ReFo: Rams @ 49ers, Week 13
The 49ers beat division rivals at home with a win over St Louis that was more one sided than the score suggests, but what were the performances of note?
ReFo: Rams @ 49ers, Week 13
Physical battles between heated division rivals can make for some of the most exciting, heart pounding NFL games to watch at times. The energy and passion channeled in the right ways to deliver a hard hitting game of football with both teams giving as good as they get. However they can also lead to some ugly affairs where the desire to impart that physicality on your opponent and get the upper hand comes at the expense of your accuracy, adversely affecting your execution on both offense and defense.
This game certainly had the energy and passion of a heated divisional rivalry, but there was also more than a hint of the latter circumstance with the Rams in particular appearing to come into this game too tightly wound and unable to show the sort of form that has kept them in touch with San Francisco and Arizona for second place in the division until this week. Penalties and a lack of offensive movement dictated the first quarter and the Rams rarely got their heads above water to keep pace with the 49ers where it counts, on the scoreboard.
For the 49ers this was again about the result over the performance, but they will have been pleased to at least have overcome the adversity of losing their starting left tackle and still finding a way to keep Robert Quinn quiet at least in terms of his pass rush. At some point the 49ers need to re-discover their 2012 form if they are to realize their loftiest ambitions from the beginning of the season, but for the time being they are winning just enough games to keep themselves in the hunt, waiting and working for that form to return to catapult them back in to real contention.
St Louis – Three Performances of Note
Sloppy Start Leaves the Rams Listing
It wasn’t so much an individual performance of note as a whole team effort that got the Rams off to such a slow start in this game. The 49ers did not capitalize on the scoreboard, but in terms of time of possession and momentum San Francisco dominated the early going. On offense the Rams went three-and-out twice while on defense they surrendered as many first downs through penalties (four) as they did to the San Francisco running (one) and passing game (three) combined. Coverage penalties were particularly in vogue with the Rams’ secondary showing as much as anyone else the eagerness to get after the 49ers physically. but they over-stepped their bounds and gifted San Francisco first downs without so much as making them bring in a catch from Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers’ first quarter dominance only led to a 6-0 start two plays into the second stanza, but only gaining one first down on their third drive the 49ers then took advantage to establish a 13-0 lead midway through the second, a points total the Rams would only chase down with mere seconds remaining a game already well lost.
Jenkins gets his hands back on the ball
Last week Janoris Jenkins nabbed his first interception since Week 8 when he nabbed two at home to the Seahawks, this week he got his first pass defense, two of them in fact, since that same game. Guilty of surrendering one of those first quarter defensive penalties (defensive holding against Anquan Boldin), Jenkins rebounded in the remainder of the game surrendering only two catches for 19 yards in the rest of the game, with 12 of those coming on an excellent low catch by Boldin for a third-down conversion earlier in the first quarter. Jenkins got both of his pass breakups on back shoulder throws, one each to Boldin and the returning Michael Crabtree staying tight with the receiver before turning back to locate the ball and breakup the pass. Jenkins surrendered a season low in yardage this week and has only surrendered fewer receptions on one occasion (one, against Tennessee in Week 9).
Passing game fails to fire
By the end of the game Kellen Clemens had racked up 218 yards and had a touchdown to match his one interception, but in truth those garbage time yards hide an inefficient display from Clemens and the Rams’ passing attack. Four passes hit the ground by way of drops and Clemens’ accuracy was scattergun at times. Pressure was not a big factor in the display; even though Clemens went down three times he was only pressured on 14 of his 43 dropbacks. The biggest differentiator in Clemens’ display was his play when the 49ers blitzed, not often, compared to when they didn’t. The 49ers sent a base pass rush on 31 of the Rams’ 43 dropbacks and Clemens and his receivers didn’t have the accuracy or ability to make things happen when the 49ers dropped back into coverage rather than bringing the heat. Of those 31 dropbacks Clemens was sacked once, scrambled twice and 28 pass attempts saw only 13 passes completed (46.4%) netting 152 yards and a 48.5 NFL passer rating.
San Francisco – Three Performances of Note
Crabtree finds his feet after his own slow start
While the Rams were getting off to their own penalty strewn start to this game so was the 49ers’ returning hero at wide receiver. Within his first ten snaps Michael Crabtree, probably eager to get immediately back in to the action, had already committed an illegal block in the back to bring back a first down gain by Frank Gore and then pushed off on Jenkins to set the 49ers back to a 1st-and-15 later in the drive. Hardly the start Crabtree would have hoped for, but in one play, one very big play, he encapsulated his value to the 49ers and why his chemistry with Colin Kaepernick could be the spark the 49ers need to reignite their Super Bowl fire. Comfortably the longest play of the game, Crabtree beat Trumaine Johnson on a double move down the right side with Kaepernick hitting him and though Crabtree didn’t have the wheels to outrun Johnson, he was able to dispose of his attentions with a stiff arm en route to a 60 yard gain. Not the complete performance from Crabtree but a reminder of the receiver we saw at the tail end of last season and in combination with the physicality of Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin the key piece in the puzzle for the San Francisco passing game down the stretch?
Offensive line re-shuffles and delivers
We were robbed of arguably the most interesting one-on-one matchup of the entire weekend on the 49ers’ opening drive Sunday when 49ers’ left tackle Joe Staley went down through an injury that reportedly threatens his participation in the 49ers’ pivotal Week 14 game against the Seahawks. Robbed of a marquee matchup with standout Rams’ defensive end Robert Quinn and with right guard Alex Boone shifting to left tackle surely Kaepernick was in for a long day under pressure? Quite the opposite in fact as through the 49ers’ excellent pass protection and some very passive pass rushing, presumably with Kaepernick’s running threat in mind, the 49ers surrendered pressure on only 11 of Kaepernick’s 34 dropbacks. Quinn was quiet as a pass rusher notching just three hurries, while leading for the run the likes of Adam Snyder and Jonathan Goodwin had big days inside with Anthony Davis (+2.1 run block) playing well next to stand-in right guard Joe Looney. If Staley is unable to go next week as initial reports suggested then the 49ers’ re-shuffled line will be in for another severe examination next weekend.
Late touchdown blots Brock’s stat-sheet
Having surrendered 250 yards in three games against the Cardinals, Titans and Jaguars prior to their bye week Tramaine Brock has responded strongly since that bye week. Though the 49ers are only 2-2 in that stretch, their third corner has surrendered only 78 yards in those four games and allowed only 2-of-8 passes into his coverage to be completed against the Rams yesterday. Kellen Clemens’ wayward passing yesterday took away the opportunity for both Brock and the receivers he was covering to contest the passes, but he was in consistently good position and he will have been disappointed, even in garbage time with the game already won, to have surrendered that jump ball score to Brian Quick to blot his copybook, his first touchdown surrendered since the bye week. Outside of that disappointing three game spell prior to the bye Brock has surrendered only 134 yards in coverage this season.
– The relatively comfortable nature of the 49ers victory allowed them to get through their depth on defense with 19 defensive players registering at least 10 defensive snaps yesterday.
– It is a mark of Robert Quinn’s progress this season that a “quiet” game for him constitutes a +1.3 overall grade, making up for his lack of impact as a pass rusher with strong work against the run defense. His fourth lowest overall grade in 12 games so far this season, the same grade last season would have been his third highest.
– Notching another five stops yesterday NaVorro Bowman extended his team leading mark to 49 on the season notching at least five stops for the fourth straight week since the 49ers’ bye week.
PFF Game Ball
Jumping from right guard to left tackle would be tough with a week’s preparation but doing so mid-game and keeping Robert Quinn quieter than most full time left tackles have managed this season is a truly credit worthy performance from Alex Boone.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.