Here are my Week 12 grades for the 9-2 Niners.
Alex Smith: D. His primary job on this team is to not turn the ball over, and he failed at that assignment tonight. With eighteen seconds left in the first half Smith was supposed to throw a pass to Braylon Edwards’ back shoulder in the end zone, but instead he threw the ball short and towards the middle of the field – right to the Ravens cornerback. This pick robbed David Akers of a chance to kick a field goal to tie the game at halftime. Smith finished the game completing 15 of 24 passes for 140 yards, no touchdowns, that terrible interception and a 61.1 rating. His offensive line couldn’t pass block tonight, so he needed to make plays, not just execute a game plan, and while he did avoid some sacks and make some nice throws on the run, the offense was 2 for 12 on first down, so he didn’t do enough. It felt like a playoff game, and it seemed like Smith wilted on the big stage. He needs to show he can make the big play in the critical moment if the Niners are going to win in January.
Offensive line: F-. Nine sacks and 74 rush yards. Every guy got beat at least once for a sack. Adam Snyder pulled his hamstring and Chilo Rachal did the opposite of step up for him at right guard. He tapped a Ravens defender on the back whom Frank Gore had already blocked and got called for a chop block, nullifying a long touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. This play swung the whole game. It’s hard to imagine an offensive line playing any worse. The Ravens brought zone blitzes from the right side of the Niners line all night. Chilo Rachal and Anthony Davis couldn’t figure out who to block, so they often blocked no one. I’d bet more teams use this strategy against the Niners in the future.
Running backs: D. Frank Gore averaged 2.8 yards a carry and Kendall Hunter averaged 3.5. They didn’t have holes to run through and they couldn’t make something out of nothing.
Wide receivers: D. Michael Crabtree had another good game – six catches for 54 yards. No one else in this group did. Braylon Edwards looks injured and slow. Ted Ginn Jr. will make a spectacular catch and then he’ll let a ball bounce off his chest on fourth down, so you can’t count on him. And Kyle Williams lazily went after the one pass thrown his way with one hand and he dropped it.
Tight ends: D+. Vernon Davis had success catching the ball early (four receptions for 38 yards), but Anthony Davis was getting beaten at right tackle so badly that Greg Roman had no choice but to keep Vernon in to block. Delanie Walker did nothing in the pass game and got called for a false start. And Justin Peelle got manhandled by Terrell Suggs, as did the other Niners blockers.
Defensive line: B. On the positive side, they helped hold Ray Rice to 59 yards on 21 carries. On the negative side, they got very little pressure on Joe Flacco. Isaac Sopoaga and Justin Smith both hit Flacco once after he’d already thrown the ball, but no one on this line really bothered the Ravens QB.
Linebackers: B. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman both did a good job tackling Ray Rice on handoffs and receptions. Ahmad Brooks was credited with one hit on the Flacco but he didn’t get any real serious pressure, either.
Secondary: A-. They held Joe Flacco to just 161 passing and they had no help from the pass rush. Tarell Brown did a good job keeping Torrey Smith in check, and Chris Culliver made a key pass breakup to prevent a touchdown. The defense played well enough to win.
Special teams: A. Andy Lee averaged 57.6 yards on his five punts, David Akers made both his field goal attempts, and Ted Ginn Jr. averaged a very good 31.1 yards per kick return.
Coaches: D. The Niners offense seemed completely unprepared to deal with pressure – they couldn’t block it and they couldn’t call plays to beat it. Smith threw a few successful bubble screens to wide receivers. Greg Roman should have called more of those. And what ever happened to the running back screen? With all the pressure the Ravens were getting, you’d think “the table was set” for a few of those, but Roman never called them. He hasn’t called many of those all season long, actually. Are they even in the playbook? They need to be. On the other side of the ball, Fangio was clearly afraid of giving up the deep pass to Torrey Smith so he didn’t blitz. With the offense doing nothing he needed to scrap the conservative game plan and blitz. We should have seen Patrick Willis and Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson flying at Flacco. They needed to force a turnover and they played a bend-but-don’t-break game plan, and it was a losing game plan. The Niners got thoroughly outplayed and outcoached for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era, and John Harbaugh retained his birthright, at least for today.