to acknowledge our two WOF members:

  • Elion245. Forecast the Redskins' 20-17 victory over the Seahawks in Week 12.
  • Leesters. Forecast the Bears' 27-3 victory over the Rams in Week 12.
The fine print: Those submitting predictions must pick the winner correctly for their scores to be considered. Scoring is easy to calculate. The difference between a 20-17 prediction and a 31-14 outcome would be 14 points. We would calculate this by adding the difference between 20 and 31 to the difference between 17 and 14.
49ers Personnel Group vs. Bills in Week 13 PlaysPct.Runs Yards/ Run
Pass Att. Yards/ Att.
Total TDs
1-RB, 2-WR-2TE21
40.4162.05
5.6
1
1-RB, 3-WR, 1-TE
19
36.562.211
9.5
1
4-WR
7
13.5
0
0.064.80
3-TE2
3.81
12.000.00
2-RB, 1-WR, 2-TE
2
3.822.00
0.0
0
2-RB, 3-WR
11.900.01 0.0 0
2-RB, 2-WR, 1-TE
0 0.00
0.0
0
0.0
0
TOTALS52
100.025
2.4
23 7.0
2

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers ran the ball on 14 of their first 23 plays during their 10-3 victory at Buffalo. They called passes on 14 of the next 17 plays spanning halftime before running on nine of their final 12 plays to close out the game.

The production on the ground wasn't what helped the 49ers prevail in this game. The 49ers' running backs averaged only 2.4 yards per carry. But in a close game played in cold and wet conditions, the 49ers' loyalty to the run minimized the chances for the sacks and interceptions that can turn a game in an instant.

Yes, Frank Gore fumbled a couple of times, but Gore lost yardage only twice in 24 carries. The 49ers also ran the ball on nine of 18 second-down plays. These are the situations when certain offensive coordinators -- no one in particular, of course -- can get a little greedy through the air. Not the 49ers at Buffalo. They put more than three wide receivers on the field twice on first or second down and seven times overall.

  • Download the full personnel breakdown with sortable play-by-play sheet right here.

The personnel breakdown shown in the chart needs some explanation. Some of the personnel groups were open to interpretation. The 49ers repeatedly used tight end Sean Ryan as a fullback from the I-formation. I counted him as a tight end because he fits that mold at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds. As a result, the 49ers ran 21 plays with two tight ends. They also used Billy Bajema quite a bit, with Vernon Davis staying on the field.

Shaun Hill did a very nice job with three wide receivers and one tight end, averaging 9.5 yards per pass on 11 attempts. This included third-down pass plays of 16, 18 and 20 yards in the first half, plus a 6-yarder to Jason Hill on third-and-3 in the third quarter and an 11-yarder to Isaac Bruce on third-and-4 late in the game.

Note: Sacks count as pass plays but not pass attempts. That explains how there can be one run and zero passes from a personnel group featuring two total plays.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 10, Bills 3

November, 30, 2008
11/30/08
4:09
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


The 49ers showed everything they want to be under Mike Singletary in becoming the first West Coast team to win in the Eastern time zone this season.

Running back Frank Gore ran the ball on the 49ers' first five offensive plays. Quarterback Shaun Hill managed the game and struck downfield selectively. Free-agent addition Justin Smith blew up a fourth-and-2 running play in the fourth quarter when the Bills were threatening to score. And when the Bills needed a comeback late, the 49ers' pass rush took over, with Ray McDonald getting pressure and Smith collecting a key sack.

With the exception of a Gore fumble and an untimely penalty, the 49ers were the smarter team in the second half, letting the Bills make the errors. The Bills were the team suffering from shaky quarterback play, bad decision making and questionable game management.

This marked a reversal for the 49ers and a breakthrough performance for Singletary as he builds a case for keeping the job in 2009.

Rams, 49ers better than half bad

November, 30, 2008
11/30/08
2:38
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers hold a 10-0 lead over the Bills at halftime. The Rams are hanging tough with the Dolphins, trailing 10-9 at halftime.

The 49ers are sticking to Mike Singletary's run-heavy approach, then finding openings with selective throws downfield. Jason Hill again looks good as a receiver. Frank Gore ran the ball on the 49ers' first five plays of the game. We're seeing the 49ers using two tight ends most of the time, including when they line up Sean Ryan as the fullback for I-formation looks. This is working pretty well. Niners linebackers Patrick Willis forced a Marshawn Lynch fumble, setting up a 49ers field goal right before halftime.

San Francisco's Shaun Hill is a better quarterback than the Bills' Trent Edwards right now, from what I am seeing. He fits the way the 49ers want to play on offense. The Bills' inability to get a pass rush is helping Hill show what he can do when he has ample time and a reliable ground game. Hill should factor in the 49ers' quarterback equation in some capacity next season.

The Rams had Orlando Pace, Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson in the starting lineup for the first time since Week 6. The combination has helped Jackson rush for 72 yards on 15 carries in the first half even though Bulger has shaky numbers so far. Improved play down the stretch with Pace, Bulger and Jackson in the lineup could give the Rams something to build around. We still don't have enough evidence to suggest Pace can stay healthy for a full season, though.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Eagles' 48-20 victory over the Cardinals wasn't close to what anyone predicted during the most recent "You called it" item.

Evenkill72 came within 21 points with a 42-35 prediction. No one came closer. Digitool finished second with a 22-point differential (27-21 prediction). 

ASKilroy, NEforAZ and dickster944 came within one point of predicting the Cowboys' 34-9 victory over the Seahawks. Each predicted a 34-10 outcome. Way to go.

Do the 49ers have a realistic chance at Buffalo? Can the Rams finally do something right when the Dolphins visit? You've got until kickoff Sunday to make your predictions in the comments section of this item.

A few made their predictions in a previous item. I'll honor those predictions because I noticed them. Noahhasabs sees a 20-6 Dolphins victory. Digitool picked the 49ers (24-16) and Dolphins (28-13). Slotterhouse picked the Bills (17-6) and Dolphins (24-9). Pete Reggio picked the Bills (34-23) and Dolphins (27-17). Kwilson1985 picked the 49ers (27-23). Evenkill72 picked the 49ers (20-17) and Dolphins (35-9).

This is your chance to earn a spot on the Wall of Fame, reserved for those who pick scores and outcomes exactly. Current WOF members:

  • Elion245. Forecast the Redskins' 20-17 victory over the Seahawks in Week 12.
  • Leesters. Forecast the Bears' 27-3 victory over the Rams in Week 12.
The fine print: Those submitting predictions must pick the winner correctly for their scores to be considered. Scoring is easy to calculate. The difference between a 20-17 prediction and a 31-14 outcome would be 14 points. We would calculate this by adding the difference between 20 and 31 to the difference between 17 and 14.

Audibles: NFC West Week 13 preview

November, 28, 2008
11/28/08
3:16
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

San Francisco 49ers (3-8) at Buffalo Bills (6-5), 1 p.m. ET

The 49ers can make it 0-for-15 among teams traveling west to east across a 3-hour time difference this season. Seattle (0-4), Oakland (0-3), San Diego (0-3), Arizona (0-3) and San Francisco (0-1) have combined for an 0-14 record in games starting at 10 a.m. PT.

The Cardinals' defeat to the Eagles on Thursday night didn't qualify because Arizona is on Mountain time and does not adjust for daylight savings.

The early start isn't the 49ers' only enemy at Ralph Wilson Stadium. San Francisco's defense has allowed nine passing touchdowns over its last four games despite holding the Rams to one during a 35-16 victory in Week 11. The Bills aren't a great passing team, but they are coming of a 54-point showing at Kansas City.

Miami Dolphins (6-5) at St. Louis Rams (2-9), 1 p.m. ET

The Rams hope to have Marc Bulger, Steven Jackson and Orlando Pace in the starting lineup together for the first time since Week 6. They also hope it makes a difference.

Bulger has taken too many hits to trust his protection and run the offense with confidence. Jackson figures to be rusty if he returns, and his durability is in question. Pace is still a good player when healthy, but an offensive tackle can do only so much.

And it's not as though the Rams' defense has shown signs of picking up the slack. This game qualifies as a must-win for the Dolphins as they make a playoff push. Their ground game should punish the Rams' poor-tackling defense.

Around the NFC West: Niners welcome cold

November, 28, 2008
11/28/08
11:14
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says some 49ers are welcoming a chance to play in cold, snowy conditions. They might get their wish at Buffalo.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat takes a closer look at the 49ers' ground game against the Cowboys. He thought center Eric Heitmann played better than the other linemen, while none played worse than Adam Snyder.

Also from Maiocco: The Bills have more ties to Bill Walsh than the 49ers do, starting with Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers don't want to use Nate Clements on punt returns while Allen Rossum recovers from injury. Arnaz Battle is also hurting, leaving Dominique Zeigler as one candidate.

Also from Barrows: Delanie Walker could be on the verge of history as a tight end returning kickoffs.

More from Barrows: Niners tight end Vernon Davis might get more passes thrown his way by taking Terrell Owens' approach to public complaining.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News revisits coach Mike Singletary's formula for success, which now includes a sixth item: heart.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle examines the humble side of 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. Davis: "I make plays every time they call my number. That's what I'm here to do. I came in here to be a playmaker. Since I've been blocking, I enjoy it. I dominate everyone I go up against, whether it's run blocking or pass blocking. I'm dominating."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News also checks in with Davis. Also, in what might stand as the 49ers-related note of the year, linebacker Takeo Spikes expounds upon the splendor of his favorite Thanksgiving dish: raccoon in BBQ sauce.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat explores Mike Singletary's role in game planning. Singletary tries to create a productive working environment. He meets individually with offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Defensively, he meets with the staff.

Also from Maiocco: A quick look at the 49ers' efforts to get a new stadium.

More from Maiocco: Niners cornerback Nate Clements returns to Buffalo, his first NFL home.

More still from Maiocco: Heading to Buffalo brings additional challenges for the 49ers' equipment staff, who must be ready for anything on the weather front.

Ninjames of ninersnation.com rounds up a few more 49ers-related links.

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