By Jerrell Richardson
It was not pretty, but a win is a win. In a game marred by 20 total penalties, (9 by San Francisco), the 49ers got just enough from the entire team to hold off a good St. Louis Rams squad.
For the second straight week it was the pass and not the run that was the key to the offensive success, while the defense continues to play lights out. The Rams stuck around and showed that they are a team that could be a problem in a few years, but not quite ready to take on the big boys of the division just yet.
The final score was 23-13, but San Francisco led the entire way, and dominated their NFC opponent for the second time in as many games (beat Redskins 27-6 on Nov. 25). There were a few times that things got close in the second half, but the defense, in combination with some key plays from the special teams and offense, proved too much for the Rams to mount a comeback.
Offense Grade: B
The Rams took away the run, and while the running game struggled, it was the 49ers 32nd ranked passing attack that took over. Frank Gore did score a touchdown, but in his 15 touches managed only 42 yards. The rest of the team didn’t do much better on the ground, but they remained true to their game plan, and even after losing tackle Joe Staley in the first quarter, still managed 30 rushes. While this only lead to 83 yards for the team, it kept the Rams defense at bay, and allowed for Colin Kaepernick to slice up the Rams secondary.
Colin Kaepernick completed 19 of his 28 attempts for 275 yards and a touchdown. As Kaepernick has done all year, he went mostly to Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis who both had big games. Boldin caught nine balls for 98 yards while Davis pulled in four receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown.
In his season debut Michael Crabtree was a little rusty, but still finished with 68 receiving yards and showed just a glimpse of what this offense is going to be able to do now that they have all their pieces in place.
While it struggled to run the ball, it was more important for the team to stay committed to the run as it set up the pass. If not for a late fumble in the red zone and the play of the defense allowing the offense to milk the clock, the 49ers would have easily scored 30 points, which due to the play of the defense this year, more times than not will be enough for a win.
Defense Grade: A
The San Francisco defense set the tone early, and never really let up. They allowed 13 points, had only allowed three at the half, and didn’t allow a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter when the Rams were in desperation mode and running their hurry up offense.
Coming into this game St. Louis had run the ball with great success. You can’t complain with San Francisco’s defense allowing 114 yards collectively against the Rams, and for the most part they contained Rams lead rusher Zac Stacy, who had a respectable 72 yards on 19 carries.
NaVorro Bowman was the team leader in tackles and a big reason that the Rams couldn’t get anything going on the ground. Bowman got a lot of help from Glenn Dorsey, who finished with six tackles, which is unheard of for a nose tackle and shows how clogged up the middle of the field was for the Rams to try and run.
Without the run to help them dictate their play calling, the Rams struggled. Quarterback Kellen Clemens got better as the game progressed but was asked to drop back 37 times. While his 19 completions, 218 yards and a touchdown are modest numbers, most of his damage was done after the Rams abandoned the run, and was him taking what the defense playing with the lead would allow him. Off all the Rams receivers the biggest threat was Tavon Austin who was held to only four catches for 25 yards.
Special Teams Grade: A
Outside of LaMichael James getting comfortable on punt returns, the special teams, like the defense, continues to shine. Andy Lee averaged 47.8 yards on his four punts, while Phil Dawson hit field goals from 32, 43 and 24 yards out. The coverage units had their hands full with the speedy Tavon Austin, but limited him on his punt and kick returns, taking him out of the game, which was a key to San Francisco winning the game. It was the special teams that also helped seal the win by foiling the Rams fake punt try in the fourth quarter setting up the 49ers final touchdown.
49ers Passing Game Coming Around
While the defense shut down the Rams, it was key plays from the offense and special teams that ultimately closed the book on St. Louis. The most hopeful thing to take away from this win is the recent play of Colin Kaepernick and his receivers, who have twice picked up the slack for the running game.
Earlier in the season a no-show by the ground attack would all but ensure a loss, but that wasn’t the case the past two weeks. If they can continue to get something from the receiving corps, San Francisco is a Super Bowl contender. The 49ers have the perfect opponent next to see how far the passing game has come as they will welcome the Seattle Seahawks to town next Sunday.
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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.