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So we won last Sunday? Yes the score was 17-16 and felt like we had been run over by a high speed Amtrak but the San Francisco 49ers defeated their division rivals in the St. Louis Rams on the road inside the Edward Jones Stadium and earned the right to stand alone on top of the National Football League's Western Division.
Some of us think that is a matter of luck others feel that we don't deserve to be there based upon the statistical data from both games and others are grinning from ear to ear that we are the real deal despite the inefficiencies and consistencies of our anemic offense. It is amusing in itself for fellow 49er fans to be upset over a victory and question the way we accomplished that victory play by play until the very end rather than just be joyful that we were successful in containing the high-powered offense of the St. Louis Rams.
Mike Nolan thinks it is amusing to some degree as well mentioning this at his post-game news conference that before last season we were just trying to win. Now this season the expectations are just to do that, win and now people are questioning the way that we won the game. "I'll take that scenario each and every time he said." I have my own personal opinions about this game just like all of you do.
Getting right to the criticism the San Francisco 49er offense has some real big time problems on offense no matter what anyone may say we are stuck in a rut that needs to be corrected. The passing game is almost on life support so to say as all of us agree. It was bottom line pathetic in this game and against Arizona as well.
Alex Smith was 11-of-17 for 126 total passing yards with four total sacks for a loss of 29 total yards. His longest pass went for 34 yards and he ended the day with an 86.9 quarterback rating. Compare that to St. Louis Ram quarterback Marc Bulger who went 24-of-41 for 368 total yards with six sacks for a loss of 37 yards. His longest pass was for 37 yards and ended the game with a quarterback rating of 96.4.
368 total yards of passing offense is a lot don't you think? Especially after a Week One performance in which they held Arizona's high-powered passing attack trio to 102 total yards a week before this game. What is Alex actually doing that prevents him from making eye contact with his targets and not being so distracted as to connect with those targets?
It seems to be a little of everything. One thing that a lot of people blame is new offensive coordinator Jim Hostler is calling a lousy game and is way too conservative. Others blame both Hostler and Mike Nolan as they feel there is no aggressiveness registered in our passing offense and the bottom line is that we should be taking more chances than we do now by far. But under what kind of conditions and situations is the real controversy don't you think?
Not considering one-self to be too conservative is a statement of choice that Mike Nolan has made known. He encouraged the call to run the ball with Frank Gore during a critical fourth quarter stretch that would eventually lead to Joe Nedney converting on a 40-yard field goal that would win the game in the end rather than taking a shot at the end zone.
Nolan felt that the time to be conservative was warranted based upon the situation that was at hand and he supported that decision as to how the defense had successfully kept the St. Louis Ram high-aerial circus of a passing attack out of the end zone so far into the game. Despite the huge chunk of yardage the St. Louis Rams had accumulated the score reflected their inability to manufacture points on the scoreboard bottom line. By using Frank Gore who in my opinion has been 75% of our offense to bang the ball and just get closer with eight-men stacked in the box to nullify him, was it the best decision to make?
All of us like to see dramatics out on the field. It is in our competitive nature and juices to yearn for that and want to win in glorious fashion all of the time. We have to recognize that and quell some of that based upon what is happening out on the field at the time and I feel Mike Nolan felt this way to a certain degree when he made that decision to play conservatively.
The San Francisco 49er offense only manufactured eight total first downs in this game compared to 20 for the St. Louis Rams and coughed and sputtered on third downs by converting only 3-out-of-13 for 23% efficiency. In total net yards we only had 186 compared to 392 for the St. Louis Rams who also won time of possession with 31:49 compared to 28:11 for us.
We won ugly again O.K. That seems to be the consensus of all football fans that I talk to and they still are not sold on the San Francisco 49ers as being a legitimate playoff contender based upon the way that they have won the past two contests. I can at least understand this as everyone wants to see utter dominance created by a playoff team by squashing another team to the point that they are utterly humiliated.
However in the real world picture of the NFL, most games are determined by going right down to the wire more often times than not. It is a slugfest almost to the end in every single game that you and I watch on a weekly occurring basis. I cannot deny this and I hope you won't either based upon how the NFL is designed through the salary cap for teams to be more marginal and competitive now with each other like never before.
We created the ugliness in this game with many a mistake and allowed the St. Louis Rams to stick around in this game and give us more white hair with a last ditch Jeff Wilkins field goal that fell a few yards short of its intended mark to give us the victory. We muffed a punt return, Alex Smith lost a fumble and the Rams were awarded nice field position with a rare Joe Nedney kickoff that was booted out of bounds. Winning ugly seems to be the order of the season for us until we solve the inconsistencies of an offense that has all the potential in the world based upon personnel with ability and talent to deliver game breaking results.
On the positive side the San Francisco 49er defense again on the field a lot during this game and stretched thin because of it delivered the game into our hands by bending but never breaking. Like an old Oak tree in the hundred year or so category this tree bended in heavy winds but never broke a limb because of the key hits, pressures, sacks and relentless coverage schemes of our overall defensive unit.
St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger is one of the most durable in the NFL and even he was rattled and shaken by the relentless attack we brought at him on an every down basis that I congratulate defensive coordinator Greg Manusky for doing with arms and hands held high in joyful tribulation. In fact the defensive attack was the most thrilling to watch outside of Frank Gore's incredible touchdown run in the third quarter from 43 total yards out.
Time and time again the St. Louis Ram offense marched up and down the field mostly on the arm of Marc Bulger who connected with Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt for impressive numbers but was never really able outside of one touchdown to crack the formidable 49er secondary that held its ground inside the red zone. In fact the one touchdown that did register under Tory Holt was nearly batted down seconds from connecting by the $80 million dollar man in 49er Nate Clements. On the other side Walt Harris playing Isaac Bruce was burnt due to his soft coverage from time to time but in the end held within check from the red zone.
Isaac Bruce had eight receptions for 145 total yards with an 18.1-yard average per reception. Tory Holt had five receptions for 74 total yards with a 14.8-yard per reception as well. On the San Francisco 49er side of the reception category Darrell Jackson had a good day with three receptions for 61 yards and a 20.3 yards per reception but could've had more if he hadn't dropped balls. The 19-yard scamper by 49er tight end Vernon Davis took my breath away for but a moment as I wanted to see more thrown his way based upon his incredible ability and talent to take the ball nearer towards the end zone.
On special team Brandon Williams muffed a kick that proved costly but at the same time I want to recognize punter Andy Lee on that 71-yard punt that was just incredible to watch and his signing to a contract extension is really starting to bear some real fruit. Watching offensive lineman David Baas line up, as a tight end near the end zone was an interesting play to watch due to Billy Bajema out due to injury. Mike Nolan made reference to it as trying to get a few more yards with it based upon David's girth and size so to speak.
The San Francisco 49er defense played with their hearts on their sleeves in my opinion. Six sacks registered on Marc Bulger two coming from veteran mainstay Bryant Young who looks like he is twenty-something out there on the field and just incredible plays by Manny Lawson and Patrick Willis all over the field and particularly near the end zone. Again the secondary was assisted by the way the front line performed and creating pressure. Marc Bulger still managed to get some lethal throws out there based upon his own individual ability but the 49er secondary played a game of chess and checkmated him at every turn down the field.
Can the San Francisco 49ers that are now (2-0) go into Pittsburgh and win? To a team that has been staunchly defensive against allowing points and is looking like playoff contenders in there own right? That is the question we all are asking right now. Obviously against such a team more risks have to be contemplated in order to manufacture something. Being conservative won't always get you into scoring position nearly enough times if the other team has scorched you like napalm.
Pittsburgh is a real challenge to us mentally and physically. I am confident in our defense to keep us treading water in this game but we need just enough offense as well to secure a victory again on the volatile road and against the terrible towels that will be waving and shouting in our literal faces. Alex Smith must prove decisive and I am questioning that ability I haven't seen it to be as of now.
Protection to pick up the blitz and make adjustments must be recognized by the offensive line as well. Joe Staley must continue to mature and improve in this theory. Alex seems to play better and perform while outside of the pocket particularly on rollouts and such. We need him to keep developing inside and feel a lot more comfortable there but at the same time he has to get rid of the ball quicker when the seconds are ticking inside his collective head. His legs are proven weapons of choice as well and should be used when the chips are down with no one at home.
Alex Smith needs a breakout game bottom line and I feel it will be the turning point in our season if he can make that happen. He is one of the most careful of quarterbacks that I've seen in trying to avoid the interception, but sometime the hesitation plays into a fumble by way of sack or hurry. Decisiveness is the key word to our success and for this offense it has to be the largest word with meaning in the dictionary right now. As Mike Nolan made reference: "Yards were left out on that field."
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.