Upon Further Review: What were the best individual offensive and defensive performances this first half of the season? Who will be the breakout player in the second half?

Another week has come and gone, and as always, Diego and AJ are back with another installment of "Upon Further Review". The 49ers are coming into their bye week on a high note after beating the bejeezus out of the hapless Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night. Given that the 49ers have officially hit the halfway point of the 2012 season, we'll do a little looking back this week as we discuss our pick for the best individual offensive and defensive performances from the first half of the season. We'll also do a little looking forward with our picks for the "breakout" player of the second half of the season, along with our picks for the week.

Best Offensive Performance of the Season's First 8 Games
AJ: This is a tough one. The 49ers have had more than a few outstanding offensive performances this season…but only one set an NFL record. On Monday night, in front of a national audience and against a very stingy Cardinal defense, Alex Smith was "lights out". Historically so. Smith completed 18 of his 19 pass attempts for 232 yards, 3 TDs, a 157.1 QB rating and an otherworldly 94.7% completion rate.

Kids, that isn't good. It isn't great. It is RIDICULOUS. It sounds made up. In the history of the league, it has never been done. By anyone. Ever. Until last Monday, anyway. Smith has more to do…a lot more. But if his performance in Arizona proves anything, it's that he is capable of great things. If he can manage to become even a hair more consistent, the 49ers will be a very difficult team to beat over the second half of the season.

So there you have it…my pick for the 49ers best offensive performance of the year goes to Alex Smith. Flame away, haters. I'm ready for you.

Diego: I'm picking the same game, but a different player. Michael Crabtree's Monday Night Football performance on the road against Patrick Peterson and the Arizona Cardinals. Yes, Crabtree has fared well against Peterson in the past (7 catches on 10 targets for 120 yards in their first meeting last season, 7 catches on 12 targets for 63 yards in their second meeting), but this game stood out to me for a couple of reasons:

1) Crabtree gave Smith a scoring option in the red zone, an area where Smith and the 49ers overall have struggled in the past. San Francisco ranked 30th in touchdown scoring percentage in the red zone last season according to teamrankings.com, converting in just 40.68% of their trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Coming into the Arizona game, the 49ers had already improved, ranking 12th in the league at 56.52%, and after a going 2 of 2 on Monday night they are now ranked at #8 with a 60.87% in this category. Let me rephrase this: the 49ers were a bottom three team last year in red zone scoring percentage. They are now a top ten team. This is why Crabtree's performance was so important for the team this first half of the season, the 49ers can get a bit predictable at times with multiple running plays, but Crabtree's performance should only help the team continue to maintain their status as one of the best in the NFL inside the red zone.

2) Crabtree's dominance against a much improved Peterson. As of 10/25/12, Pro Football Focus reported that Peterson ranked as a top five cornerback in NFL Rating Allowed: of 42 passes to guys he was covering, only 19 had been completed for 249 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions for a 42.7 NFL rating. Enter Crabtree, who caught all four passes thrown his way when covered by Peterson for 42 yards and two touchdowns. Smith's rating when targeting Crabtree in this game? 150.0. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the most impressive offensive performance by a 49er so far this season.

Best Defensive Performance of the Season's First 8 Games
AJ: Offense was tough…but this is tougher. Dashon Goldson has been playing lights out. Tarell Brown is greatly improved. Aldon Smith has been brilliant. Patrick Willis is…well, he's Patrick Willis. But for my best individual defensive performance thus far, I'm going back to Week 1.

In a venue the 49ers were expected to march into and lose (badly), one man stepped up to change the course of the game. NaVorro Bowman was all over the field against the Packers, and he intercepted an Aaron Rodgers pass on one of the best QB traps I have ever seen. His 8 tackles and game changing interception get my vote, primarily because they set the tone for a defense that many thought would backslide, but is now ranked #1 in the league.

Diego: Great minds thing alike. I may have to admit something I have been trying to deny for quite some time now: Navorro Bowman is slowly but surely becoming the best player in this outstanding 49ers' defense. Take his game against the Vikings, for example: Bowman gobbled up 7 solo tackles and assisted in 11 more for a total of 18, 10 of which were in plays where the Vikings did not get more than three yards. Bowman's instincts always lead him to the ball carrier, and in this game his tackles stopped 30.51% of all the offensive plays by Minnesota. That, is impressive. Many experts around the league where hesitant to anoint Bowman as an elite linebacker after last season's pro bowl year, wondering whether it was a fluke. Nowadays, there's no denying Bowman is one of the top linebackers in the game, even if he's surrounded by arguably the best defensive lineup in the NFL. As a matter of fact, as of 10/18/12, Pro Football Focus stated Bowman had surpassed Ray Lewis as "The Premier Run Stuffer" in the league, calling him their top graded linebacker after earning said recognition last season as well, and reporting he had only had one missed tackled up to that point. Navorro Bowman has been an elite player so far this season, and in my opinion his game against the Vikings was the best by a 49er so far this year.

Who will Break Out over the Second Half of the Season?
AJ: This one is easy. When the 49ers signed Mario Manningham in the offseason, I thought for sure that he'd become a favorite target of Alex Smith. Outside of a few very eye-opening plays, Manningham has been largely ineffective.

Over the next 8 games, expect that to change. While Michael Crabtree is continuing to build chemistry with Alex Smith and Vernon Davis is a time bomb just waiting to explode for 3 TDs, Manningham is something that the 49ers have sorely needed since the inception of the Harbaugh Era: a viable third option though the air.

Manningham is a gifted route runner, and though he has more quickness than all out speed, he gets out of his cuts will little wasted movement, making him the most capable 49er wide out when it comes to creating separation. Look for Alex Smith to exploit that, and for "Super Mario" to be just that for the 49ers over the next 8 games.

Diego: You and I are on similar wavelengths this week AJ – I am picking a wide receiver too. I wrote about him in the offseason in attempt to dismiss the conception that he was a bust, I have said that he has arrived as a true number one wide receiver in the NFL, and I most recently singled him out as having the most outstanding offensive performance by a 49er so far this season, so guess what? I'm picking Michael Crabtree to break out in the second half of this season. The standard for me, as shallow as it may be, is a 1,000-yard season, which although he isn't on pace to accomplish it I believe he can achieve it based on how we have seen him perform so far. Any questions about lack of chemistry with Alex Smith can be put to rest - he has been targeted nearly 20 times more than Vernon Davis, and he continues to lead the team in targets, catches, yardage, yards/game, YAC, and first downs. He will continue to see a steady number of balls thrown his way, not only because he has proven he can be the leading receiver for this team, but more importantly because becoming such a leader will go a long way in determining whether the 49ers can be Super Bowl contenders this season.

Week 9 Picks
In Week 8, AJ went a respectable 10 for 14 (.714). As such, he won't be changing his name to Nostradamus…but he has managed to avoid the dunce cap…for this week anyway. Diego was just 9-5 after taking leap of faith on the Rams vs the Patriots that he still can't really explain. Let's see how the UFR crew fares this week:

Chiefs at Chargers:
AJ: Phillip Rivers has been so bad this season that he could f*ck up a wet dream. Fortunately for him, Matt Cassel couldn't win this game if he played it on Xbox. Set to "rookie". Chargers.

Diego: Amazing how this could be such a tough game to pick. Which one of these teams will stop keeping themselves from earning a victory? Chargers.

Bills at Texans:
This offseason, the Bills went out and bought a defense. Too bad it can't stop anybody. Texans.

Maybe this is the week it all comes together for the Bills, I mean they're due, right? Right ... Texans

Cardinals at Packers:
The Cardinals have the great misfortune of playing a resurgent Packer team at home. The Pack will bust out the whipping stick in this one, and the Cards will crumble. Packers.

At what point do you guys think we'll see Ryan Lindley forced into this game due to injury? Second, third quarter? After the game, Clay Matthews may get booked for murder. Packers

Lions at Jaguars:
The Lions are bad…but not as bad as the Jags. Lions.

The Lions showed me something last week after I picked the Seahawks to beat them in Detroit, are they finally putting it together? Then again, would we really be shocked if they had a letdown against Jacksonville this week? Lions.

Ravens at Browns:
The Ravens got beat down in their last game. Look for them to rebound against the leagues worst team. Ravens.

Brandon Weeden has been looking good lately, Trent Richardson is becoming a dominant RB in the league, Josh Gordon is showing the potential to be a legitimate threat for this team … don't forget any of those things after this game, Browns fans. Ravens.

Vikings at Seahawks:
Christian Ponder has come crashing back to earth over the past few weeks…and Qwest Field isn't exactly the best venue for "rebound" games. Seahawks.

I just hope Purple Jesus gets me enough to win my fantasy league matchups. Seahawks.

Cowboys at Falcons:
The NFL's biggest underachiever will take on the leagues biggest overachiever…and Tony Romo will throw three more interceptions. Falcons.

More disappointing team so far this season: Bills or Cowboys? I got burned picking against the ATL last week. Falcons.

Bears at Titans:
Cutler is overrated, but Forte is good. Really good. Da Bears get it done on the road against a forgettable Titans squad. And CJ2K will find out exactly how hard it is to run against a good defense. Bears.

Cutler may be overrated, but the Titans' pass defense is awful, largely due to a non-existent pass rush. Bears.

Broncos at Bengals:
"The Neck" vs. "The Red Rifle". Maybe Dalton has it in him to stand up to the Broncos. Probably not, though. Broncos.

By the time this game is done Peyton Manning will own an 8-0 record against the Bengals. Broncos.

Dolphins at Colts:
The Dolphins won't win two on the road. Especially since Andrew Luck is already better than Mark Sanchez. Colts.

And I was worried we were going to agree on every pick this week. I think the world of Andrew Luck, but the Colts' defense is still suspect and Luck will not be getting a lot of help from the running game this week. Dolphins.

Panthers at Redskins:
Cam will fall short on the road. A quick note for his "suggestion box": quit whining and lead your team, putz. Redskins.

If you don't find a way to watch this game on Sunday, chances are you will regret it. Dual threat QB's against bad defenses? Yes please. May the best QB win – is there any question who the best QB will be on FedEx Field? Redskins.

Bucs at Raiders:
The Bucs are notoriously streaky. The Raiders are notoriously bad. After consulting my magic 8-ball, I am convinced that notoriously streaky will beat notoriously bad. This week, anyway. Bucs.

That Oakland passing game is starting to get going, and that will benefit Darren McFadden as well. Back-to-back road wins for Tampa Bay? I doubt it. Raiders.

Steelers at Giants:
The Giants are peaking. The Steelers are old and beat up. Anyone care to guess what's going to happen in New York this weekend? Giants.

I care to guess – Ben Roethlisberger will put the team on his shoulders, carve up the Giants defense, and lead Pittsburgh to a road win that will put them back on the map. I mean, have you see just how bad this New York secondary is? Steelers.

Eagles at Saints:
In the matchup of the league's most overrated teams, Michael Vick will do what he does best: find a way to lose on the road, no matter how bad his opponent is. Saints.

I am done picking the Eagles to break out of their slump. Which may just lead to them breaking out of their slump. Saints.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Alec
    Great article guys. Finally Alex Smith can get some props for what he's done this season without hating fuckstains finding a way to continually piss me off.... Oh wait... I completely forgot about Terry B. (who must have such a fulfilling life considering that he spends it hating on AJ instead of commenting on anything noteworthy to say about football). Look Terry, just accept that your team is 6-2 and the guy who got us there is... Do you wanna take a guess asshole? Oh is it the guy you continually hate on? I think so. Your team's starting quarterback is breaking records and you're still hating. Dude must have some emotional issues. Oh and as for AJ's family backing him up. At least he has people speaking for him. Who do you have? People you decide to make up to feel not alone? I'm pretty sure that's split personality disorder isn't it?
    Nov 3, 2012 at 8:37 AM
  • Jan
    Nope, I don't know AJ or Diego, so don't make baseless accusations. I was just raised to not remain silent when confronted with a bully, whether it was me or someone else who was the recipient of the abuse.
    Nov 2, 2012 at 3:55 PM
  • Spencer
    Terry or Barry or whomever, I always find it funny that Alex Smith haters push this idea that only 49er homers blinded by some extreme bias can think of Alex Smith as anything more that a mediocre QB, and yet to prove your point you run to CBSsports, which is to sports writing what Nickelback is to music. How about you turn your thick head slightly to right when you go onto 49erswebzone and read the article recently published by the Mercury News entitled "San Francisco QB Alex Smith impresses Hall of Famer Steve Young" in which the HoFer and current ESPN analyst says it's fine that Alex isn't consistently going down field on explosive plays. Of course, he says, 60 yard bombs are great, but they are by no means necessary. Especially when you are shredding a defense with underneath routes and your defense is making the opponents offense look like a pop warner squad. You know what we call QBs who abandon high percentage throws that are consistently working for you on offense and getting your team points in favor of low percentage vertical routes? We call them Barry T's, or Terry B's (not Terry Bradshaw, love him) because they're simply moronic.
    Nov 2, 2012 at 2:26 PM
  • Terry B.
    Wow, you refresh your page 5,000 times? You must get tired. Good thing you lift all those weights. And the person who turns to the women in his life when he has no response for my Alex Smith comments is telling ME to stay on topic? That's rich. I would love it if we could stay on topic.
    Nov 2, 2012 at 1:54 PM
  • Barry T.
    With the exception of one outlier column, you average 9.6 comments per column. And three of your readers are your wife, your mom, and your alias Big Mike. Add in all of my aliases and it makes me wonder if ANYONE is reading these columns.You should be glad I'm here.
    Nov 2, 2012 at 11:58 AM
    Response: Oh, I am. I count on you for my daily dose of comic relief. We net between 3000-5000 hits per piece...so I'm not trippin'.
  • Terry B.
    Jan, sounds like we're even then. I didn't find your comment to be funny or informative either. Just a wild guess--another friend or family member of AJ's? Question: if you don't like hot-air rhetoric, why do you read AJ's column?
    Nov 2, 2012 at 11:53 AM
    Response: And the irony is that Terry still reads and comments...even though he "hates" it. Yay!!! Gobble gobble turkey for everyone!!! Though I will request that you refrain from insulting other commenters. Please, save your hate for me...and stay on topic. That stated, insult away.
  • Edd
    Great article as usual guys, although I have my differences. Alex Smith specifically. I hate statistics and QBR because they are so easy to pad. Look, 5 yard passes and eating sacks instead of throwing the ball away will inflate that QBR, but it doesnt make you a great QB. 49ers are doing OK with Alex, but please be honest that the 49ers would do OK with ANY QB. And the 49ers would be THE BOMB if they had got Manning. For the first 8 games, the obvious offensive choice is Mr Gore.
    Nov 2, 2012 at 11:31 AM
    Response: Diego: Gore's game vs Seattle was a close second for me after Crabtree's game vs Arizona AJ: It was a tough decision for me, too. I think that Gore made the Seattle game. The topper for me was that Smith's performance was an NFL record, and that he set it by going after the opponent's best defender. I do agree that he needs to do more...and I believe he will over the next 8 games.
  • Jan
    AJ, I enjoy the columns you and Diego post, they are fun reads. However, I don't find Terry B or any of his aliases funny or informative. If I wanted name-calling and hot-air rhetoric, I'd read political columns.
    Nov 2, 2012 at 9:25 AM
    Response: Thanks for reading Jan. I realize that he can be trying (believe me), but Terry has as much right to speak his mind as anyone else. Even if what he speaks is wrong, offensive or totally off base. I am a firm believer in freedom of speech...and I thank you for taking the time to comment. Please keep reading:) I assure you that we'll keep writing.
  • Terry B.
    AJ, to say the least I find it very interesting that the person who is so fond of telling other people to "man up" and "grow some balls" has now recruited both his mom and his wife to fight his battles for him. If you can't respond to a football point, just admit it. Question: what kinds of percentages do you think Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, or either of the Mannings would put up if they consistently threw only five-yard passes? In addition to Freeman's column, you may want to consider Greg Cosell's recent comments about how Alex only knows how to look at his primary read and check down. He still can't go through his progressions like an elite QB. Enjoy those five yard passes against the Cardinals while you can. We won't see them in the playoffs. We're much more likely to see the Giants, against whom Alex had a rating of 43.1.
    Nov 2, 2012 at 8:38 AM
  • Jerry V.
    Well, at least now we know who AJ's readers are.
    Nov 2, 2012 at 8:26 AM
    Response: And that I don't censor comments...no matter who makes them. - AJ On the other hand, I have no idea who my readers are - Diego Diego,, you are among my favorite peeps, even I we don't always agree on football-AJ
  • kathleen
    hey kid..sorry for venting on your nice clean column. at least there was no bloodshed. i remember mr shibley!! criminy its a tiny lil world!
    Nov 1, 2012 at 6:49 PM
    Response: No worries. I find the haters to be wildly entertaining. Terry is like tickle herpes. He won't ever go away, he's annoying but non-fatal, and at the end of the day, all he can really so is make me laugh.
  • kathleen
    pardon me aj, just one more comment, if i may. terry: i have been patient with you because i am a guest here. putting all that aside for a moment, i'll tell you exactly who i really am. i am an extreme person on many levels. extremely protective of anyone who matters to me and extremely protective of human and animal rights and at this moment in time, finding you to be insolent at best. seriously, idk if he censors his stuff. i don't really care. since you and your aliases will hence be invisible to me, just a couple of things before you fade into oblivion, i have known aj for over 40 years. he has never once asked for an ally in any situation, to the contrary, he has always been a rather independent guy. how do i know all this? i'm his MOM and YOU have been very disrespectful, not only to him but to me.
    Nov 1, 2012 at 6:44 PM
    Response: All that, and she can hit like a train, too. Don't piss her off.
  • kathleeeeen
    thanks for weighing in on michael vick and my somewhat overprotective side comment. i am humbled by your gracious position. bless the beasts and the children.
    Nov 1, 2012 at 1:10 PM
    Response: Of course:) It's the least I can do.
  • Terrrrrrrryyyyyyyyy B.
    Kathleeeeeeeen, I think you just gave yourself away. You claim to be a 49ers fan, yet you didn't get the gobble gobble turkey reference? But you do know AJ's pseudonym....Hmm...Could it be that you're not really a 49ers fan but are just a friend that AJ put up to fighting his battles for him? Sure sounds like it to me. Don't worry, though, the comments are not "equal opportunity." AJ regularly censors them.
    Nov 1, 2012 at 12:39 PM
    Response: The irony here is that a guy who supposedly "hates" my stuff can't stop reading it or commenting on it.
    Great article - I'd really like to see Crabtree dominate the second half and the playoffs. Here's a question: Any chance Harbaugh loses control when Vernon Davis gets fed up with fewer passes coming his way? Another: Will the 49ers be able to develop a mid-range passing game? Right now, they've got the short-range game down pat. They've had a bit of success with the deep ball, but that mid-range stuff (12-18 yards or so) is missing. It that a result of the scheme, or is that something that continued improvement will bring? I'd just love to see Crabtree/Mario/Randy/Vernon catching 18 yard dig routes from Smith.
    Nov 1, 2012 at 12:36 PM
    Response: Thanks for reading. As it pertains to Vernon, I don't think there will be a problem. He's become a much more mature player over the last 4 seasons. Look for that maturity to make him put the team first. I think Harbaugh and Vernon will be just fine. As it pertains to intermediate passing: As this season has progressed, we've begun to see true "west coast" route concepts show up in 49er game plans. The lack of consistent intermediate looks has been a function of two things: the way opponents have been choosing to defend the 49ers, and Smith's reticence to turn the ball over. For most of the last few games, opponents have been clogging short and intermediate routes to the center of the field, primarily because that's where Vernon tends to be most effective , especially between the 20's. As a result, most of the time when looking middle, Smith has most likely seen two or three defenders sitting on the intermediate pass between the numbers, forcing him to either check down or throw high and outside. This changed a bit on Monday night. The 49ers used Vernon to clear some of those intermediate middle zones, and the result was a thing of beauty. Look for them to expand on that after the bye.
  • Ken
    So you're just going to shout "scoreboard" instead of responding to Freeman's column? Why am I not surprised. Hate to break it to you, but we're much more likely to face the Giants than the Cardinals in the playoffs. But I'm happy you're satisfied.
    Nov 1, 2012 at 12:34 PM
    Response: Freeman's column makes no mention of why the passes were primarily short. Because he didn't watch the f*cking game. He read the box score, and watched highlights. Had he watched the game, he might have noticed that Smith consistently threw at Arizona's best defender...and owned him. He might have noticed that Arizona was blitzing A LOT, which necessitates a lot of "zero" looks and quick, three step drops (whic are not conducive to deep passes). Arizona worked to being pressure in hopes that Alex would fold...but instead, he kicked ass. And no manner of word smithing or argument twisting will change that.
  • kathleeeeen
    hey legbreaker, diego: i really enjoy your column, and try to read it faithfully but i have a couple of questions about it. is it an equal opportunity column for half assed morons to leave toxic comments or what? i mean everyone has an opinion and and allowing the ones who clearly have too much time on their hands to spew poison is very charitable of you. i wonder though, all gobble-whatever-that-was-supposed-to-mean aside, what do you honestly think of michael vick? not only as an athlete but as a a human being?
    Nov 1, 2012 at 11:34 AM
    Response: Well, first things first: thanks for reading. As it pertains to "half assed morons", even they are entitled to freedom of expression...even if that expression isn't much more than comic relief. As it pertains to Michael Vick, I believe that he is entitled to earn a living doing what he does (even if he is really bad at it)...but that doesn't erase what he did. I have loved a great many puppies in my day...and the thought of anyone killing them for sport is appalling to me.
  • Marc
    Good article guys. Im very excited to see if Crabs will top the 1000 yd mark.Hed be the first Niner reciever to do so since........T.Owens??? The only problem I have with Alex is Id like to see him throw more passes like Crabs first TD. Just give our guys some chances to make plays. More Randy would be nice.
    Nov 1, 2012 at 11:07 AM
    Response: Agreed Marc. Crabtree has shown enough ability to be trusted to make plays.
  • HL
    Remember, in American English, commas and periods always go inside quotation marks.
    Nov 1, 2012 at 11:00 AM
    Response: Somewhere, my sophomore year English teacher, Mr. Shibley, is smiling.
  • ms.sinn
    Good article, guys. I'm curious to see who wins on the 3 games you picked differently...otherwise you two sound like brothers from another mother.

    Glad to see Terry (or Ken, or whichever personality he is choosing to be this minute) found the short bus and made it back to the comments section of your article. It's just not the same without him bitching about how much Alex Smith sucks.
    Nov 1, 2012 at 10:19 AM
    Response: :)
  • Ken
    AJ, it's becoming sadly more apparent every week that you simply don't understand the game of football. I don't know whether your evaluation of Alex makes me want to laugh or cry. Your column sounds made to order from Homers R Us. For a much better evaluation of Smith's performance against the Cardinals from someone who knows what he's talking about, check out the following column from Mike Freeman: http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/story/20760533/tenpoint-stance-49ers-not-contenders-as-long-as-smith-dinks-and-dunks I hope you're content with Alex's performance when we get to the playoffs and another team kicks our ass AND takes our lunch money.
    Nov 1, 2012 at 9:25 AM
    Response: And this bit of "gobble gobble turkey" has been brought to you by jive turkey gobbler Ken (or Terry, Barry,etc). Can't b*tch about a loss? No problem! Just whine about your quarterback instead. Even if your team is 6-2 through 8 games. Even if your QB just set an NFL record in a 24-3 division win on the road. Even if your team has gone from perennial NFL doormat to a top tier team in a season and a half. Yeah...total homerism.
  • Terry B.
    This column is nothing but a bunch of gobble gobble turkey from a jive talking gobbler. At least Diego injected a little bit of sanity into it.
    Nov 1, 2012 at 9:18 AM
    Response: I'm starting to like this guy, AJ.

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