Takeaways – Detroit Lions Week 2
- Judging by a missed tackle in space early in the second quarter Aldon Smith isn’t the best open field tackler in the league and may never be, and that’s fine because the 49ers probably won’t be asking him to do that too much. He can, however, shed a blocker with ease whether he’s defending the run of rushing the passer. Whereas Parys Haralson was expected to hold the edge and make the play against the run, The Condor’s role will likely be to simply delay the runner and allow NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Dashon Goldson, or Donte Whitner to fly in and clean the play up.
- Cris Collinsworth noted in the first series of the game that the 49ers don’t have to do anything tricky with their secondary, and that’s something that gives them a huge advantage against the league’s best quarterbacks. Guys like Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady excel at recognizing a defense before the snap and adjusting to exploit a weakness. By playing an almost vanilla defensive scheme with few blitzes and both safeties back there is no hole that will automatically be open, which means the success of a play will be determined not by beating the defensive alignment but by the offensive players physically beating their counterparts (a receiver beating the guy or guys covering him, a quarterback making a perfect throw into coverage, etc). Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers want to make the game as physical as possible and this is just another way they’re able to do it.
- Mario Manningham missed a little bit of time in camp dealing with the death of his grandfather and is still learning the offense. The coaches called a reverse for him on the second play of the game to great effect, and as the season goes on he’s probably going to be a lot more involved in the passing game. With Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis healthy and playing well there’s no need to force Manningham and Randy Moss into the offense, and for the coaches there’s no need to put anything on film that the rest of the league hasn’t seen. Yet.
- Crabtree didn’t get into the endzone against the Lions but he may have played his best game as a 49er. He was physical all night, whether blocking on the outside or making tough catches to pick up first downs and extend the 49ers final drive of the night before they took the victory formation. From an outsider’s point of view Crabtree finally looks comfortable and confident with what the coaches expect from him and how he can have an impact on the game. One of these weeks a team will be so concerned about Davis and Gore that Crabtree is going to explode for a huge game.
- The growth in Vernon Davis’ game from the time he was drafted to now is really remarkable. He wasn’t a natural pass catcher when he came into the league and wasn’t a great blocker despite his almost superhuman physical tools. That’s all changed and he’s become both a reliable pass catcher and a matchup nightmare. He’s just too fast for a linebacker (or a lot of safeties for that matter based on his first quarter TD) and he’s too physical for a defensive back. When you factor in his blocking ability Vernon Davis has a pretty legitimate claim to being the best all-around player at the league’s new glamor position.
- It gets talked about all the time with this team but that doesn’t make it any less true: running the ball against the 49ers is the hardest thing to do in football. For some perspective the Green Bay Packers offense gets shut down more often than the 49ers get gashed on the ground. Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, and Isaac Sopoaga control the line of scrimmage and usually push it back a yard or two, which leaves Willis and Bowman free to stuff anything up the middle of the field. Try to run outside and Whitner or Goldson are like heatseeking missiles to the ball and it’s almost impossible to get a body on them because they’re coming from 15 yards off the line of scrimmage while the front seven ties up all the available bodies. The best hope for running the ball against the 49ers is probably to spread them out with 3 or 4 wide receivers, try to get Willis or Bowman off the field, and run some draws and delays. If opponents completely abandon the run they risk their quarterback’s health but against the 49ers it’s probably better to use the passing game to set up the ground attack rather than the other way around, especially for teams like the Lions or Packers which aren’t all that adept at running the ball to begin with. Whether that would actually work or not is uncertain. What is clear is that the decision to run the ball early and often didn’t work at all for the Lions and only served to take the ball out of the hands of their two best players, Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford.
- Chris Culliver got absolutely hosed by a bad pass interference penalty with 9:21 to play in the first quarter. Culliver had perfect single coverage on Titus Young and was able to knock the pass away. Instead of facing 3rd and 13 the Lions got a 33 yard gift. This play was one of many questionable calls made (or not made) by the replacement officials in the ballgame. It’s tough to say one side benefitted more than the other from the poor officiating but that doesn’t make it acceptable.
- Kendall Hunter made one of the few mental errors the 49ers have made through two weeks of the season when he refused to go down on a kickoff return in the first half and ended up putting the ball on the ground, but you get the sense he’s going to break a couple big plays before 2012 is over. In fact, he almost had one on the first possession of the second half before falling victim to a shoestring tackle. He’s just as capable of running inside as Frank Gore is but while Gore is a bit more patient and likes to find the hole and accelerate through it, Hunter seems to prefer hitting the hole at top speed. Even though Gore’s looking quicker than he did for at least the second half of 2011 the speed that Hunter brings to the field is noticeable. Gore has as much heart as any player in recent memory and desperately wants to be on the field for every available snap, so it’s going to be up to the coaches to keep their eyes on the big picture and try to keep Gore fresh through December and into January. So far Kendall Hunter’s carried the ball 14 times with Gore getting 33 (which would have been a one week total under Mike Nolan). If Hunter keeps playing the way he has thus far, and Brandon Jacobs can contribute once healthy, expect the 49ers to limit Frank Gore to about 15-18 carries a game. With 201 yards, 2 TD’s, and a 6.1 yard avg through two games the lighter workload certainly isn’t making Frank Gore any less effective.
- The 49ers kick coverage, so good in 2011, still has some issues to work out for 2012. Although it should have been called back on a block in the back they gave up a return TD in Green Bay on a punt and Stefan Logan nearly broke a kickoff return for a TD after a David Akers FG early in the third quarter. The 49ers are moving the ball more consistently on offense than they did for most of the 2011 season but they’re still conservative on that side of the ball, and as a result they’re probably going to play more close games than some of the other elite teams in the league. If they don’t get the punt and kickoff coverage issues resolved a return TD may cost them a game they should have won at some point during the season.
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