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

October 15, 2012
Film review: Offense rattled, defense drops chances, special teams ... ugh


Rattled. That was the word Giants safety Antrel Rolle, who was the player of the game, used to describe Alex Smith. The 49ers quarterback, of course, threw three interceptions, all of them passes that never should have been thrown. That's rare for Smith, who usually makes very safe decisions with the ball. The circumstance of the game played a big role in him forcing plays. And the Giants to their credit blanketed the 49ers pass catchers almost as well as they did in the championship game.

What was most astounding was how quickly the 49ers, who were coming off the most impressive and commanding offensive effort in the history of the franchise, unraveled against their nemesis. They went from Superman to Clark Kent's anemic little brother in seven days.

The 49ers offensive line was flagged for three penalties, including false starts on Leonard Davis and center Jonathan Goodwin. The 49ers also let the play clock expire twice during the death stretch in the second and third quarters. Those are bad penalties in any game, but they are particularly egregious when you're the home team. It signals a team that's staggered and disjointed and off its game. And the 49ers were all of those things.

Two of the penalties preceded Smith interceptions. Davis' false start, for example, turned a third and one play into third and six. Smith was locked in on a slant route to Mario Manningham, a route that opposing teams have been squatting on as the season has gone on. He was well-covered by the cornerback. Smith knew this, threw the ball high, and Rolle was there for the interception.

The last interception, also by Rolle, followed a sack of Smith (Alex Boone guilty) and a delay of game penalty by the 49ers. That made it third and 16, and by that point the Giants were smelling blood.

It's hard to see Joe Staley being ready for Thursday's game against Seattle after suffering his second concussion since Dec. 11. Staley was injured following Smith's third interception when he ran into strong safety Stevie Brown.

When Staley went down, Alex Boone shifted to left tackle and Davis came off the bench to take Boone's spot at right guard. I thought Boone played well. Coming out of the draft, he was believed to be a right tackle only. However, he's lost a considerable amount of weight and body fat since then and has improved his quickness.

No, he's not as fast as Staley, and the 49ers probably won't be able to get the second-level run blocking from Boone that they do from Staley. But during a phase of the game in which the Giants knew they could tee off on Smith and not worry about the run, Boone did a nice job against Osi Umenyiora.

Davis, meanwhile, is massive and bullish, and he is by far the slowest 49er on the squad. He let up a sack to Matthias Kiwanuka in the fourth quarter, although Anthony Davis perhaps should have picked Kiwanuka up on a stunt. Otherwise, Leonard Davis played well.


Justin Smith and the 49ers defensive line were fired up on the first two series of the game. But the unit lost the edge after that. The 49ers had no sacks, hit Eli Manning exactly once and allowed Ahmad Bradshaw to gain 116 yards.

Consider Ray McDonald's contrasting stat lines. McDonald had a huge game on Jan. 22: five tackles, 2 ½ sacks, 1 tackle for loss, 2 quarterback hits and one forced fumble. His name doesn't appear in Sunday's game book - no sacks, no tackles, no quarterback hits, no nothing.

A lot of that, of course, was due to the lopsided score. In the NFC Championship game in which he was absolutely brutalized, Manning dropped back to pass 64 times. On Sunday, Manning dropped back 28 times. Yes, Bradshaw ran for more than 100 yards. But most of the damage was done when the game was all but over. He had 23 yards at the half, and he had 27 carries on the afternoon. His 4.3-yard average was lower than Frank Gore's 4.5-yard average.

The Giants' 66-yard kickoff return to begin the second half was a punch to the gut for a 49ers squad hoping to crawl back in the game. The Giants scored a touchdown six plays later. It seemed like Tramaine Brock and Delanie Walker each had chances to make a tackle but didn't react in time. That unit has gone from ironclad a year ago to a liability this season.

The 49ers also allowed a big return after their only score, David Akers' 42-yard field goal. It was called back on a penalty, but Akers was forced to make the tackle. Andy Lee had to try to make a tackle against Green Bay earlier in the year and ended up injuring his hand. That is, the 49ers are risking more than lost yardage. Their two All-Pro kickers are put in harm's way every time there's a big return.

As was the case in the championship game, the 49ers defense had plenty of chances to intercept Manning but let all of them slip through their grasps. The obvious ones are the pass that Carlos Rogers dropped - there was a lot of open field in front of him - and the one in which Rogers failed to act aggressively and allowed Victor Cruz to get his hands on the ball.

Another opportunity occurred on third and 6 at the Giants 19 late in the first quarter. The 49ers seemingly had the perfect play called. They blitzed Manning, forcing him to go to his initial read, which was Cruz. The 49ers seemed to know that was coming, and Tarell Brown broke free of his man and toward Cruz, who was to his inside.

At that point Brown seemed in position to make a play on the ball. But he hesitated and decided to play Cruz instead. The receiver caught the ball for an 11-yard gain. Rogers, who was in coverage on the play, reacted angrily, perhaps knowing that the 49ers let a big opportunity pass in front of their noses.

Shortly after that, Manning went on a 9-9 tear. Four of the passes were completed against Chris Culliver, three went against Brown, one was on Rogers - the touchdown to Cruz - and one was in zone coverage.

-- Matt 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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