The San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams came within 30 seconds of playing 10 full quarters of football against each other in just two meetings this season — and only a 54-yard kick from Greg Zuerlein saved them playing out a pair of tied games.
Neither side was able to get their offense going for more than a few quick stretches in the game and it was a contest dominated by defenses. When the game is as close as this was, the difference was always likely to come down to kickers. While David Akers missed his shot at winning the game in the fifth period, Zuerlein who hit his, first to send it to extra time and then to snatch the win.
The result won’t do much to convince anybody that the 49ers are a Super Bowl contending side, and it will likely lead to a week of questions for Jim Harbaugh about his quarterback situation, now that Colin Kaepernick has proven human.
San Francisco – Three Performances of Note
The Good and Bad of Colin Kaepernick
The last time Kaepernick was on the field all we were heard was how much upside and more potential he had than Alex Smith. Though that might be true, we also saw the downside to him in this game. Kaepernick conspired to put a safety on the board when he was flagged for intentional grounding 5 yards deep in the end zone. That in and of itself is not necessarily a damning indictment of a quarterback (Brady in the Super Bowl, for example), but the play in question began on the 17-yard line. Kaepernick backed up 23 yards before getting flagged. He was also directly responsible for another Rams score as he overshot his pitch man on an option run, allowing Janoris Jenkins to scoop up the ball for a touchdown. We also saw the good side to him in this game, as he made some nice stick throws on occasions and picked up 69 yards with his legs, including a 50-yard scramble. However, it’s worth noting that things are not all upside with Kaepernick, there is a trade off to the switch, which makes it a bold and risky move.
Blemish on the O-Line
The 49ers have had the league’s best offensive line this season, and four of the five starters were getting it done again today. The one blemish on that performance came from LG Mike Iupati, who struggled in pass protection in the game and had a mixed day with his run blocking. Iupati coughed up a hit and three hurries, and accounted for almost half of the total pressure the 49ers allowed all game long. He was also flagged for a holding penalty when he was badly beaten to his inside as the 49ers were trying to get out from the shadow of their own goal line with a fullback dive up the middle.
With Anthony Davis, Alex Boone and Joe Staley in particular all having fine games, we can put this down to something of an anomaly, but it’s a game where Iupati will feel he should and could have done much better.
Stand Out D
Ten members of the 49ers’ defense graded in the green for this game, so singling any out for praise is tough work, but there were a couple of standouts that do deserve some credit. Chris Culliver had another excellent game as he looks to prove he is one of the league’s brightest up and coming corners. He was targeted seven times and allowed just four catches for 28 yards. He showed excellent coverage on both deep shots and short passes, where he was able to pull a ball out in the process of making a tackle that saved a first down on a quick slant. Culliver was arguably the best performer on that defense, but Carlos Rogers and Justin Smith were consistently making plays too.
St Louis – Three Performances of Note
Not a Cushioned Landing
For some reason the Rams spent this entire game playing miles off the 49ers’ receivers. This was obviously a coaching point, so it is a little unfair to single out Jenkins (-3.7) for it, but he was victimized again and again by playing so far off his man. Jenkins was thrown at 11 times and gave up nine catches for 74 yards, seven of which went for first downs. Even on a 3rd-and-3 play late in the game, Jenkins gave Randy Moss a dozen yards to play with off the snap, and Moss just turned back to the ball after picking up the first down leaving Jenkins nowhere. Only some decent work in run support and his touchdown save this from being a truly ugly day at the office for Jenkins.
If the Rams were getting anything going on offense it was through receiver Chris Givens. He was thrown at 13 times in the game, and caught 11 passes, more than double the next best Rams player in both numbers. He notched 92 of Bradford’s 221 passing yards, and did it all across the defensive formation of the 49ers. Givens caught a ball with six different 49ers defenders in coverage, every member of the secondary down to their dime package, and had to make 38 of his 92 yards after the catch. Givens is known as a speedster catching deep balls or quick screens, but he showed a more rounded skill set in this game, making plays on slants and comeback routes to pick up first downs that kept the chains moving.
Linebackers Getting Stuck In
The Rams were having problems up front dealing with the power of the 49ers’ offensive line, so the linebackers needed to be at their best to make up for that. James Laurinaitis (+3.3) and JoLonn Dunbar (+4.7) were exactly that, combining for 21 solo tackles and six assists, 17 of which were defensive stops. Both players also chipped in with some pressure from the blitz and were able to capitalize on the favorable third down situations created by their early down performance, making tackles short of the makers and ensuring the 49ers didn’t break a long run after the catch to the move the chains. Dunbar was often wildly out of position in the Saints crazy schemes, but as a Ram he looks far more reliable and dominant on his day.
– Brandon Gibson played 69 snaps in this game, more than any other Rams receiver, and wasn’t targeted once.
– Colin Kaepernick’s passer rating under pressure was just 45.1 in this game, while it was 92.8 when he was kept clean. Luckily he was kept clean for the majority of the game.
– Running was tough sledding in this game. Frank Gore earned 33 of his 58 yards after contact, and 36 of Steven Jackson’s 48 came that way as well.
PFF Game Ball
The Rams’ defense was instrumental in winning this game, and no player was more important to those stops than JoLonn Dunbar.
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