I gotta say, even though I picked the 49ers to win this game, I was surprised when we won. It is not like I did not have faith in them, quite the opposite. I had faith that they would play a conservative offense and not get any pressure on defense, allowing Kurt Warner to destroy us. Well, I was right about the offense at least. Below is a breakdown of the game, sorted by position.
I have said it before and I will say it again, Shaun Hill is not a bad quarterback, Now, if you look down the page at my review of the third preseason game you will see me singing a different tune. Hill, for some reason, only seems to be able to play well when it matters the most and I am okay with that. He could play terrible all game for all I care but if he leads us on a fantastic game-winning drive all is forgiven. That is almost what he did yesterday. Now, he didn't play terrible all game by any means but he wasn't great. Hill's arm strength looks like it has improved, there is more zip on the ball, but he still tries to force things deep even when there is nothing there. I saw 4 times when is tried to force a deep pass into double or triple coverage. But the one long ball he did complete to Bruce was beautiful. Even so, he needs to stop forcing things and dump it when something deep isn't there. He also held the ball way too long on one play when the Cardinals brought an overload blitz, but that is an improvement over how many times J.T. O'Sullivan did that in games. Overall, mostly due to how fantastic he was on the game-winning touchdown drive, Hill had a good game.
It is really hard to judge how well or poorly Frank Gore played yesterday because it seemed like he was hit in the backfield on every run. Even when he wasn't, there were hardly any running lanes. There were 3 or 4 times when I saw a hole that I felt like he could have cut back into, but then again I had a bird-eyes fans view. Gore was amazing in blitz pick-up. He knocked the crap out of quite a few blitzing linebackers.
Both Michael Robinson and Moran Norris saw significant time at fullback and neither was anything special or played poorly. Their lead-blocking for Gore was fine, it was the offensive line that was not opening holes.
Has Vernon Davis finally arrived? He caught 5 passes yesterday and only dropped one, and it was a tough catch to make between three defenders. He was targeted several other times as well. If Jimmy Raye continues to use him like this he might actually finally be the recieving tight end he was supposed to be. Davis, as we have become used to, also looked good blocking. Delanie Walker also saw a lot of playing time. Walker was targeted 3 times, I think, and was open one of those times but Hill missed him. He looked better blocking than he did last year.
I said before the season, Isaac Bruce, Josh Morgan, and Arnaz Battle are the 49ers top three receivers. They proved it yesterday. Bruce and Battle always seem to come up big when it matters, like on 3rd down, and Morgan was actually drawing coverage his way. Still, I would like to see more than 9 completions to wide receivers next week. After the way the offense played on the final touchdown drive I would be surprised if we don't.
Where do I start? I guess I'll start with the good at left tackle. Joe Staley continues to improve in pass protection and didn't allow much, if any, pressure yesterday. He still did not get any push in the running game, like the rest of the o-line, but at least he wasn't pushed back or just ran by. Now the bad, everyone else on the line. After the preseason he had I really thought that Adam Snyder was going to be a decent right tackle but he was beat like a drum in pass protection. The interior of the offensive line, specifically the guards David Baas and Chilo Rachal, were getting beat of the line. Defenders were literally running right past them regularly. We had 7 rushing plays that went for negative yardage and the longest run was 6 yards, that needs to change. If I had to give credit for each of the 4 sacks I would say the first one was one Rachal and Snyder, the second was on Snyder, the third was just a well-designed blitz but Snyder was not blocking anyone, and the 4th was Snyder's fault once again. So, one could argue that Snyder gave up 4 sacks.
As bad as the running game was, I think part of it was the offensive playcalling and the blocking scheme. Every running play seemed to be right up the middle even though that part of the offensive line was playing the worst. I think that we only ran to the outside 5 or 6 times and they were still more between the tackle-guard area than true outside runs. We could have tried an outside pitch or a screen to take advantage of the Cardinals pursuit but we didn't. The worst play call of the game came on 3rd down 7 from our own 5 late in the game when all we had to do was get a first down to win the game. Jimmy Raye called draw play from the shotgun formation. It would have been better to just try a run up the middle because at least that wouldn't be risking a safety. Even with all the bad, that last touchdown drive was fantastically called.
Justin Smith really stood out yesterday. I think he was credited with 3 QB pressures but it seemed like he was pushing the Arizona left tackle back every play. Isaac Sopoaga and Aubrayo Franklin both held up the point of attack well but could have pushed the pocket better. Kentwan Balmer and Ray McDonald both came in as situational pass rushers and McDonald even record a sack, though it was because Lawson forced Warner to step up right into McDonald.
I am about to say something that I have never said before because I thought it was too soon. Patrick Willis is officially the best inside linebacker in the NFL. He was all over the field last night making tackles. He finished with 11 solo and 2 assists but it seemed like he was in on a lot more than that. His interception was a thing of beauty, he read Warner all the way and made a great play. Parys Haralson also played great. He was beating Levi Brown (who is a huge bust, by the way) off the line every play and got around him to forced pressure regularly. Haralson had 4 QB pressures, a sack, and forced an interception when he forced Warner to scramble right into Manny Lawson. Lawson had a decent game, nowhere near as good as Haralson's though. He put some pressure coming off the edge but he still needs to develop some type of pass rushing moves instead of relying solely on his athleticism. I didn't see much of Takeo Spikes and I am fairly certain he wasn't in very often because we were playing so many defensive backs.
This was easily the best part of the team yesterday. Every one of the 49ers defensive backs had a pretty good game. Nate Clements locked down Larry Fitzgerald on every play he was one on one with him, except for the touchdown but no corner can cover Fitz in the end zone for that long. Nate was also great against the run. Clements gave up a long play to Jerheme Urbane but Dashon Goldson should have had safety help on the play. Other than that play, Goldson and Michael Lewis, and Mark Roman as well, did a good job keeping everything in front of them and not allowing any big plays. The star of the of the secondary, though, was Shawntae Spencer. He only gave up a couple of passes in man coverage and pretty much shut down whatever receiver he was on, whether it was Fitz or Anquan Boldin.
Though the defense played great I honestly think it was more because of execution than playcalling. The playcalling consisted of bringing 4 guys, dropping 2 deep, having one play center field, and having the other 4 in man coverage for almost the entire game. In past years this is also what we have done but it never worked because we couldn't pressure opposing QBs. It worked yesterday because we could. I would have loved to see a little more imagination in the blitz packages of Manusky and more blitzing to boot. Every time we blitzed it seemed like we telegraphed in before the play and the Cardinals had no problem picking up the extra guys. A little pre-snap movement could have confused the Cardinals and made our rusher\s more effective.
I cannot believe that Joe Nedney hit that 50 yarder, to be honest I was sure he was going to miss. His kick-offs were deep and high as well. Andy Lee also looked great. He out-kicked the coverage once or twice but also pinned the Cardinals deep a few times. The kick coverage unit was good but the punt coverage was kind of lacking. They gave up a couple of nice returns, including the one that gave the Cardinals excellent field position and a chance to take the lead with 2 minutes left. Both return teams were solid if unspectacular.
While I would have loved to see a lot more from certain areas of the team, the run blocking of the offensive line for example, I would be lying if I said I was not impressed with how the 49ers played. Before the season started I had them going 6-10 based off of what I had seen in the preseason but now I think 9-7 is a realistic prediction, maybe even 10-6 if we have some luck. Mike Singletary has the team playing harder and tougher than they have in years and Shaun Hill proved that he is not just a game manager; he can win with the game on the line. If the defense and Hill continue to play like they did yesterday, and the running game picks up like I think it will, the playoffs are not out of reach.
Opening Day @ Arizona Game Breakdown
Posted on: September 14, 2009 12:04 pm