49ers Blog and Q&A

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

October 19, 2012
Film review: Staley, Goldson, Ginn stand out; What was Alex Smith seeing?

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After watching the replay of Thursday's game, two players jumped out -- Joe Staley and Dashon Goldson.

Staley, of course, was coming off a concussion suffered just four days earlier, and his status was unknown until he was cleared to play on Wednesday. Each of the offensive linemen played well -- Jonathan Goodwin, in fact, was sick just before the game but played anyway -- but Staley stood out. 

One of the reasons the trap play was effective throughout the game and why Frank Gore was able to break so many big runs is because Staley is so quick off the line. He's able to get five, 10 yards downfield and make blocks on linebackers that allowed Gore to reach the secondary on four different runs.

The Seahawks, for some reason, never caught on to the traps even though the 49ers were running them as early as the first quarter. That's partly because offensive coordinator Greg Roman did a nice job mixing up the play calls and fell into a good rhythm in the second half. "They did a great job," Pete Carroll said afterward. "They schemed beautifully, and Frank ran great. But we need to do better."

Said Gore: "Coach G-Ro did a great job scheming them up.... I think coach G-Ro ... is probably the best offensive coordinator I've ever played with, especially in the running game. He's a genius."

Back to Staley. He mostly blocked Chris Clemons in the passing game. Clemons entered the game with seven sacks. He had no sacks and no quarterback hits Thursday night.

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Goldson, meanwhile, was called for the silly unsportsmanlike penalty that aided the Seahawks initial field-goal drive. But he played another solid game, allowing nothing deep, becoming a quasi fifth linebacker on running backs and coming up with the interception in the third quarter.

The 49ers allowed some big pass plays. But they mostly were short or intermediate catches in which the receivers gained the bulk of their yardage on the run. The 49ers secondary has been very good against deep downfield plays -- the kind that burned the Patriots Sunday -- and that's in large part to Goldson playing center field.

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That being said, the 49ers were aided by a number of crucial drops by the Seahawks. Robert Turbin, Golden Tate, Evan Moore and Marshawn Lynch all dropped easily catchable balls that would have gone for big plays. Turbin's drop was especially critical because it potentially would have put the Seahawks up early the way the Giants were on Sunday. Would that have prevented the 49ers from leaning on their run game like they did Thursday? Who knows, but the 49ers are lucky they didn't have to find out.

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There's been a lot of criticism of Alex Smith today. But aside from the interception in the end zone in which Randy Moss was wide open for a few beats, it's not as if Smith had an abundance of open receivers. He missed Kyle Williams on a deep ball in the first quarter. He also had Vernon Davis one-on-one (a rarity these days) in the third quarter and opted for a dump off to Gore instead.

Otherwise, the Seahawks had tight and aggressive coverage, which is what they're known for. They also sent their linebackers deep into coverage quite often, which is what allowed the short passes to Gore and Kendall Hunter. The 49ers did the same in the first half, which led to some easy gains by Michael Robinson and Lynch.

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Smith was late on his throw to Moss. Even if Brandon Browner hadn't stepped away from his man to make the interception, by the time Smith let go of the ball, safety Earl Thomas had caught up to the play. He either would have intercepted it or batted away the ball. It was another uncharacteristically poor decision by Smith and led to his fifth interception on the season. He had five in 18 games last year. That's four in two games for Smith, who isn't able to shake off bad plays like other quarterbacks. He's so analytical that it affects his confidence.

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Ricky Jean Francois, Will Tukuafu and Demarcus Dobbs all got into the game on defense in the second quarter. That's a rarity. It speaks to both the physical nature of the game, and the fact that the 49ers were playing their second contest in four days. Clark Haggans also spelled Aldon Smith in the third quarter. The 49ers have a loooong weekend to recover before they start preparing for the Cardinals. After that, the season is half over and the 49ers will have their bye.

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Why was safety Darcel McBath, not Goldson, on the field at the end of the game? It's because Goldson was cramping badly at the time. Not only did he play outfielder Thursday, he was in on each of Andy Lee's five punts. That adds up to a lot of running on what was a rare, rare humid evening in San Francisco. Did I mention it was rare?

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Speaking of special teams, the 49ers' units were vastly improved. That's due in large part to the kicking of Lee and David Akers, who didn't give Leon Washington any room for big returns. Ted Ginn, meanwhile, had three nice punt returns. His speed seems to have returned. And he was effective in stretching the Seahawks laterally with that speed and then cutting sharply through the middle of the coverage. The 49ers' offense needs Ginn back, and he appears closer to his 2011 form than he's been in a while.

-- 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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