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By the time Tramaine Brock stepped into the endzone, most of the air was already taken out of the Houston Texans. After consecutive penalties by Owen Daniels turned what would have been a first down deep in 49er territory into a missed field goal attempt, the team was all but finished. From there, San Francisco let their defense and running game do the rest as they cruised to a 34-3 route. After being outscored 56-10 in Weeks 2 and 3, the Niners have turned the tables and outscored their opponents 69-14 the last two weeks. Even with those lopsided wins, the 49ers are still struggling in some key areas. Here is what 49er fans are talking about after Week 5:
Brock played his second strong game in a row filling in for the injured Nnamdi Asomugha and you have to wonder if he's taken hold of the nickel position for good. Brock doubled his career interception total by picking off Matt Schaub twice and set the tone of the game with his pick six on the opening drive. The secondary has looked much better since Brock took over for Asomugha and Nnamdi's place on the defense looks up in the air right now.
The last two games have seen the 49ers return to basics as they've ditched trying to run out of the shotgun and gone back to pounding the ball with Kaepernick behind center. Highlighted by their trademark "wham" and "trap" plays, the Niners physically dominated the Texans front seven, rushing 36 times for 177 yards. It's reassuring to see that Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh recognized that the shotgun was not working and adjusted accordingly.
Gore for MVP
It's scary to think where the team would be without Frank Gore. The veteran running back paced the offensive attack with 81 yards on 17 carries and scored his third touchdown of the year. Over his last three games, Gore is averaging 6.5 yards per carry with 316 yards on 48 attempts. It's no coincidence that he's started to take off as the 49ers have returned to their power running style. Teams should center their offensive attack around their best player when possible. Gore is just that for San Francisco
Third down woes continue
The 49ers entered the game converting only 37 percent of their third downs (21-of-57) on the season. After looking sharp on their opening touchdown drive and going three-for-three, they were only successful on one of their next eight attempts. The big reason for this is the fact that they have not been able to sustain any kind of a consistent passing game. More over, the team has been unable to find anyone to replace Michael Crabtree, especially on third downs. Last season, Crabtree caught 32 third down passes and 24 of those went for firsts. Overall, he was targeted 49 times on third and fourth down.
Is it Kaepernick, the wide receivers, or both?
You can look at the the 64-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis as one of two things. 1) It was a good sign that Kaepernick is starting to come out of his slump and could carry that momentum over to next week, or 2) Davis was wide open and that pass will only hide the fact that Kaepernick looked lost again and didn't complete a pass for over two quarters at one point.
When you watch Kaepernick drop back, it's obvious he doesn't trust his options. On the night he only completed six passes (on 15 attempts) and had a completion percentage of 40 percent. For the season, he is only completing 56 percent of his passes and has been below 50 in three of five games. Kaepernick has also only thrown for 557 yards over the last four games (139 per contest).
Anquan Boldin was the only wide receiver to haul in a pass last night and he has 26 of the group's 39 catches on the year. It's so bad that fullback Bruce Miller has as many receptions as the 49ers' second leading wide receiver (Kyle Williams with 9). At some point, especially against teams with high powered offenses, the Niners are going to have to start making plays through the air to have any real shot of returning to the Super Bowl
No Willis, no Smith, no problem
Raise your hand if though the defense was going to look dominant two weeks in a row without Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith? When you consider what those two players have meant to the 49ers, it's nothing short of amazing to see what the defense has accomplished the last two weeks. The have held opponents to 14 points over the past two games and have forced six turnovers. Game changing plays were something the unit had been missing in Weeks 1-3 and they have re-found themselves in that regard of late.
Even though the effort was terrific overall, the pass rush was virtually non-existent and they were helped by the poor play of Matt Schaub. The lack of pressure will be something to watch until Aldon Smith gets back, even more so now that Ray McDonald was forced to leave the game with a biceps injury (which he actually hurt while recording the team's lone sack).
When you look at how tough the first five games on the schedule were, it's not the end of the world for this team to be 3-2. When you consider they have done it without the likes of Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Ian Williams, Patrick Willis, and Aldon Smith for some or all of that stretch, it's actually quite amazing. The schedule lightens up with the Cardinals, Titans, and Jaguars the next three weeks before the team gets a bye in Week 9. The 49ers have a chance to go on a little bit of a run if they can stay healthy and start to get guys like Willis and Manningham back.