We all dreaded the impending road game to Cincinnati after the overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys the previous Sunday, mostly in part that our road travels to wherever it may be are cursed to the point that we could star in our own Rocky Mountain Horror Picture Show. This past Sunday was of little difference considering the way the offensive line and Alex Smith executed. Toss in a dash of wrongful NFL officiating and you have your next sequel.
What was especially positive about the entire game was the way the defense came together after the initial Cincinnati Bengal offensive drive that stalled within our four-yard line in the first quarter and forced them to kick a field goal to make it 3-0. The San Francisco 49er defensive line was amazing in rush defense with nose tackle Isaac Sapoaga clogging the middle and raising the bar for the rest to follow. The Bengals were limited to 79 total yards on 20 rushes, which is a solid accomplishment on behalf of our run defense.
Sapoaga even entered the game on offense as a fullback and twice assisted Frank Gore in obtaining the necessary yardage in short-yard situations. Using him in a multi-faceted approach to games has been something the coaching staff has embraced as a real positive as Isaac has not disappointed when he suits up to play with the offense. 49er linebacker NaVorro Bowman also played like a caged animal out on the field and at times you couldn't really tell if it was Patrick Willis or him making the play because of the quickness both displayed on the field.
Bowman recorded 11-total tackles and continues to prove that starting him over the released veteran in Takeo Spikes was a good decision. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks also made some very interesting plays in stopping Cincinnati Bengal running back Cedric Benson on first down during their first drive of the game by penetrating and throwing him for a two-yard loss. He also made a big hit on Bengal rookie quarterback Andy Dalton that resulted in an eight-yard sack which was jaw-dropping.
The 49er secondary also was reinforced with the emergence of two veterans, cornerback Shawntae Spencer and safety Dashon Goldson, that had not seen a lot of playing time due to injuries. Back in the mix, their presence limited the Cincinnati Bengals passing offense to 157 total yards and limited Dalton to a mere 40.8 quarterback rating. 49er left cornerback Carlos Rodgers ended the game with four tackles, an interception and two passes defended as he executed brilliantly, and that was without paying him 80 million dollars we initially agreed to with the departed Nate Clements who played against us.
Finally recognition of nickel safety Reggie Smith, who came in for the injured veteran Donte Whitner, made the most dramatic ending of the game with his diving interception of Bengal quarterback Andy Dalton that all but clinched our victory with just 1:45 remaining in the game. 49er kicker David Ackers also had a positive game in attempting a 53-yard field goal in the closing minutes giving us a 13-6 lead. He also assisted in putting the Bengals back on their heels with their average starting point being the 20-yard line throughout the game.
With this game immersed into a low-scoring dogfight, I give enormous credit to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and the coaching staff for playing the chess matches that clearly put our players in situations to make some real incredible plays that, in my opinion, cemented the victory. Backup safeties Madieu Williams and Reggie Smith played significant roles in this close victory as they answered the call each time with respect to veteran Donte Whitner's injury. This was the first time I saw significant improvement within the secondary in restricting the opponents passing attack with Bengal quarterback Andy Dalton only taking one sack during the entire game.
The third quarter touchdown to 49er wide receiver Michael Crabtree was nullified by the officiating crew stating that he had stepped out of bounds. However, replays done at the time indicate that there was little to no evidence to even suggest that. We were trailing 3-0 when Alex Smith connected on a 10-yard pass completion to Crabtree in the end zone as he jumped to catch the ball. Officials ruled that Crabtree had stepped out of the back of the end zone before returning to the field of play. Because of FOX Television's delayed showing of the actual replay, Jim Harbaugh felt uncompelled to challenge it. Crabtree indicated upon catching the ball that the back official wasn't even observing at that particular moment in time.
Jim Harbaugh's convictions are that the entire team and our very organization are being sidelined as being an “unattractive and low priority attraction in the specter of being a legitimate contender within this league.” He indicated that after the Seattle game in week one with ESPN not showing any replays of the game and also indicated that FOX Sports also placed very little emphasis on the importance of this match-up because in essence, it had been blacked out in Cincinnati with such little attendance to this game. I feel that this is a real truth based on what I see from the broadcasting networks as well.
A consistent mess is what I would call our offensive line and its inability to show any continuity and or cohesiveness to execute as an effective unit. Individual players must be identified and disciplined by benching if need be to allow someone else to step-up. Right guard Chilo Rachal was a disaster during the opening two quarters. He had two costly holding penalties (one of which was declined), a false start, and allowed at least one, if not more, sacks. Rachal, the 39th pick in the 2008 NFL Draft has increasingly been a real disappointment, mimicking the antics of our once overrated veteran in Kwame Harris.
Much of the offensive line's malfunctions affect the ability of Alex Smith in making completions and advancing the ball on critical third downs. Pass protection continues to be am alarming problem that this line seems to be incapable of figuring out. Offensive line coach Mike Solari has to be held accountable to some degree in making the adjustments to this unit. Alex Smith of course is also still throwing balls inaccurately as indicated in this game and not reading the hot route in getting rid of the ball fast enough, unlike the rookie he was playing against in Andy Dalton, who did a great job in getting rid of the ball when he had to.
When Alex is stepping up into the pocket with everything breaking down around him and making that critical throw, he is woefully ineffective as FOX Sports analyst and former 49er defensive Coach Jim Mora Jr. indicated on this past Sunday. It is evident that he is not the most gifted runner when he has to take off and tuck the ball nor is he able to make the on-the-spot decisions he is clearly in charge of doing at the line of scrimmage that articulate in him being sacked. Smith was sacked five times and ended with a quarterback rating of 85.6. These are not statistics of a premier quarterback in the NFL.
Again, something has to first be done to find him maximum protection as Frank Gore even failed miserably on several blitzes as he stood up and watched Alex being sacked without making any attempt to throw a concerted block. Yes he had an ankle injury and he had a bad day, but the role he must play as the face of this franchise must be without a doubt and at great sacrifice. The future is by and large through the offensive line, should we not make immediate strides in retrofitting and or reconditioning this unit starting with each individual member from Joe Staley on down we will not be winning any more games even in bits and pieces.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.