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News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

September 17, 2012
Film review: Staley, Vernon Davis shine; Lions can't break nickel

staleyLions.jpg

During his post-game press conference Sunday night, Jim Harbaugh cited Michael Crabtree as one of the players of the game. The 49ers' toughness throughout the evening was symbolized by Crabtree, Harbaugh said, especially on the clock-chewing touchdown drive at the end of the fourth quarter.

It's hard to argue. Three times the 49ers needed first downs on third and long, and three times Alex Smith fired to Crabtree. The result: three first downs. In fact, Smith threw in Crabtree's direction on third down on five different occasions, and Crabtree came through four times. Crabtree is bulkier and stronger this year than he was in his first three. And that extra heft seemed to help him in breaking tackles and pulling defenders to get across that first-down marker.

Of course, there were a number of other players who stood out. How often did you hear Kyle Vanden Bosch's name? Answ: Not often. That's because Joe Staley and the 49ers outside blockers suffocated him and fellow defensive end Cliff Avril all night.

Staley had a down game against Clay Matthews in Week 1. (Though if you saw Matthews in Week 2 against Chicago, you might say that Staley shined by comparison). The 49ers left tackle bounced back with a vengeance against the Lions. Staley got into the second level of the Lions defense all game long and he was one of several linemen with big blocks on Frank Gore's standing up one-yard touchdown run.

Vernon Davis, of course, caught two touchdown passes. But he also excelled as a blocker. He took on Vanden Bosch by himself on a few plays and either held his own or dominated the defensive end. If you're making the argument that Davis is the best tight end in the game today, this is the game film you'd use to make your case. An exemplary all-around effort, and did it despite being poked in the eye.

Delanie Walker also had one-on-one blocks against defensive linemen. As was the case in the 49ers' Week 6 win in Detroit, Walker was very effective on the "wham" block in which he comes from the outside to seal off an interior defensive linemen on a running play. The run blocking was overall very good.

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On defense, the secondary didn't allow anything deep. Cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver stood out and safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Godlson had excellent games. Goldson was particularly good at firing out of the defensive backfield to support the run defense.

The Lions challenged the 49ers' nickel defense by running the ball more than usual, and the 49ers' nickel defense won the challenge. That's partly because the down linemen, especially Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, play the run and pass equally well, it's partly because star inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman stay on the field in the nickel alignment and it's partly because Goldson and Whitner are so tough in run support.

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The pass interference call on Culliver was ticky tacky. It gave the Lions a 34-yard boost - by far their biggest gain of the first half - and set up their first field goal. But the 49ers also benefited from some blown calls. The play clock appeared to run out before Alex Smith's first touchdown pass to Davis. Meanwhile, the quarter seemed to end before the pass to Randy Moss in the end zone that drew its own pass-interference call and placed the ball on the Detroit 1-yard line.

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Alex Boone played another very good game. How good? On two plays, he had to fill in at left tackle because Staley, who had been an eligible receiver the play prior, had to check out of the game for a snap. Leonard Davis filled in at Boone's right guard both times. And on both plays, Ndamukong Suh got past Davis and hit Smith, including a very hard knock-down shot on the quarterback.

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Speaking of knock-out blows .... Lions safety John Wendling definitely led with his forearm on the shot that opened up a gash on the bridge of Smith's nose. You have to believe the NFL, which loathes abuse of its quarterbacks, will be collecting some money from Wendling later this week.

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Should Aldon Smith have been credited with two sacks instead of one? Ray McDonald got credit for the third-quarter sack in which the spot of the ball was challenged by the Lions. In reviewing the play, McDonald was the one that tripped up Matthew Stafford and caused him to fall to his knee. Smith finished off the quarterback as he was going down. They perhaps should split the sack, but if anyone deserves full credit, it's McDonald.

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Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga has played only a handful of snaps over the first two games as the 49ers have been in their nickel and dime defenses throughout. He finally should get in a full game this coming Sunday against the Vikings, a team that likes to run the ball.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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