I am very happy that the 49ers hung in the game until the end but I would be lying if I said that this loss did not hurt. We had the game won, and without our best offensive player for the entire game, but the Vikings get one of the most unbelievable plays I have ever seen. It is just crazy and I am honestly still in shock. The good news is that we outplayed the Vikings in the second half of the game and I think if we meet again, like Singletary believes we will, then the 49ers will win.
This loss was definitely not on Shaun Hill and "experts" and ignorant fans of other teams are already talking about how the 49ers cannot be an elite team because of him. I am not saying that he played a perfect game by any means, he was not good to say the least on third down and the only sack he took was partly because of his unnecessarily deep drop and poor pocket presence, but he had a good game. His interception was partly not his fault, Delanie Walker quit on the route and probably had a chance to at least stop Cedric Griffin from picking off the pass. His two touchdown passes to Vernon Davis were great and he was great on both of those drives. As for him not being good on third downs, I think that wasn't all his fault. This is going to be long-winded but I am going to go through all 11 third down failures right now. First of all, 3 of them were running plays so those definitely were not Hill's fault; Isaac Bruce and Glen Coffee both dropped catchable passes that would have went for first downs; on the early 3rd and 22, Raye thought it would be smart to call a quick WR screen; one play the right side of the offensive line did not block and Hill had to get rid of it way too early; and the other 4 were completed passes that were short of the first down. Like I said, it wasn't Hill's fault that we were so bad on 3rd down.
Once Frank Gore went out of the game I thought that we had no chance to even stay close because Glen Coffee and Michael Robinson are just not good enough to pound the ball against that great Vikings front. Coffee had a very poor game that cannot be blamed entirely on the offensive line not opening up running lanes. There were a few times when there was a wide-open cutback lane and instead Coffee ran straight into the back of offensive linemen and he almost fumbled a pitch late in the game on which it looked like he could have gotten the first down. Michael Robinson did not get enough playing time to evaluate.
Moran Norris’ lead-blocking was solid again. On a couple of plays in pass protection he whiffed on Minnesota defenders but that was because the offensive line was missing them first.
The best thing that came out of the game yesterday was easily Vernon Davis’ play. So far this season he has been a solid receiver but yesterday he just exploded. Right now he is top 10 amongst tight end in yards, receptions, and tied for 1st in touchdowns. I know extrapolations are stupid but it feels good to say that Davis is on pace for around 800 yards and 10 touchdowns for the season. He also looked great blocking, as usual, and on one play knocked the crap out of Cedric Griffin. Delanie Walker, on the other hand, was not so impressive. He gave up on the route that resulted in the interception, as mentioned already, and he is an awful blocker.
I said it last week and I’ll say it again this week, we could really use Michael Crabtree because out receivers are just not getting it done. Isaac Bruce has looked significantly worse than I thought he would be and much worse than last year, Josh Morgan is too inconsistent, and Arnaz Battle is not involved in the offense enough; that could be because of Raye though. One thing I’ll give to Morgan is that he is a great downfield blocker. On both of Coffee’s 10 yard runs, Morgan had his man locked up.
As most people expected, the center of the offensive line was dominated by the Williams’ Wall. Baas, Rachal, and Heitmann were regularly pushed back when going one-on-one and even Joe Staley was pushed back a couple of times. Staley also gave up his first sack since DeMarcus Ware beat him last year when Jared Allen took the long way around and swatted the ball out of Hill’s hand. It was partly Hill’s fault but mostly was on Staley. The right tackle play was much better than it has been but still not great. I think Tony Pashos had a better game than Adam Snyder.
Once again, the playcalling was far too conservative and we gave the Vikings chances that they should not have had. The third down playcalling was the worst. I understand that you want to run the ball on third and short but when you are going against the best run defense in the league, your quarterback is having a good game, and your pass protection is holding up relatively well why not try a playaction pass or a screen of something? And then throwing a WR screen on 3rd and 22? I would have rather the 49ers run a draw play. Raye needs to open things up, especially late in the game when we have a chance to put it out of reach.
Our defensive line continues to hold up very well against the run; Justin Smith, Aubrayo Franklin, and Isaac Sopoaga are all very strong at the point of attack; but they have trouble getting pressure. Justin Smith got late pressure a lot yesterday and played well considering he was held quite a few times and Franklin was also pushing Vikings’ offensive linemen back every once in a while but Sopoaga almost never puts pressure on the QB. I would like the 49ers to give Kentwan Balmer Sopoaga’s starting spot because he has looked better so far this year.
Maybe my statement that Patrick Willis was the best ILB in the NFL in week one was a little premature. He actually had a bad game by his standards yesterday; getting beat twice in man coverage against Chester Taylor for 40 yards and biting on the pump fake on Favre’s first touchdown; and I would argue that Manny Lawson and Takeo Spikes both had better games yesterday. Spikes played well against the run and Lawson was fantastic against it. He was in one 10 total tackles, the longest gain on one of them was 10 yards, and 7 of them came after 3 yards or less. Neither he nor Parys Haralson was putting much pressure off the edge but he was putting more on than Haralson. If Haralson just intercepts that pass that he had a chance at then we would most likely have won the game.
Speaking of dropped interceptions, hello Dre Bly. He had two dropped interceptions that would have put away the game but he also did have great coverage forced the Shawntae Spencer interception. Nate Clements also bit on the Favre pump fake on the touchdown to Sidney Rice but I believe he thought Willis was supposed to be inside, which is why he was playing outside of Rice. Still, he got beat. Other than that play he had another good game. If I had my way then Michael Lewis would never be in coverage as he is a liability back there. Lewis is too slow and lacks coverage instincts. He is great down by the LoS, though. It was hard to get a read on Dashon Goldson’s play yesterday. It looked like he had a solid game and I didn’t see him make any mistakes. Mark Roman, on the other hand, lost us this game. All he had to do on the Greg Lewis touchdown catch is push Lewis out of bounds but instead he goes for the ball and we lose. There was also a play early on when Percy Harvin caught a short pass on third down and Roman should have stopped him short but instead just fell for no apparent reason. Shawntae Spencer got beat deep a couple of times but luckily Favre overthrew the receivers.
Just like the offense, the defense is far too conservative. Instead of playing to the secondary’s strength, which is physical bump and run coverage that favors our top 3 corners, we play zone and rush 4. At least Manusky had some pre-snap movement to confuse Favre yesterday, and it caused a couple of delay of game penalties. But when we blitzed we telegraphed it most of the time and it was picked up.
All homerism aside, we have the best kicker/punter combo in the league. Joe Nedney’s kickoffs were all good again, the Percy Harvin touchdown was poor coverage, and Andy Lee’s punts were booming. The coverage teams, on Harvin’s touchdown and Darius Reynaud’s, were subpar. Allen Rossum has been very disappointing this season. After muffing two returns yesterday, I think that puts him up to 4 or 5 on the season which is unacceptable.
In the grand scheme of things, as in winning the division and making the playoffs, this loss probably doesn’t mean much since it doesn’t look like Arizona, Seattle, or St. Louis are going to be doing anything this year. It would have been nice to walk out of Minnesota with a win but we should all feel good about losing on a couple of lucky play without our best offensive player. Next week we get the Rams and I really hope we kick the crap out of them. I think Singletary will have these guys ready to play.