Late hits, open handed slaps, trash talk and one more Packer loss at the hands of the 49ers ... to say the very least, the Candlestick Park farewell tour has gotten off to one hell of a start. There were good moments, bad moments and a few ugly moments to boot. This week, we'll be taking a closer look at the good, bad and ugly aspects of last Sunday's action, plus the keys to next Sunday's game against Seattle.
AJ: For most of the offseason, the NFL blogosphere has been overflowing with stories about defensive coordinators going to great lengths to get their heads around the read-option. Most notably, Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers made the trip to Texas A&M in order to find a way to shut down the 49er read-option attack.
Apparently, the 49ers were paying attention. Colin Kaepernick was not the read-option hurricane that he was in last season's NFC Divisional Playoff matchup, but that hardly mattered. Before he was done last Sunday, he had skewered the Packer secondary for 412 yards passing to go with 3 TD passes, with nary a game breaking read-option run to his credit. While the rest of the league was busy trying to figure out what the 49ers did last season, the 49ers were busy adapting, and it showed up last Sunday at Candlestick ... big time.
Those of you that frequently read UFR know that my chief criticism of Colin Kaepernick last season was his ability to attack zone defenses. Just so we're clear, that no longer seems to be an issue. The Packers' answer to the read-option was a heavy dose of zone coverage, coupled with their front 7 dedicated to playing contain. While that allowed them to keep more eyes in the backfield and maintain gap discipline, it left their defensive backs exposed, and that cost them the game.
Kap was better than Rodgers in every phase of the passing game: steadier under pressure, smoother with his footwork and far more accurate when it mattered. His performance gets my nod as the best aspect of last Sunday's contest.
Diego: I'm not going to sit here and disagree with Kaepernick having the best performance for the 49ers on Sunday, but I will throw some love to a player on the opposite side of the ball who also had an outstanding game: rookie free safety Eric Reid.
I mean, have a debut young man. Reid shined throughout the game aside from a missed tackle, which he made you forget about with his second quarter interception a couple of plays later (that unfortunately the team wasn't able to turn into points). I have said throughout the offseason that Reid doesn't need to be flashy, he doesn't need to become the playmaker for this defense, he just needs to be someone who gets his job done, and he was a difference maker against the Packers, finishing with seven tackles to go with his interception.
Remember those concerns some of you had about the special team's unit during preseason? For a moment there in Andy Lee's first punt it looked like Jeremy Ross may get loose for a big return, but Eric Reid gunned him down for his first tackle as a pro and a gain of only nine yards. In the Packers' next series following Reid's interception, on a 3rd&20 play, Aaron Rodgers was aware of an offsides penalty about to be called and took a shot towards the end zone intended for Randall Cobb, however Reid went up high and intercepted the pass, which although it didn't count it did take a potential touchdown away from Green Bay. Reid also helped the 49ers force a three-and-out from the Packers in Green Bay's first possession of the second half, making a nice open field tackle on the shifty Cobb on a 3rd&8 and holding him to only a three-yard gain. Reid's last tackle of the game may have been his most important one, as he made a solid tackle on a scrambling Rodgers on a 2nd&10 play from Green Bay's own nine-yard line, forcing the Packers into a third down which they would not convert, and allowing the 49ers offense to go back onto the field to put together the drive that all but iced the game.
A rookie making his debut against one of the best offenses in the NFL, Reid was arguably the best player on defense for San Francisco last Sunday. His performance was key in helping the 49ers earn the win.
Diego: While Reid put his stamp on the stat sheet with a nice special teams tackle, Phil Dawson started his field goal stats negatively with a missed 48-yard field goal attempt near the end of the first half. The missed field goal not only kept the 49ers from jumping out to a two-score lead, it also gave the Packers very good field position (at their own 38-yard line), and they needed less than the 1:32 left to end the half to turn the favorable field position into a touchdown drive to send the game tied into the half. 10-point swing.
Dawson did miss two out of 11 field goals during preseason, sending a 44-yard field goal attempt wide left in the first game against the Broncos, and missing his last field goal attempt wide right, a 52-yard attempt against the Chargers. I didn't go into this game feeling too concerned about last year's AFC Pro-Bowl kicker (and 2nd team All-Pro), who missed only two of his 31 field goal attempts last season, but the truth of the matter is he was brought to this team to a replace what became an unreliable David Akers, and missing your first regular season field goal attempt isn't the best way to start off. Oddly enough Dawson was a perfect 13/13 from 40-yards or longer last season (6/6 from 40-49 yards, and 7/7 from 50+), but missed once from 39 yards out against the Steelers in the last game of the season, and had a 28-yard attempt blocked by the Raiders in early December. Dawson did convert on two fourth quarter field goal attempts from 27 and 33 yards against the Packers, so hopefully the earlier missed attempt was nothing but a small hiccup.
AJ: It isn't easy to find much bad in a season opening win, especially against a team as talented as the Packers, but if the 49ers have an Achilles Heel, it's clock management.
I understand the philosophy of using the entire play clock. I get building shifts into almost every play to maximize offensive flexibility. What I don't get is a coaching staff that struggles to get play calls in on time, and a QB that struggles to manage the game clock.
This "complaint" is really nothing more than an observation at this point, but when the 49ers head to the Clink on Sunday, it could be more than that. The Seahawks are a team that thrives on momentum. Add to that the fact that their stadium is among the loudest in the league (even if their crowd noise is powered by BOSE) and poor clock management has the potential to sway the course of a game.
For the 49ers to win convincingly in a venue like the Seattle Noisebox, they'll need to get this minor flaw corrected before it becomes a major flaw.
AJ: There were a few ugly moments in last Sunday's contest, but the ugliest is one that could be repeated in contests to come: On a 3rd down scramble in the red zone, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews LAUNCHED himself at Colin Kaepernick after he was out of bounds, then proceeded to slam him to the turf.
Prior to the game, Matthews stated his intent, and during the game he followed through with it ... much to the chagrin of 49er Tackle Joe Staley, who promptly "locked up" Matthews after the play. Matthews responded by throwing repeated blows (I'd say punches, but past 3rd grade, openhanded slaps don't count as big boy punches) to Staley's head.
The ugly part of this whole affair isn't the late hit ... well, it isn't only the late hit. The ugly part is that the Matthews was flagged once for the late hit, and not at all for the shots at Staley (who was improperly penalized for interceding before Matthews could get in Kaepernick's face after the play). As of this writing, Matthews has not been fined.
The entire exchange underlines and double stamps something that the 49ers are going to have to get used to: teams will be gunning for Kaepernick this season, and will take as many shots as they can at any other 49er, legal or otherwise. The 49ers are the reigning NFC Champions and that has painted a massive target on their respective backs.
Expect to see more of the same this weekend in Seattle.
Diego: Last Sunday's game was very exciting. Throughout the game I was never really concerned about the possibility of the 49ers losing the game. Upon further review, the game shouldn't really have been that close. Missed tackles on defense allowed the Packers to go punch by punch with San Francisco, but if the 49ers' defenders would had been more consistent with their tackling techniques, I think San Francisco may have won by multiple scores.
By my count there were five inexcusable missed tackles by the defense, all of which occurred in the first half: NaVorro Bowman whiffed on Eddie Lacy after he caught a screen pass in the first quarter, after which Lacy went on to complete a 31-yard gain to the San Francisco five-yard line. From there, Cobb scored Green Bay's first touchdown of the game after catching a short pass from Rodgers three yards out of the end zone and eluding Carlos Rogers just enough to extend the football into the end zone. Reid, as mentioned earlier, was also a culprit in this department, failing to wrap up Jordy Nelson after a short catch which went on to become a 22-yard gain (Reid intercepted Rodgers two plays later). Newest 49er, Nnamdi Asomugha, also whiffed on Nelson on the Packers' following drive, allowing the Kansas State product to convert a 3rd&15 into a first down. A few plays later Perrish Cox, who in my opinion had had an excellent performance throughout the preseason, turned in a really poor effort in his attempt to tackle Jermichael Finley on a short pass, and the Packers' tight end turned upfield near the sideline to score the touchdown that would tie the game at 14 a piece.
I'm not saying the Packers wouldn't have scored their two touchdowns in the first half if the 49ers had done a better job of tackling, but the missed tackles definitely made it easier for Green Bay, and they were without a doubt the ugliest part of San Francisco's performance in the season opener.
The Showdown in Seattle
Diego: Let's turn our attention to the Seahawks, who will be hosting the 49ers this week in CenturyLink Field. The NFL nation has been waiting for this week's match-up ever since Seattle manhandled San Francisco in week 16 last season, not just because the teams are led by coaches whose heated rivalry dates back to their days as PAC-12 head football coaches, but also because both teams are led by the new infusion of young, dual threat, star quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Kaepernick. To top it off, Seahawks vs 49ers has been a steady-growing rivalry that is nowadays compared to the physically-excruciating battle that Steelers vs Ravens has been for the last few years.
The Seahawks are a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and they have arguably the best home field advantage in the league. It has been well reported at this point that the team will try to establish a Guinness world record during this game for being the loudest crowd in sports' history. As AJ pointed out, one of the ongoing concerns with these 49ers is how they constantly snap the ball with just a couple of seconds left on the play clock, at times even needing to spend timeouts to avoid delay of game penalties. Every team runs into this problem every now and then, but San Francisco has been dealing with this issue far more often than normal, and it'll be interesting to see whether and adjustment can be made going into this tough environment in Seattle. Looking back to that week 16 game last season, the 49ers did suffer two delay of game penalties, and I seem to remember them having to spend at least one timeout to avoid another delay. If the 49ers want to go to 2-0, better play-clock management will be needed.
AJ: Seattle might be the most talented team that the 49ers will play this season. They have a bruising running back, a gifted quarterback, and a very talented defense.
But they have weaknesses. Their running game is off to a slow start. Their defense is banged up. Their offensive line is shaky. In short, they are beatable.
Among the more compelling match ups to keep an eye on this Sunday:
Anquan Boldin vs. Richard Sherman - Sherman's physical style of play and non-stop motormouth have made him less than popular with more than a few opposing players .. and this week, he'll be facing Anquan Boldin. Pay careful attention to how Sherman engages Boldin at the line. Anquan has made his his living in the NFL beating press coverage. This matchup will be key to the outcome of Sunday's contest.
Cliff Avril vs. Joe Staley - Avril has been cleared to play, and with Chris Clemons sidelined, odds are that he'll be lined up against 49er left tackle, Joe Staley. With the crowd noise factored in, Avril's speed could present serious problems for the 49er offense.
Colin Kaepernick vs. Earl Thomas - Thomas is the best safety in the NFL right now. His ability to cover the back end has allowed the Seahawks to play very aggressively with little concern about getting burned deep. If the 49ers are going to push the ball downfield against the Seahawks, Kaepernick will need to outfox Thomas. Any way you slice it, this will be the lost critical matchup of the game.
- Anyone want to take bets on who hits Colin Kaepernick late this weekend?
- The Seahawks' O-line was more than a little shaky in Carolina last week. Don't be surprised if Vic Fangio decides to bring the blitz more frequently this Sunday in an attempt to rattle Wilson early.
- This might be the most anticipated match-up in the NFL this season (and that's saying something, considering that its only Week 2). The winner will likely become the blogosphere/sports media favorite to win the NFC.
- Pay careful attention to Marshawn Lynch this weekend. He was less than stellar against the Panthers last week. Could it be that he's not 100%? Starting to slow down, perhaps?
- Much to AJ's disappointment, rookie third rounder Corey Lemonier did not see the field in the season opener ... on defense. However, he did see action in all kickoff and punt plays. I have no doubt Lemonier will become a key contributor for this defense, but it's also nice to see he's versatile enough to be counted on in special teams.
- Speaking of special teams, a month ago I said I wasn't worried about their coverage struggles during preseason for many different reasons. So how did they perform in the season opener? They held Green Bay to a below-average 13.3 average yards in kickoff return, and 12.5 average yards in punt return. So far so good.
- Being compared to Peyton Manning as a player would be a tremendous compliment to Kaepernick, but he is also quickly working his way to Peytonesque (yes, I made up a word) levels as far as TV advertisements. Here is the latest:
- Not to be outdone, Harbaugh is also breaking a sweat on TV, check out his latest:
Week 2 Picks
Last week, both AJ and Diego went an abysmal 6-10 against the spread (On the bright side, if this were baseball, we'd be batting .375... that's all star material, kids). Let's see how badly we can muck things up this week:
Jets at Patriots (-12.5)
AJ: I know it's the Jets ... playing the Pats ... at Foxboro ... where they suck even more than usual. But with Amendola out, Gronk out, and a starting tailback that can't hang onto the rock, I don't think the Pats are good for a double digit win. Until they get healthy, at least. JETS.
Diego: Is Tom Brady still their quarterback? Ok. PATRIOTS.
Browns at Ravens (-6.5)
AJ: Last week, we saw what happens when a team overpays one player to the extent that they're forced to gut their roster. Fortunately for the Ravens, they're playing the Browns ... and it is entirely possible that Baltimore'a MVP could be Brandon Weeden. RAVENS.
Diego: Dear Cleveland, you made me look bad last week. You're on timeout till further notice. RAVENS.
Chargers at Eagles (-7.5)
AJ: Chip Kelly's offense looked awesome in the first half ... and average in the second half. I get the distinct impression that trend will continue this week. The Eagles might get the win, but not by more than a TD. CHARGERS.
Diego: I agree, the Chargers looked like they're far from the disappointment they were last season ... no, wait, they chocked didn't they? I love what I saw from Philly last Monday, and I expect them to shine in their home opener. EAGLES
Cowboys at Chiefs (-2.5)
AJ: The Chiefs put away the Jags early last week, but this week they'll be playing an actual football team. Look for the Chiefs to be efficient ... but lose anyway. COWBOYS.
Diego: Dallas was +5 in the turnover department last Sunday, yet they were still sweating bullets with under two minutes left in the game. They won't get six takeaways against Alex Smith, and they may end up on the negative in the turnovers when it's all said and done against a Chiefs' defense that has been looking very good since the preseason. Jags or not, pitching a shutout is always impressive. CHIEFS
Dolphins at Colts (-3)
AJ: The Dolphins really beat down the Browns last week. But the Colts don't suck (at least not as bad as the Browns, anyway), and I'm not entirely sold on Ryan Tannehill against teams that don't suck. COLTS.
Diego: I did pick Miami to lose against the Browns last week didn't I? That's how little I think of them. Lamar Miller is quickly in danger of becoming a bust. COLTS.
Panthers (-3) at Bills
AJ: The Panthers shut down Marshawn Lynch last week and gave the Seahawks a serious run for their money. They should be more than a match for the Bills, even though EJ Manuel looks far better than anyone expected. PANTHERS.
Diego: It looks like Buffalo still can't stop the run and DeAngelo Williams looked good against a stout Seattle run defense last week. If Cam Newton can get going ... PANTHERS.
Rams at Falcons (-7)
AJ: Last week, the Rams won a tight game against the Cards. Unfortunately for Jeff Fisher and company, the Falcons have an offensive line ... and a starting tailback that is probably looking to show his former team what they're missing. FALCONS.
Diego: St. Louis won't win this one, but they will keep it close. RAMS.
Redskins at Packers (-7)
AJ: If the Redskins had trouble with Chip Kelly's chuck n' duck offense, odds are that they'll have a tough time with the Packers' 5-wide set. Maybe they could convince Darrell Green to come out of retirement. PACKERS.
Diego: Looks like it's the Redskins and I against the world this week. I get that it's a tough road game, and that Washington - especially RG3 - didn't look too good in the season opener, but I see Griffin willing his team to an upset. REDSKINS.
Titans at Texans (-9)
AJ: The Texans came out against the Chargers like they had been dosed with NyQuil. They might be the better team, but not 9 points better. TITANS.
Diego: I spent five minutes trying to come up with a reason why Tennessee wouldn't lose this game by two scores. Couldn't find one. TEXANS.
Vikings at Bears (-6)
AJ: My vacuum cleaner stopped working last week. Then I put a put a Christian Ponder jersey on it. Now it sucks again. BEARS.
Diego: Nice ... This is going to be a fun chess match between Adrian Peterson and Minnesota's offensive line against an outstanding Chicago run defense. I could see a close game either way. VIKINGS.
Lions (-1) at Cardinals
AJ: Anyone curious about what Ndamakong Suh will do to upstage his latest brush with the rules? I'm sure Carson Palmer is.
Diego: We all know that Adrian Peterson broke his first carry for 78 yards last week against Detroit, but what isn't talked about is that the Lions held him to just 15 yards over his remaining 17 carries. Then again, if Jerome freaking Simpson can get 7 catches for 140 yards against Detroit's pass defense, I think Carson Palmer is going to have a great game ... CARDINALS.
Saints (-3) at Buccaneers
AJ: The Bucs looked awful last week. The Saints didn't. Anyone care to guess what's going to happen in Tampa this weekend? SAINTS.
Diego: New Orleans just 4-3 in Tampa Bay in the Drew Brees era. Still, I liked what I saw from them last week. SAINTS.
Broncos (-5) at Giants
AJ: Manning vs. Manning. Eli might have more rings...but Peyton has more talent...and a better team...and that will probably be the difference this weekend. BRONCOS.
Diego: **Lame joke ALERT** a Manning will win this game. **Gets rotten tomatoes thrown at him** ... I'm calling FOUR touchdown passes for Peyton in this one. BRONCOS.
Jaguars at Raiders (-6)
AJ: The Jaguars might be the worst team in the NFL this season. And the Raiders have suddenly become fun to watch. RAIDERS.
Diego: Man, the Jaguars are so bad I'm seeing fantasy football owners picking up Oakland's defense for this week, let that sink in ... nevertheless, I wouldn't put it past the Raiders to keep this close enough to give their fan base a heart attack, so ... JAGUARS.
Steelers at Bengals (-7)
AJ: Let's try this again...the Steelers are on the decline, and there's no denying it. BENGALS.
Diego: **Hops off the Cincinnati bandwagon ... looks at their next opponent ... hops onto it again** BENGALS.
49ers at Seahawks (-3)
AJ: I find it highly unlikely that Coach Harbaugh will lose to the Seahawks twice in a row. In a close, hard fought contest...49ERS.
Diego: Can San Francisco's defense limit Lynch this time around? Can they play better pass defense? I think the answer to those questions is yes. Kaepernick wants to win every game, but getting his first victory against these Seahawks is something I'm sure he's putting extra work in for. 49ERS.
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