Coach Jim Harbaugh recently pointed to defensive end Justin Smith as a potential MVP candidate through Week 10.
Smith, the San Francisco 49ers' Pro Bowl defensive end, ranked 10th on Matt Williamson's Insider list of best NFL players, regardless of position. He made the saving tackle and forced fumble to preserve a victory over Philadelphia earlier in the season. He made the saving pass breakup on fourth down as the 49ers held off the New York Giants on Sunday. And he has generally dominated for an 8-1 team that leads the NFL in fewest points allowed and fewest rushing yards per game.
Smith and the 49ers' defense came to mind Wednesday morning when Brandon Koking asked via Twitter what the record is for fewest rushing touchdowns allowed in a season. The 49ers have not allowed one during their first nine games. Pro Football Reference shows three teams since 1940 allowing only two in a season, all during the 14-game schedule era. Four appears to be the fewest allowed during a 16-game season.
All things to keep in mind as the 49ers play their final seven games against the third-easiest closing schedule in the NFL.
Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News looks at where the 49ers could stand among teams clinching division titles the earliest. Inman: "Technically, the 2007 New England Patriots are the quickest team to clinch a division title since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. The Patriots were 10-0 when a Buffalo Bills loss secured the AFC East crown for the Patriots, who later that day (Nov. 25) edged the Philadelphia Eagles to improve to 11-0. Other teams to clinch after 11 games were the 1985 Chicago Bears (11-0), 1997 49ers (10-1), 2004 Eagles (10-1) and, most recently, the 2009 Indianapolis Colts, who clinched (on Nov. 29) by way of their 35-27 win over the Houston Texans and the 49ers’ 20-3 home victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars."
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with former 49ers tight end Brent Jones for thoughts on the current team.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers should wait until after the season before signing Alex Smith to a contract extension. Noted: The 49ers have plenty of time. Smith wants to stay with the team and showed last offseason a willingness to forgo the market. The trust level between Smith and Harbaugh is high. This should really be a non-issue for the time-being.
Also from Maiocco: an offensive player-by-player review from the 49ers' victory over the Giants. On tackle Anthony Davis: "Started at right tackle, and did a good job of neutralizing Justin Tuck, who was not credited with any tackles. He gave up only one pressure to Tuck. That came in the second quarter, and Smith escaped and found Vernon Davis for 5 yards."
More from Maiocco: a defensive player-by-player review. On cornerback Chris Culliver: "Played nearly 40 snaps as the 49ers' No. 3 cornerback. .Mario Manningham made play at back of end zone against Culliver's coverage for a 13-yard touchdown. Allowed Manningham to get a couple steps beyond him on a pass that tipped off his fingers at the 49ers' 5-yard line in the final minutes. Had tight coverage on Manningham (a brief grab of the jersey went uncalled) in back of end zone on a second-down play from the 49ers' 10-yard line on Giants' final set of down."
Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle offers a few thoughts on the 49ers' performance Sunday, noting that Aldon Smith had some good pass-rush plays, but too often wound up on the ground.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune sees opportunities for an improving Seattle ground game against a Rams defense that has allowed more rushing yards per game than any team in the league. Williams: "St. Louis allows a league-worst 150.6 rushing yards per game. Three running backs have rushed for more than 100 yards against the Rams, including Dallas rookie DeMarco Murray, who had 253 yards -- the ninth-most all-time -- in a 34-7 Cowboys win over St. Louis a month ago. The Seahawks are coming off back-to-back weeks of running the ball effectively, rushing for a season-high 162 yards two weeks ago at Dallas then having a 119-yard effort against Baltimore."
Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle offers thoughts on a Wall Street Journal piece noting that Seattle has the second-heaviest starting defense in the NFL. Noted: Seattle does have heavier defensive players, on average, than most teams have. The Seahawks, like many teams, also do not provide accurate weights for their players, making it tough to know for sure what the true averages are across the league. Listed weights are notoriously unreliable. Years ago, the Seahawks' media guide listed Sam Adams at 285 pounds. He was closer to 340.
Also from Huard: a look at how K.J. Wright helped teammate David Hawthorne come up with an interception.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals will not assess the quarterback position before Kevin Kolb is healthy enough to play. Kolb has multiple injuries to his plant foot, including a turf-toe injury and a bruised bone on the outside of the foot. Coach Ken Whisenhunt on Kolb and John Skelton: "I understand the point of discussion. Where we are right now, it doesn't matter. Until we get Kevin back out there and practicing and we can assess where he is after having missed a couple of weeks, you can't even talk about that, to be honest with you."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Kolb could try to practice Wednesday.
Also on Urban: Cardinals quarterbacks and accuracy.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch assesses Brandon Lloyd's impact with the Rams. Thomas: "Lloyd's 7-yard grab on the first play of the second quarter gave the Rams a 7-3 lead in Cleveland. But it turned out to be the only touchdown of the day for the offensively impaired Rams — they wouldn't have beaten the Browns 13-12 without it. Who knows where the Rams' offense would be without Lloyd, acquired in an Oct. 17 trade with Denver. He became an integral part of the St. Louis passing game the moment he first stepped on the field at Rams Park. In four games with his new team, Lloyd has 21 catches for 255 yards and two touchdowns. Over a 16-game schedule, that would translate to 84 catches, 1,020 yards and eight TDs."
Also from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he says the Rams' victory marked the first time they've won a game with Sam Bradford after trailing or being tied in the fourth quarter.