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Rewind: 49ers v. Broncos (12-31-2006)

Jul 19, 2007 at 11:15 PM


As training camp buzz is in the air, I wanted to take a look back at one of the 49ers most impressive wins, a 26-23 overtime victory over the Denver Broncos.

The story coming into the game was playoffs. If The Broncos won the game, quite simply, they would be in. If they lost, they would be eating bon-bons at home. Everything was on the line for Mike Shanahan's Broncos, and yet, they were beaten by a team that supposedly had little to fight with.

This was the final game of the season. The offense and defense were relatively healthy and had all season to gel and prepare. The team was at the zenith of skill development and if any game were to be an indication of 2007 49ers, this would be it.

The article will be split up into two sections, with the offense and special teams coming first - then defense, coaching, and overall impression coming second.

-Make no mistake about it, the 49ers are a running team. At the end of the game the 49ers only had 136 passing yards to their credit, while gaining 134 on the ground. The passing game looked out of sync several times while the team looked more comfortable when running the ball.

-Speaking of the run game, it's amazing how much Norv Turner's run game depended on Larry Allen. Of the 33 rushing plays designed to go to a running back, 16 of them were designed to go to the left side. That's a whopping 48.4%. Granted, this is the power running side of the team, and it is not uncommon for a team to have a favorite side. However, if we throw another group of plays into the mix the result is staggering.

Of the runs that went to the right, 9 of them involved Larry Allen pulling to the right side to block for Gore. If we take the original 16 runs, and add the runs where Allen pulled to the right side we see that 27 of the 33 runs depended on Allen's blocking skills. For those keeping track at home that's 81.8%. Wow.

-Turner's game calling skills became apparent to me after watching this game. He started the game with runs primarily up the middle and to the left. Then he added runs to the right with Allen pulling from the left side. Finally, in the late 3rd quarter, he started mixing in plays that had Allen pulling to the right with the run going left, vacating the hole for Gore to run through. In other words, he set up the defense with call after call of Allen pulling and Gore following him. Then, Allen would pull and Gore would plow through the hole Allen vacated.

-Yes, the common theme amongst those wishing to criticize the offensive line is to harp on Kwame Harris. And, I am certainly not here to defend him. I wish I could, I wish I could say, "look folks, you're wrong." But after looking at the film, Kwame is a liability in pass protection.

Two of the Broncos' five sacks can clearly be placed on the shoulders of Harris. And both times it was a simple bull rush that beat him. He did not get his feet set and his hips were too far forward making him easy to push back.

-Alex Smith had very little time to throw the ball early in the game. Part of it was Harris, but it looked like the Broncos were blitzing from all sides and the linemen were a little slow to pick them up. At the end of the first half the 49ers only had 37 total pass yards primarily due to the lack of time in the pocket.

When Smith did have time to throw, he made many of the throws he needed to. In the second half Smith had more time to throw and parlayed that into 99 passing yards, over two times that which he had in the first half. Smith's only INT was Gore's fault as he let the ball slip through his hands and into those of Champ Bailey. On this specific play, Smith may have had Vernon Davis open across the middle, and could have thrown the ball to him instead of Gore. However, the camera angle did not give a definitive image to prove he would be open a little farther in the route.

-Smith made good decisions when throwing the ball away. He knew there was nothing there and threw the ball far out of bounds. Again, Smith may be a little quick on the trigger here, but you can hardly blame him when he has little time to set up.

Smith played far from a perfect game. He fumbled a hand off attempt and fumbled the ball again when he was sacked simply because he did not keep two hands on the ball. The second fumble could have been costly since it would have cost the 49ers 3 points at the end of the second half.

-Smith got better as he was able to lean on the play action pass. Several times he faked the hand off and the over-pursuit of the defense allowed Smith the extra time to make the throw.

Smith's best throw was to Arnaz Battle in the 4th quarter. Smith drops back and pumps left. He re-cocks his arm and throws the ball on a rope to Arnaz Battle on the right. The way the ball was thrown allowed Battle to pick up some yards after the catch.

-The wide receivers were absent most of the game. Battle was the only wide receiver with more than one reception - he had 4. And even then he only amassed 56 yards, 35 of which were on the afore mentioned pass from Smith.

Part of this was due to the time Smith had to throw. I think, though, that part of Smith's skittishness when it came to checking down to his 2nd and third option is the relationship he has with his receivers. it is not secret that the reception leader on the team was the player who has been with Smith since Smith's rookie year. If he can build a rapport with Darrel Jackson it might improve his overall WR completion percentage.

-Brandon Williams does not look natural returning kicks. He fumbled a ball in the 4th quarter and looked hesitant when trying to pick a lane to run through. This was, of course, after a whole season of returning kicks. He needs to improve a good bit in order to make me feel comfortable with him returning kicks in 2007.

-I don't know if the unnatural hang time in Denver had anything to do with special teams coverage, but it was simply atrocious. Darrent Williams (R.I.P.) Simply had his way on punt returns, and the kick returns were not contained very well either. On two punt returns Williams averaged 25 yards a return.

Part of the reason was players not maintaining their lanes when covering the kicks. After a missed tackle or two, the breakdown became apparent. Had the first, second, or sometimes third guy not missed the kick returns would have been bottled up.

Stay Tuned - Defense, Coaching and Overall Observations to come!
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.


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