49ers Blog and Q&A

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

January 22, 2013
Film review: Brooks, Kaepernick, Davis shine; would Ault get a ring?

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I just finished watching the replay of the NFC Championship game (Spoiler: 49ers won). Here are some observations as the team begins preparing for the Ravens.

I wish Terry McAulay and his crew were working the Super Bowl. Yes, you can argue - and Jim Harbaugh certainly did, with Shakespearean flair - that Harry Douglas didn't have control of the ball on the challenged, 22-yard pass play on the Falcons' penultimate drive. But the officials mostly stayed in the background, which is the mark of a good crew.

There were only six penalties, two of them delay-of-game calls against the 49ers. There was only one "ticky tack" penalty, and it went against the Falcons - the illegal hit when A Falcons defender raked Colin Kaepernick's facemask.

Otherwise, McAulay and co. let the teams play a physical game, which didn't give either a decided advantage. The Falcons wide receivers and tight end got away with push offs. The 49ers defensive players got away with big hits on the quarterback, including a sliding tackle by Patrick Willis in which the linebacker tackled Matt Ryan around the neck and helmet. No, I don't think it should have been a penalty. But in a day and age in which quarterbacks are treated like Faberge eggs, it certainly could have been called.

Here's hoping that the NFL instructs Jerome Boger and his all-star crew to be wall flowers at the Super Bowl, which pits two of the three most physical teams in the league - the Seahawks are the other - against each other.

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The 49ers defense was opportunistic, but it in no way shut down the Atlanta offense, even in the second half. The Falcons finished with 477 yards, the second most against San Francisco this season (520 vs. NE on Dec. 16).

Ryan and the Falcons were driving into 49ers territory when they committed both of their turnovers, neither of which was caused by the 49ers. One one play, Roddy White slipped and Ryan's pass was picked off by Chris Culliver, who was behind White. On the other, Ryan took his eye off a shotgun snap.

On the flip side, the 49ers didn't convert either turnover into points. One led to David Akers' missed field goal. The other to Michael Crabtree's fumble at the 1-yard line. That is, the 49ers still were able to win the game despite zero points off of turnovers. Moreover, the defense forced a three-and-out after the Crabtree fumble, the Falcons punted deep in their own territory and the 49ers quickly turned that into the go-ahead touchdown.

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The 49ers have been right-handed in the playoffs when it comes to the read-option play. All four San Francisco touchdowns were run to the right side, as was Colin Kaepernick's 56-yard run against the Packers in the divisional playoffs. Vernon Davis usually lines up on that side, and he had several key blocks to go along with his key catches in Atlanta, including the most critical block on LaMichael James' 15-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

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Ahmad Brooks was the only defensive starter who did not get credited with a tackle. But Brooks made three big plays in the game, knocking down two Ryan passes at critical junctures and then knocking Ryan down and separating his left, non-throwing shoulder. Ryan has since been diagnosed with a Grade 2 separation, which obviously left him in pain at the end of the game.

Brooks' second batted pass was the big one because it set up NaVorro Bowman's critical pass breakup on fourth down (Again, good no-call by the officials). If Brooks hadn't gotten his left hand on the ball, however, I wonder if cornerback Carlos Rodgers would have made a play. Rogers was breaking on the ball, and while he may not have made the interception - not the greatest hands in the world - he seemed in position to at least break up the pass himself.

Davis certainly deserves a lot of credit on offense. But Kaepernick has to be the offensive MVP of the game. He wasn't flashy like he was a week earlier. But he made all the right decisions. He only had five incompletions on the afternoon and finished with a 127.7 passer rating. Perhaps more important, he consistently made the right read on the read-option. If the 49ers win a Super Bowl, perhaps Chris Ault deserves a ring.

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If there's no pressure on Matt Ryan, the Falcons really have an unstoppable passing attack. Once the 49ers began shading their safeties to the outside against White and Julio Jones, Ryan started looking for Tony Gonzalez in the middle. The tight end caught all eight passes that went his way for 78 yards. Most of them came against Willis, who has the thankless job of covering the opponent's best tight end. Willis had great coverage most of the game but still couldn't stop the Ryan-to-Gonzalez connection. Willis led all tacklers with 12.

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Chad Hall, who was on the practice squad at this time last week, not only was in uniform Sunday but had a play designed especially for him. Hall was lined to the right of the formation on third down in the red zone. James went in motion to Hall's outside. The play seemed designed to have one of them matched against a linebacker. Kaepernick made the right read in going toward Hall, but the Falcons had the play well snuffed out, and the ball was tipped incomplete.

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Mike Iupati was put on a pedestal for his game against the Packers. He struggled early against the Falcons. Iupati can be over-aggressive in pass protection, causing him to get off balance and fall forward as the defender runs past. This invariably has been the scenario in Iupati's sacks allowed this year, including the one he gave up in the first quarter.

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It was nice to see Kyle Williams on the sideline for the championship game. The 49ers not only take their practice squadders on the road with them - unlike most teams - they take the players on IR as well. That's another reason why their locker room is so strong.

- 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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