Re-Focused – 49ers @ Redskins, Week 9

| November 7, 2011

If the mark of a good team is winning when you’re not at your best, then this was a positive sign for the San Francisco 49ers. Against a Washington Redskins team in a downward spiral, they didn’t look like a team riding one of the longest winning streaks in the NFL. However in spite of the score line this was a comfortable victory for the 49ers, and while they never really clicked on offense, only a consolation score brought the score line close.

Now this isn’t a performance or a victory that will strike fear into the hearts of their NFC West opponents, but it is the sort of victory that shows they are a legitimate threat. Last season when the West was at its hapless worst this is precisely the type of game the 49ers would have bumbled through and possibly lost against a team playing as badly as any team in the NFL right now. This year they’re adding to the win column. It all means that next week’s game against the Giants will be pivotal for the 49ers in terms of a true proving ground of just how good they are.

For the Redskins the question now is how low can they go? After such a promising start they look rudderless. The passing game has a choice between a mistake prone quarterback who can occasionally capture lightning in a bottle, or a dink and dunk specialist who rarely looks likely to test a defense, even if they get no pressure. The running game that held so much early promise has all but evaporated and a solid defense is all that is holding this team back from complete capitulation. Graham Gano’s franchise record 59 yard field goal on the stroke of half-time was about all the Redskins had to hang their hat on this week. That says it all but let’s say a little bit more in breaking this one down.

 

San Francisco – Three Performances of Note

All round display from the defense

It is very difficult and bordering on impossible to find a bad individual performance from any San Francisco defender in this game, and equally as difficult to find an outstanding one. The 49ers controlled this game because every single defender, starter and backup, played their part and carried their weight. The defense registered 16 total pressures on 54 pass plays but the rewards were evenly spread so there was no individual dominance by Justin Smith (+2.3) on this occasion. Look at it this way, the defense registered 20 defensive stops, but only one defender Ahmad Brooks (+1.2) registered more than two on his own. For a team like the Redskins that is so dependent upon matriculating the ball down the field at the present time, coming across such a consistent performance across the board from this 49er defense was too much to cope with. The 49ers will need big games from their individual leaders next week against the Giants, but if they can get this consistency for the rest of the season they are going to be a very tough team to beat.

 

Ball on the ground…

Vernon Davis (+0.0) grew up in Washington DC going to Dunbar High School and he went to college less than ten miles from the nation’s capital. If there is one place that you want to come back and perform as a pro player it is your hometown, but Davis didn’t do that on Sunday. Davis put the ball on the ground twice on Sunday, dropping a deep pass launched under pressure by Alex Smith that would have put the 49ers inside the Redskins’ ten yard line and fumbling the ball away late in the fourth quarter with the 49ers driving into position to ice the game. Davis is both brilliant and frustrating in equal measures. His work as a run blocker has been good for a player who came into the league with the reputation as a pass catcher but his discipline and consistency in the passing game have been an utter frustration. Davis has now registered 27 drops since the start of 2008, meaning it’s boom or bust with Davis. Against the Redskins you get away with that, but the 49ers really need him to be more reliable if they want to push on.

 

Optimists will see this as the start of something good

For the first time since the first two games of his NFL career Anthony Davis (+1.5) has graded positively for consecutive performances as a pass protector. For the first time ever in his career Davis has graded positively overall in consecutive games. Now the Browns and the Redskins may not have the most fearsome pass rushes in the league, but this still can be seen as a measure of progress for Davis who has done nothing of any consequence on a consistent basis to this point in his NFL career. Davis was perfect in pass protection this week, as Ryan Kerrigan got his pressure against Adam Snyder and because  Alex Smith held the ball too long. Two games are just two games, but for a first round pick who has produced so little to this point for the 49ers this is a modicum of progress and they must hope a sign of things to come.

 

Washington – Three Performances of Note

Welcome return to center, no welcome return to form

After a promising start to the season at center for the Redskins Will Montgomery (-4.3) entered this game as one PFF’s top ten rated centers this season. After this performance on his return to the middle of the Redskins’ line, this is no longer the case. Montgomery struggled moving to LG after a season ending injury to Kory Lichtensteiger and for this week at least brought that form back with him to the center position. Montgomery is one of the players who is encapsulating the Redskins’ season, such a promising start and then falling back into old habits and old form as Washington return to the basement of the NFC East. A change was very much needed for the Redskins’ line and you can’t really criticize the Redskins for moving Montgomery back to center, he played well this year to begin the season. The Redskins needed to re-shuffle the pack and if Montgomery can re-discover that spark at center, maybe it can bring some chemistry back to this offensive line that looks like a shadow of the promising unit we saw early in the season.

 

No commitment to the running game

The Redskins may have lost Tim Hightower to injured reserve but the complete lack of commitment they have shown to the running game that was the foundation for their fast start to the season is somewhat shocking. Hightower certainly started the season well but he was not alone in that regard, with Roy Helu (-0.2) and Ryan Torain also playing very well. In the last two weeks, with Hightower on the shelf and trying to bed in a new quarterback, the Redskins have only called 20 designed runs. Neither game has been a runaway victory for the opposition, though the Bills and 49ers rarely looked troubled. Much as the Redskins individual performances are falling off all over the team the complete unwillingness of Mike and Kyle Shanahan to lean on the running game is either baffling or inexcusable depending upon your persuasion. Helu made his intentions clear with a strong run on the first play from scrimmage in the game but was only given the ball on the ground nine more times after that.

 

Promising start is further in the rear view mirror

The Redskins season performance graph as a team looks a lot like the stock markets in the current financial atmosphere, steady decline from seeming recovery. That is also the case for many of the Redskins individual players at our own Pro Football Focus player pages. Just one example is Stephen Bowen (-3.2) who after such a strong start with the Redskins after his arrival from Dallas has been poor for the last month, grading below -2.0 on three occasions since Week 5. Bowen registered three defensive stops this week but, as he has been for the last month, was a weak point in run defense. His play on the opening snap of the second quarter getting driven completely out of second-and-one conversion by Mike Iupati was just the lowlight of another disappointing display in run defense.

 

Game Notes

- John Beck continues to struggle with the deep ball. Beck went 0/2 on passes aimed more than 20 yards downfield this week. For the season he is a mere 3/14 on such passes.

- Alex Smith aimed only five passes more than nine yards downfield in this game, only one of those five passes was an incompletion.

- Niles Paul registered only one snap for the Redskins; he was targeted on that one snap for an incompletion.

 

PFF Game Ball

This was a game where everyone did their part for the 49ers and nobody really dominated. So for his decisive touchdown reception and solid lead blocking in the run game, Bruce Miller gets our shout for this week’s game ball.

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