49ers Blog and Q&A

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

September 30, 2013
Film review: Miller, run-blockers excel; Brown aggressive; Iupati update

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Coaches always say losses are never as bad as they seem when examined on film the next day. The opposite can be said of wins. When a team wins 35-11, as the 49ers did Thursday in St. Louis, you expect it to be a near-flawless, dominant performance. The 49ers still have plenty of room for improvement.

Some clunkiness remains on offense, which racked up 370 yards - 219 of it on the ground - but still called on Andy Lee to punt seven times. Colin Kaepernick definitely is emerging from the offensive funk that gripped the team in the preceding two weeks but still was off line on some throws, especially when he was scrambling. Frank Gore fumbled and Kaepernick and Kendall Hunter flubbed a handoff that resulted in another fumble.

There also were 10 more penalties, which is close to their average. With two teams yet to play in Week 4, the 49ers rank second in the league with 39 penalties for 339 yards (!). All of which is to say, the score may indicate the 49ers are back to their 2011-12 form, but the on-field play can get better.

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One area that looked up to snuff - run blocking. It was excellent throughout the night. Everyone deserves credit, starting with the offensive line right on down to the tight ends and Anquan Boldin, who delivered several crushing blocks. But fullback Bruce Miller had key blocks on nearly all of the big runs of the game and had, by far, his best game of the season. With Delanie Walker in Tennessee now, Miller has taken on a bigger role in the offense and delivered in St. Louis. He also had three catches for 22 yards.

As I've written before, I was not a fan of the 49ers' "heavy-jumbo" run package in previous years because I thought it was too slow-moving and telegraphed the team's intent. Well, it's been much better this season and continued to be very effective on Thursday. Adam Snyder got one of the key blocks on Gore's John Riggins-like, 4th-and-1 touchdown run. (Miller, Garrett Celek, Alex Boone and a pulling Mike Iupati also made great blocks).

Meanwhile, Daniel Kilgore crushed his opponent on Anthony Dixon's one-yard touchdown. Kilgore also was on the field for Hunter's 29-yard touchdown, though he was playing left guard for Iupati at the time and was not in the supplemental package. Iupati, who has been dealing with a shoulder issue, took a shot to the arm and was held out on the final two series. He did appear on the extra-point team following Hunter's score. Iupati was one of the 49ers who received X-rays after the game, but the issue is not considered serious, and he is expected to play Sunday against the Texans and J.J. Watt.

Against the Colts, all of Gore's big runs were to the right side (with Iupati often pulling from the left). The big, 4th-and-1 run also was to the right. But all of the other big runs Thursday went left and the team was predominately left-handed. Thirteen of Gore's runs went left; five went right; two were up the middle.

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Back-up inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite was in coverage against Rams tight end Jared Cook a few times but never was really challenged deep. The Texans, meanwhile, love to throw to their two tight ends, Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham, which makes Patrick Willis' groin injury perhaps a bigger storyline this week than it was last week. Willis typically is asked to cover the opponent's tight ends and has the speed to keep up with most of them.

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Cornerback Tarell Brown was picked on early in the game, but he continued to play aggressively in the passing game - and the running game - in the second half. The smallest 49ers defensive starter finished with seven tackles, which tied Ahmad Brooks for a game high. He also knocked away three passes. Every defensive player had a strong game, but Brooks, NaVorro Bowman and nose tackle Glenn Dorsey stood out alongside Brown.

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During the telecast, color commentator Mike Mayock made a point that if the receiver is defenseless, safety Donte Whitner can't hit him above shoulders even if Whitner uses his shoulder. Mayock made the point after Whitner crushed Rams wideout Chris Givens in the back of the end zone late in the game, dislodging the ball in the process. But on the play, Whitner wasn't aiming for the head. If anything, he was aiming for Givens' midsection/abdomen. Givens, however, dropped so that contact was made in the shoulder area. Defensive players long have argued that it's hard to pinpoint their strike zone on a moving target, and this play is a case in point.

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Linebacker Nate Stupar was perhaps the most active defender throughout the offseason practices, one who seemed to have 'special teams ace' written all over him. True to form, Stupar had a good game on coverage units, finishing with two tackles and an assist. Undrafted rookie cornerback Darryl Morris also had a nice tackle following Phil Dawson's free-kick miss, one that was cited by Jim Harbaugh on Friday.

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It's hard to say who will receive more, ahem, guff from their teammates during film review - Joe Staley for his infamous primal scream after he was rolled up on from behind or Demarcus Dobbs for whiffing on a loose ball that was sitting tantalizingly on the edge of the end zone after Bowman poked it free from quarterback Sam Bradford. Dobbs' knee seemed to lock up on him as he bent down for the ball. Will Dobbs ever have an easier touchdown opportunity in his career? Magic 8-ball says, "extremely doubtful."

-- 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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