49ers Blog and Q&A

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

October 14, 2013
Film review: McDonald not himself; Staley excels; two-faced special teams


The 49ers and Cardinals seem to have a lot of odd-flow games. What I mean by that is that Sunday's contest had a very strange rhythm. Both teams made a lot of mistakes. The 49ers defense produced four turnovers and a safety but also gave up several big passing plays. The first half stretched on and on and on, and the game lasted 3:31. It was, by far, the longest game of Week 6. Cincinnati and Buffalo went to overtime, and that game only lasted 3:19.

One of the questions moving forward is how the 49ers banged up defensive line will cope with its injuries. Jim Harbaugh suggested that rookie Quinton Dial - and maybe even Tank Carradine - could be ready as early as Sunday when the team visits Tennessee. One starter, Glenn Dorsey, left the Cardinals game with a hamstring injury while another, Ray McDonald, clearly was affected by his biceps injury and said as much after the game.

McDonald said his right arm didn't feel as strong as it normally is, and he was relieved throughout the game by Demarcus Dobbs. McDonald was not credited with a single tackle. McDonald said the hope is that the muscle will gain strength, and he spent a lot of time in the weight room last week in an effort to maintain that strength. Can the 49ers stay put or will they add someone from the outside? Most transactions are made Tuesday, so we shall see ...

Through three quarters, the game reminded me of the one against Arizona in 2011 - another odd-flow game - which was one of three losses for the 49ers that regular season. I call it the "John Skelton game" because Skelton made exactly three big throws, and that was enough to beat the 49ers that day. On one of them, safety Dashon Goldson was too aggressive and it allowed Larry Fitzgerald to run for a long touchdown.

That happened again Sunday, except it was Donte Whitner who went for the big blow instead of the safe tackle. Overall Whitner had a strong game. But on Fitzgerald's 75-yard touchdown, it seemed to be a case of his big-hit persona affecting his judgment.

Meanwhile, Tramaine Brock was too intent on getting an interception on the play and also whiffed on Fitzgerald. Brock, of course, had two interceptions vs. the Texans last week and was named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week because of it. However, he nearly got burned at the end of the half because he was again looking for an interception instead of first making sure his opponent didn't catch the ball first.

Brock also took a bad angle on Andre Ellington's 15-yard touchdown run. Ellington ran through the left side of the line where Dobbs was substituting for for McDonald. The player who was really out of position was Patrick Willis. Two years ago when Willis missed two games with a hamstring injury he admittedly had a rough outing in his first game back.

It was the same this week. Willis said afterward that he felt like a rookie again and that his "eyes" were letting him down. The Ellington touchdown was a case in point. Willis simply misread the play. However, he also made the play of the game by forcing a Fitzgerald fumble late in the third quarter, so I think the linebacker can be forgiven his rust.

I thought Joe Staley had an excellent game. He excels against quick, outside linebacker types in pass protection and allowed little pressure all afternoon. He and Mike Iupati - and later in the drive, Adam Snyder - got good pushes on the team's pivotal, 18-play possession.

Iupati now has missed some snaps in two games this season while dealing with a right shoulder injury. Daniel Kilgore filled in for him in Week 4. Snyder took some snaps at left guard - and played very well - on Sunday. Iupati had an up-and-down game. On the end-of-half sack in which Colin Kaepernick fumbled, Iupati helped double-team an inside rusher instead of picking up the blitzer who flushed Kaepernick into trouble. Iupati should have read the blitz, which was not disguised.

Right tackle Anthony Davis called for clipping in the second quarter. The play, to my novice eye at least, seemed no different than the Week 2 block that broke Ian Williams' ankle, which was not penalized or fined.

I've been a defender of Tarell Brown but didn't think the cornerback had a very strong game. He was bailed out by an offensive pass-interference call at the end of the first half that would have resulted in a 44-yard touchdown catch by Michael Floyd. Brown was not looking at the ball and was in front of Floyd when he went to the ground. It easily could have been a no-call and perhaps should have been.

Via Twitter yesterday, I criticized Kaepernick's pass that was intercepted by Yeremiah Bell at the goal line. Upon further review, the attempt was tipped by linebacker Karlos Dansby, and the deflection allowed Bell to move in front of intended target Bruce Miller. I'm not sure an un-undeflected pass would have gone for a touchdown, but it certainly made it easier to intercept. Before Kaepernick "favorites" my Tweet for motivation, I retract it.

The 49ers coverage units have been very good in recent weeks. But the return game is dulls-ville. Kyle Williams fair-caught four of the five Cardinals punts and he flubbed a kick return to open the third quarter. He has 16 fair catches on the season. The 49ers rank 26th in kickoff returns, 20th in punt returns.

Someone tell announcer Kevin Burkhardt that "San Fran" is only slightly less unpopular in Northern California than "Frisco."

- 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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