Here are my week 6 grades for the 5-1 49ers.
Alex Smith: B+. He played an efficient first half and an awful second half, but he made the touchdown throw on the fourth and goal at the end of the game and that’s all that really matters. The fumble on the first offensive play was more Staley’s fault than Smith’s. In the second half, Smith constantly missed targets high, and one bad pass resulted in an interception. But he redeemed himself on the touchdown throw to Walker. I wrote that Alex Smith had reverted to form in my live blog, but the old Alex Smith would not have had the poise or the confidence to make that perfect throw to Walker with all the pressure in the world on his shoulders. Harbaugh is actually turning Smith into a clutch player.
Offensive line: A. Yes, Staley gave up a sack and a fumble. And yes, there were some false starts. But the Niners O line held their own against the supposed best D line in the NFL. Actually, they more than held their own. They paved the way for 203 rushing yards and they only allowed two sacks total. Plus, they also made Suh a non-factor for most of the day. It’s hard to imagine an offensive line playing any better on the road in Detroit.
Running backs: A+. Gore had 141 yards and one TD on 15 carries, and Hunter had 33 yards on eight carries. On the Niners second-to-last drive of the game, the drive when they absolutely needed to score a touchdown, Gore and Hunter ran the team all the way down the field. The Niners had to run to win, and they did.
Wide receivers: B-. Michael Crabtree had a good game and that’s about it. He finished with 9 catches for 77 yards, and a few of those catches were extremely difficult ones on balls Alex Smith threw entirely too high. Crabtree needs to work on making quicker, more decisive moves after the catch.
Tight ends: B. Vernon Davis had only two catches for eight yards. Delanie Walker dropped and easy touchdown. But both guys blocked extremely well all game long (especially Walker), and Walker’s touchdown reception at the end of the game boosts this group’s grade big time.
Defensive line: A+. They held the Lions to 66 total yards rushing. Justin Smith sacked Stafford 1.5 times. McDonald had a half of a sack as well. The Lions D line was supposed to be deeper and better, but the Niners front three – Smith, Sopoaga, and McDonald – outplayed the Lions “front nine.”
Linebackers: A+. NaVorro Bowman led the game in tackles with 14. He also had one tackle for loss, one pass defensed, and one hit on Stafford. Willis had seven tackles, three passes defensed (including one touchdown pass), and one quarterback hit. Ahmad Brooks had one sack and Aldon Smith had two. What more could you want from linebackers?
Secondary: B. They held Stafford to less than 300 yards passing and less than a 60 percent completion percentage. They covered Calvin Johnson one-on-one with Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver, and they held him to zero touchdown receptions. Rogers had his worst game as a Niner, but he made a key play at the end of the game to break up a pass intended for Nate Burleson. Whitner made big tackles around the line of scrimmage. Goldson’s main impact was negative, but I’ll bet he never kicks a football on the ground during a game again in his life.
Special teams: A. David Akers was 3-3 on field goals, including a 55-yarder. Ted Ginn Jr. had 177 total return yards, and Andy Lee punted nine times for 430 yards (a 47.8 average.) Lee made the Lions start drives behind their own twenty many times, and the Lions did not execute well when they were backed up.
Coaching: A+. Harbaugh doesn’t let this team make the same mistake twice. Staley gave up an ugly sack on the Niners first offensive play, and then he didn’t give up any more sacks. The Niners were false starting constantly in the first half, and they cleaned that up in the second half. Alex Smith threw one bad interception but not two. Every time it seemed like the Niners were dead, Harbaugh kept the team confident and in the game. How many teams can win on the road against an undefeated team when they commit 15 penalties? The most brilliant thing the coaches did all day was successfully run right at Suh. No other coach would have came up with that game plan, but the Niners did and they executed it. Also, I have no problem with the rough way Harbaugh shook Schwartz’s hand at the end of the game. Schwartz was being a sore loser.