49ers: Dos And Don'ts Vs. Rams
(originally written 10/12/14)
Some may argue that the 49ers' 10/5 win over Kansas City reeked of flukishness; had KC kept that 12th man off the field, Phil Dawson might not have made the critical 54-yard field goal—setting KC up for their own winning kick. I'll admit moving up 25 yards made it easier, but Dawson has been on fire and stood—in this writer's opinion—a very good shot of nailing the longer kick. We'll never know for sure.
Still, it is hard to argue the improvement in the overall level of play from the preceding weeks. San Francisco's offense, though far from excellent, played well enough to be in a position to win—namely the ground game. The special teams regrouped after a rough showing vs. Philadelphia. Though picked apart on KC's opening drive, the defense held up very well considering how little pressure Chiefs QB Alex Smith faced in the early going.
Coming up on Monday, 10/13 are the long-lowly Rams, fresh off celebrating the 15-year anniversary of The Greatest Show On Turf. Sadly for them, neither Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce nor D'Marco Farr will be walking through the locker room door (unless it's to sign autographs or use the restroom.) Host St. Louis is 1-3, has lost both its home games, and fell behind 27 points to Philly last week before mounting a failed comeback.
Here's a brief summary what the 49ers must do, and must not do, in order to up their 2014 record to 4-2:
DO: Give Kap time. Colin Kaepernick isn't always accurate even when he has time—even less so when linemen are breathing down his neck. Excluding a three-play nightmare when Kap was sacked twice—one resulting from an abused Alex Boone—and Mike Iupati false-started, the line held up very well in both the pass and run game against the Chiefs after some injury/positional issues. Working in the 49ers favor: St. Louis has one sack as a team this year, and star DE Chris Long is still out.
DON'T: Repeatedly hiccup in the red zone. With one exception, every SF drive breaching Kansas City territory quickly stalled out—the closer SF got, the quicker. K Phil Dawson bailed the O out repeatedly, but field goals are not touchdowns. Vernon Davis' probable return should help in this regard.
DO: Continue using extra pass protection. An occasional bump by Frank Gore, or keeping Vance McDonald behind to help with blocking made a difference against the Chiefs; it limited Kaepernick's targets, but it kept him in one piece. Anthony Davis isn't 100% and Jonathan Martin is Jonathan Martin, so give the boys some help if St. Louis somehow puts together a pass rush.
DON'T: Forget about Crabs. On a team with Anquan Boldin, Brandon Lloyd and Stevie Johnson there are only so many receptions to go around, true. But Michael Crabtree caught one pass vs. Kansas City (a 16-yarder in the 3rd) and that wasn't just because of coverage. By my tally, he was only legitimately targed two or three times—ouch. That must change. And don't even start with "Crabtree's best games, the Niners lost."
DO: Maintain the 1-2 punch at halfback. RB Frank Gore has had several "partners" over the years, but young Carlos Hyde may be the best of them. He's averaging just under four yards per carry, many of them by simply plowing through the gut of the defense—none of those cutesy tosses Kendall Hunter is known for. Hyde's presence has restricted Gore to less than 16 carries per game; he is noticeably more spry, and San Francisco put up 171 rush yards vs. KC.
Here's hoping God doesn't tell Hyde to retire and join the Army in training camp 2015.
DON'T: Underestimate the Rams. Their receivers proved capable against San Francisco last year, overshadowed by critical mistakes. While Brian Givens and friends won't be thrown to by Sam Bradford or even Kellen Clemens this time around, Austin Davis—who's essentially a rookie—has done an excellent job since cracking the lineup, nearly orchestrating a miracle comeback vs. the Eagles in Week 5. This team is not as statistically bad as their record would suggest.
DO: Blitz! The Niners' front four has had difficulty consistently applying pressure recently. In their opening drive, Kansas City's Alex Smith was untouched in marching the Chiefs downfield for six; once a few blitzes were mixed in, Smith's effectiveness gradually waned.
DON'T: Come quietly. Twice vs. the Chiefs, open receivers dropped easy screens because they either heard/felt LB Patrick Willis' footsteps fast approaching. Even in the NFL, intimidation means something. Not second-guessing, but one must wonder if the Chiefs score their second TD if the 49ers weren't blitzing—and Willis was free to menace De'Anthony Thomas.
DO: Remain disciplined. An Amhad Brooks neutral zone infraction and Iupati's false start were the sole penalties against San Francisco last week; after 46 penalties in four weeks, it was strange not having every third play flagged against KC. The 2013 Niners also began undisciplined—though not to this degree—before ironing things out. Hopefully, their encouraging Week 5 performance holds up.
DON'T: Turn to trickery again. While the 49ers fake punt was executed brilliantly and worked to perfection, San Francisco would be wise to shelve it for the forseeable future. Even a bad ball club like the Rams will have their antennae up. Now, I'm all for another option play...if Boldin can get some air under the ball this time.