NFC West: Malcolm Gladwell

Around the NFC West: 49ers key points

December, 3, 2012
12/03/12
10:15
AM ET
Let's get right to the key points for the San Francisco 49ers following their 16-13 overtime defeat to the St. Louis Rams in Week 13:
  • The fumble: The play call was questionable, the snap was low, the defense was in prime position, the young quarterback failed to execute and the veteran receiver stood over the fumbled football instead of falling on it. As a result, the Rams turned a routine 49ers play into a pivotal touchdown return during the final minutes of regulation. There was so much blame to go around, I'm reminded of the Malcolm Gladwell book explaining how "seven consecutive human errors" cause the typical jetliner crash. The stakes aren't so high in football, fortunately. But if you're a 49ers fan, this one hurt.


  • The coaching: The Rams had something to do with that botched exchange between Colin Kaepernick and Ted Ginn Jr. Safety Quintin Mikell shot into the backfield and gave Kaepernick little time to recover from the low snap. Niners players suggested the Rams were often in just the right defensive call for whatever the 49ers were running. Players sometimes say such things following a tough defeat. Still, it's clear Jeff Fisher and the Rams staff have the early lead on their 49ers counterparts in this rivalry. I'm not sure to what degree Mikell's positioning on the fumble reflected this, but it contributed to the perception from my standpoint.
  • Grounding call: Officials appear to have erred when they called Kaepernick for intentional grounding from the end zone. The pass Kaepernick threw landed past the line of scrimmage. Yes, the ball landed out of bounds, but as Fox analyst Mike Pereira pointed out, the line of scrimmage extends past the sideline for the purposes of determining whether grounding has occurred. Tough call for the 49ers.
  • QB play: If the Rams did indeed usually have just the right defensive call, then it's fair to say the 49ers would have been better prepared to adjust had Alex Smith been their quarterback. Smith was among the very best in the NFL at making presnap adjustments, 49ers coaches have consistently said. Kaepernick might be pretty good at this as well, but Smith has an advantage based on experience. I was surprised to see Kaepernick emerge from this game with a sparkling 82.4 Total QBR score. A couple things were at work here. One, Kaepernick's 50-yard scramble was a hugely pivotal play. Two, the fumble went into the books as an aborted play. As a result, Kaepernick did not receive as much blame as he should have received. More on this in a bit.
  • The kicker: None of these things would command our attention quite so strongly had David Akers connected on a 51-yard field goal try in overtime. Akers made 7 of 9 kicks from 50-plus yards last season. Akers has made only 1 of 5 such kicks this season, more in line with previous form. Akers made 2 of 6 such kicks over the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Akers' percentage has dropped some from inside 50 yards. He has made 20 of 25 such kicks (.800), down from 37-of-46 (.860) last season and .859 from 2001 through 2010. He made 13-of-28 from 50-plus yards over that 10-year span.

Before moving along, here's how the 49ers can clinch a playoff berth in Week 14: 49ers victory and defeats by Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Washington, plus losses or ties by St. Louis and Dallas.

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