Have you ever had a day where nothing would go right? If you have then you can probably have some kind of understanding of the day that Tampa Bay had against the 49ers on Sunday. Except their day came with the added bonus of being hit a lot.
The 9ers cruised to a 48-3 victory without really having to extend themselves. Tampa Bay couldn’t get anything going on either side of the ball and failed to seize the few chances that did end up coming their way.
The sheer disparity of the score line will mean that Tampa fans shouldn’t get too worried – sometimes games like that just happen – and they’ll likely come back with a much better performance next week. Similarly the 49ers shouldn’t get too carried away, they were far from perfect, but their standing atop the NFC West will be pleasing to see, and they are well set up to take the division.
Tampa Bay – Three things of note
1) Run-blocking a must
As much as Tampa Bay loves Josh Freeman, they are at their best when they can run the football. That becomes a lot harder when their fullback is consistently unable to move people away from the point of attack, and when the right side of the O-line does the same. Erik Lorig (-2.4) consistently struggled to deal with the outside linebackers from San Francisco as a lead blocker, allowing them to torpedo running plays on more than one occasion. Those plays are drive killers. Any play in which you have three questionable run-blockers leading the way is unlikely to be successful a high percentage of the time. The only time Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood seemed to get any positive movement at the point of attack was when they were double-teaming a defender together.
2) Holding up on the back end
Winning the game becomes even more difficult when you can’t stop the pass in coverage. Aqib Talib, Ronde Barber, Sean Jones, Corey Lynch and E.J. Biggers all ended up with negative coverage grades, while Mason Foster and Geno Hayes matched that feat in the linebacking corps, meaning the entire back seven for Tampa Bay graded poorly against the pass. They combined for 12 targets, allowing eight receptions for 130 yards – a 16.25 average – as well as coughing up touchdowns to wide open receivers. Talib and Elbert Mack also both dropped interceptions on poorly thrown passes from 9ers QB Alex Smith to compound their misery.
3) Mike Williams will have better days
Things couldn’t have been much worse for Mike Williams. The talented second year WR was thrown at nine times, but had just four receptions for 28 yards. He was well covered all day causing the Bucs to try and hit him a few times with quick screen passes, which did not go well. After dropping one pass he was then separated from the ball by a huge hit from Dashon Goldston, resulting in another turnover. At this point the game was already 34-3 and long out of reach, but it encapsulated the kind of day the Bucs and Williams were having – not just bad, but painful too.
San Francisco – Three things of note
1) The curious case of Alex Smith
I wondered aloud early in the game if it was really possible that Jim Harbaugh had fixed Alex Smith since becoming 49ers coach in the off-season. I asked this because Smith opened the game more or less perfectly, with some good reads, positive check-downs and then an extremely good touchdown throw to open the scoring as he hit Delanie Walker in between three Tampa Bay defenders in the end zone. At this point I was busy making a case for Harbaugh to be coach of the year based purely on that, but then of course the old Alex Smith reminded people he was still there. Smith wasn’t bad, as he has been in the past, but he had a pair of interceptions dropped and seemed to have spotty accuracy at best on some throws. Maybe Harbaugh hasn’t fixed Smith, but he might have him playing just well enough not to lose.
2) Chris Culliver was shutdown.
Carlos Rogers got some press for a fine performance in this game, but I saw relatively little for another CB, Chris Culliver. Rogers was thrown at five times, and allowed just three receptions for 19 yards, which is excellent, especially given he picked a pass off as well, but Culliver bettered it. He was thrown at three times and blanked the opposition, allowing zero receptions, breaking up a pair of passes intended for Mike Williams, and also grabbed himself an interception in the second quarter when the score was still just 14-3. His +3.5 PFF grade was the best mark amongst the 49ers secondary, and should net him some plaudits.
3) Interesting performance from the front seven
The Bucs were fairly well throttled in this game, but it wasn’t the D-line that did the damage. Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Ricky Jean-Francois all put in pretty average performances, and combined for just one sack and two pressures (one of those coming late in garbage time), despite 85 combined rushes. They also amassed only five tackles between them. On the other hand the linebackers were all excellent. Ahmad Brooks (+3.5) and Aldon Smith (+2.2) especially were the main sources of pressure for the 49ers, and Patrick Willis combined with Navorro Bowman to effectively shut down the middle of the field. It’s rare to see a team so dominant without a matching performance from the bug guys in the trenches.
● Earnest Graham may have been the only Bucc to come out of this game with any credibility. His +1.4 PFF grade came from 24 snaps, just one fewer than the 25 of LeGarrette Blount, who left the game after taking a helmet to the knee.
● The Bucs are very thin at DT. Losing McCoy to an injury early on meant that Frank Okam, deactivated in the last game, saw 44 snaps as a stand-in starter.
● When blitzed, Alex Smith had a perfect rating of 158.3
PFF Game Ball:
Chris Culliver, CB, San Francisco 49ers
You can’t get better than the stat-sheet performance from Culliver, and his pick helped generate momentum.
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