49ers Must Keep Smith Upright Against Lions
Last Sunday’s game was the most well balanced, seamlessly executed game I’ve seen in a very long time. Every facet was working. With a 4-1 record, the San Francisco 49ers match their best start since the 2002 season, when they made the playoffs. We’ve suffered for many years, and then suffered some more. Maybe, just maybe, we will be rewarded for our loyalty.
Not to put a damper on the win, but the Buccaneers weren’t at their full game. They had just played in Tampa Bay on Monday night and then had to travel to San Francisco. I’m not saying this was a huge difference, but the Buccaneers couldn’t have been at 100%. Hopefully the Chicago Bears wore out the Detroit Lions last night. Although the game is still in Detroit, maybe the extra day of rest the 49ers get will give them the edge to beat this surprising NFC foe. If the Lions play anything like they did on Monday, Alex Smith could be in for a long game. Chicago’s Jay Cutler hardly got any time to throw, even on a three-step drop. He was sacked three times, and hit/hurried much more. To his credit, he didn’t pout and just give up like I’ve come to expect from him. Smith has more heart and resilience, and it will be tested against Kyle Vanden Bosch.
I had a feeling Sunday’s game was going to be a good one when Smith threw his first touchdown pass. It was placed perfectly into the hands of TE Delanie Walker. Not only was that an exceptionally accurate throw, but it signaled the long-awaited opening of Jim Harbaugh’s playbook. The frustration had been growing whenever a run up the middle was called on 3rd and long. We wondered if things were going to change at all from previous years. Sunday’s win showed we just needed to be patient. Harbaugh must have been waiting for the right moment because the offense played incredible and finally capitalized on the field position the defense gave them.
Everything we saw against the Bucs is evidence the 49ers can compete with the Lions. While Smith was a modest 11-19 for 170 yards, he threw 3 touchdowns and quite frankly, didn’t need to light up the sky. Running backs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter averaged a combined 6.6 yards a carry, and the running game as a whole gained 213 yards. This is the type of offense Harbaugh wants to establish. Control the game with the run, throw short, effective passes to eventually throw downfield. Couple that with a dominating defense and they’ve got a recipe for success. The defense performed up to its potential, and we saw just how good they actually are.
I cannot praise the defense enough. So far, CB Carlos Rogers is proving to be a reliable top cornerback. His pick-six ignited the team’s spark after Gore fumbled in their own territory. In what could have been a devastating momentum shift, Rogers insured there would be no comeback. Rookie CB Chris Culliver also had a surprising game and could provide depth if it wasn’t just a flash in the pan kind of game. Detroit’s Jahvid Best is coming off a breakout game and it’s up to Patrick Willis and the rest of the linebackers to prevent Best from getting his second 100 yard game. Calvin Johnson will be difficult to cover, and in reality, there’s not a lot you can do against him and a jump ball. Even in triple coverage, he’s going to come down with a catch. Hopefully Rogers is ready for his biggest challenge.
It’s been reported that Josh Morgan has a broken leg and will miss “significant time”. It is very unfortunate to lose Morgan, especially because he’s been playing so well recently. While questioning why they were even throwing being up 45 points is valid, I think Harbaugh sent a message to his team. ”We play for the entire 60 minutes. No matter what.” Braylon Edwards is expected back after the bye, so Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams will have to step up until then. Former Packer Brett Swain has been signed to provide some depth. The third year receiver might be decent. He was buried on the depth chart behind Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones, not exactly a group of pushovers. Against Detriot, San Francisco will lean heavily on the run, and continue to use tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, who prove to be match up problems on a weekly basis.
The pass rush is the most terrifying factor about the Lions. Megatron will be a handful to deal with, but the 49ers have a pass rush of their own, and a good secondary with safeties not afraid to hit. (You see Dashon Goldson lay out Mike Williams? Sweet Momma.) The offensive line is not as shaky as it has been. As long as they can keep Alex Smith from being pressured on every play, and provide Gore some running room, they should be able to give the Lions their first loss of the season. If they do that, hard as it is to believe, they’ll be one of the best teams in the NFC.
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