By Jerrell Richardson
For the second time this season, the 49ers had a total team effort. The offense, specifically the running game was clicking, the defense was stifling, and the result was a resounding 35-11 victory by San Francisco over the St. Louis Rams.
Despite being without several players, San Francisco survived a game that they had to win, and will now have the luxury of a few extra days to recover and get ready for the Houston Texans. While they did not dominate from start to finish, the 49ers were in complete control of this game, and will now look to build on the many things they did right in this contest, and correct the many things they did wrong.
Offense Grade: B
The reason the 49ers were finally able to get something going offensively was due to the running game. While his numbers were not bad a week ago, Frank Gore finally gave the offense the balance they needed, and the result was a St. Louis defense that could not plug all the holes. Gore had over 100 yards at the half, and after relinquishing the running duties to LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon late in the game, he still had by far his best game of the season, totaling 153 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. With the threat of the running game back, it took the lid off the entire offense, although there wasn’t that much needed from the arm of Colin Kaepernick.
After his recent struggles, Kaepernick bounced back with a solid performance. He was not only efficient, but after four turnovers the past two weeks, he was also more careful with the ball and avoided any costly turnovers. Kaepernick, with the team’s biggest mismatch, Vernon Davis back on the field, spread the ball around to all his receivers and while his 167 yards don’t jump off the page at you, his 115.7 passer rating, and execution of the game plan is more than enough to impress.
The decision to sign Anquan Boldin continues to be the smartest move the 49ers made this offseason. Boldin carried the load again for the aerial attack, catching five passes for 90 yards, including a huge touchdown reception on third and 19. While Boldin was again stealing the show, it was the return of Vernon Davis and the effect it had on the defense that explains the offensive awakening. Vernon was more than a distraction though, as even not at 100% he had two catches and a touchdown.
The offense got a little sloppy at the end with two late turnovers, and the final score should have been a lot higher, but after failing to do anything the past two weeks, the offense appears to be back on track. It didn’t hurt that they were going against the St. Louis defense, but the bottom line is that the 49ers offense executed, and when playing their brand of football, they will always have similar results.
Defense Grade: A-
The defense is given a slight curve as they were without Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis for the first time this season, and nobody knew how they would respond. They did allow a field goal early and a touchdown late, but from the second quarter through the third quarter, the defense completely dominated the Rams. The star of the defense was clearly NaVorro Bowman who was all over the field, stuffing runs, pressuring Sam Bradford and even dropping back in coverage. Bowman had six tackles, two sacks, and picked up the slack with Willis out of the lineup. Ahmad Brooks was also impressive with seven tackles and 1.5 sacks. By turning St. Louis into a predictable and one-dimensional offense, the defense was able to dictate the play calling, resulting in a Rams offense that could do nothing for most of the night.
Bradford looked nothing like the Rams franchise quarterback, finishing 19 of 41 for 202 yards and a late touchdown. He threw one interception, but he is lucky that it was not a lot more as at least three balls were dropped by 49er defenders. Nobody expected the Rams to be able to run the ball and they didn’t. They finished with 18 yards on 19 carries, and the longest run of the night was a seven-yard scamper by Benny Cunningham.
The defense continues to play well. The touchdown late was set up by another miscalled hit on Donte Whitner, and 11 points should be more than enough points to get them a win every week. A lack of depth due to injuries is the only concern for the San Francisco defense.
Special Teams Grade: B+
The only real blemish for the Special Teams was a missed 53-yard field goal by Phil Dawson. Fifty three yards is no chip shot, but Dawson wasn’t even close, and was inside. He also missed a free kick at the end of the half, but that was from 71 yards and would have been a miracle.
Punter Andy Lee was spectacular, as he refused to give St. Louis any short fields. He was called on to punt seven times and finished with a 54.7 average. The return teams were also impressive, bottling up the fastest man on the field, Tavon Austin, limiting him to a 3.2 yard average on his returns.
While this is not the first time that the 49ers have played well as a team this season, when considering the circumstances surrounding this game, it’s by far the most impressive. This was a game where San Francisco found themselves in a must-win situation, playing after a short week, without two defensive superstars, on the road, and playing a team that they had not beaten in over a year. Yet they not only got it done, but did it convincingly. The theme for the 49ers is to continue to build on the success of this win, as well as get healthy, as injuries appear to be the only thing standing in between them and greatness in 2013.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.