SAN FRANCISCO – Here are my Week 11 grades for the 9-1 49ers.
Alex Smith: B. After the game Jim Harbaugh said the passing attack wasn’t “on point.” Smith called his performance “frustrating,” and he called the offense’s red zone efficiency “bad” – the 49ers scored two touchdowns in six trips inside the Cardinals’ 20 yard line. Smith completed 20 of 38 passes for 267 yards, two TDs and one INT. He finished with a QB rating of 81.8. He matched his least-efficient game of the season with a 53 percent completion rate (he completed 17 of 32 passes, or 53 percent, against Detroit). To be fair, his receivers dropped a few of his throws. But he missed his receivers just as often – leading them too far or not far enough. On the other hand, he made a few very nice runs. He took no sacks largely because he slid around the pocket well and scrambled at the right times. He looks calm and confident in the pocket, and that’s a big improvement.
Offensive Line: A. They played 87 snaps and gave up zero sacks. That’s outstanding. They consistently gave Alex Smith enough time to go through his progressions in the pocket. Right tackle Anthony Davis got injured and Alex Boone didn’t miss a beat in his place.
Running Backs: B. Frank Gore played well, rushing for 88 yards on 24 carries. Kendall Hunter averaged only 2.5 yards per carry and it seemed like the wet field limited the quick tailback’s effectiveness. Anthony Dixon did a very good job running the ball in the fourth quarter to kill the clock – he averaged 4.6 yards per carry. He’s playing like the best short-yardage runner on the team.
Wide Receivers: B+. Braylon Edwards had an ‘F’ game, dropping three of the four passes thrown his way. But Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams had excellent games. Crabtree got open deep and underneath, he moved well before the catch and after. On one play it seemed like he made the entire Cardinals defense miss, but really it was just three or four guys he juked. Kyle Williams made a very nice move on his touchdown catch. He created the separation all by himself – running a slant and then cutting back out to the sideline. He’s clearly a better wide receiver than Ted Ginn Jr., and he should get more and more balls thrown his way in the future. He’s even playing better than Braylon Edwards right now, who Harbaugh said is still not 100 percent.
Tight ends: B. Vernon Davis caught just five of the ten passes thrown tohim, but one was a nice over-the-shoulder touchdown catch to seal the win. Delanie Walker caught none of the four passes thrown his way, but in his defense most of those passes were off target. Justin Peelle played fullback for the injured Bruce Miller and did a good job, considering he’s not a fullback.
Defensive Line: A-. Not a lot of stats jump out from this group. They helped limit the Cardinals to just 80 rushing yards, and Justin Smith hit the quarterback twice.
Linebackers: A. Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks both recorded one sack, and Patrick Willis had another phenomenal game. He got seven tackles, one interception, one forced fumble and three passes defensed. Not only is he an elite tackler, but he’s elite in coverage as well.
Secondary: A-. They held Larry Fitzgerald to three receptions on nine throws. They also helped hold Arizona’s passing game to 163 total yards. Tarell Brown made a beautiful play in the first half to jump a route and tip a pass to Patrick Willis. Everyone expects Brown eventually to lose his starting job to Tramaine Brock or Shawntae Spencer, but he plays a little better every week. Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson each intercepted a pass, too.
Special teams: B. David Akers missed a 49 yard field goal and he had two other attempts blocked. That was very un-Akers-like. On the positive side, the punt coverage team forced Patrick Peterson to fumble in the third quarter and NaVorro Bowman recovered the ball.
Coaching: A-. The Niners should have won this game by 50 points, but it wasn’t the coaches’ fault that the offense couldn’t score in the red zone. Greg Roman called creative plays – the fade to Braylon Edwards in the end zone stands out. It was the same play that beat the Lions in Week 6, except Edwards was open this time, not Delanie Walker. Smith made the right read and Edwards should have caught the pass. If there was something the coaches could have done better it would have been playing more backups in the fourth quarter. That was the time to sub in Tavares Gooden and Larry Grant for Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman on defense. We’ll see if those players seem tired against the Ravens this Thursday.