Week 13 grades for the NFC West Champion Niners

SAN FRANCISCO – Here are my Week 13 grades for the 10-2 NFC West Champion Niners, who beat the 2-10 Rams 26-0 this afternoon.

Quarterback: A. This was almost an A+ performance for Alex Smith, but the sheer awfulness of the Rams holds his grade back. Here’s his final stat line: 17 of 23 for 274 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 picks, and a 142.3 rating. Two of his incompletions were drops – one by Michael Crabtree on a slant and the other by Vernon Davis on a deep seam. If Davis had held onto Smith’s perfectly-thrown touchdown pass in the second quarter, Smith might have had a perfect passer rating. Smith proved he can throw accurate deep passes over the middle of the field today. His only struggles came on deep passes to Ted Ginn Jr. down the sideline – incompletions that didn’t end up counting due to false-start and holding penalties on the offensive line. Perfecting those passes is the next stage of development for Smith. Also, he had one delay of game and almost two. That’s another aspect of his game he could clean up. Colin Kaepernick came in and threw one good pass which Justin Peelle dropped, and one bad pass over Delanie Walker’s head.

Offensive line: C+. Anthony Davis got dominated by Chris Long in the first half – giving up two sacks to the Rams left defensive end. Mike Iupati struggled as well, giving up a sack to James Hall, and getting flagged for a holding penalty. And Adam Snyder failed to pick up middle linebacker James Laurinaitis on a blitz for the fourth sack, and he also had a false start. The whole line struggled to open running lanes today, too. But they didn’t give up any sacks in the second half, and overall they played well enough to win against a tough pass rush.

Running back: C+. Frank Gore broke Joe Perry’s career franchise rushing yards record today. Congratulations to him. He also averaged just 3.5 yards per carry (73 yards on 21 attempts.) Kendall Hunter did worse, gaining four yards on five carries. Greg Roman tried him in the Wild Cat formation once, and the play lost seven yards. On the positive side, Gore did make some key blocks in blitz pickup.

Wide receiver: A. Michael Crabtree dropped one pass early on, but he and the rest of the receivers caught every single ball Smith threw their way the rest of the game. Crabtree and Ginn Jr. consistently beat their men deep (St. Louis may have the slowest, worst cornerbacks in the league). Crabtree played his deep touchdown catch perfectly, and Ginn Jr. ran a very nice end-around. But Kyle Williams stole the show. He caught both passes thrown his way, and on the second one he broke a tackle and sprinted 48 yards away from the defense and into the end zone. Kyle Williams has proven that he’s a very good player, and I say he should start opposite Crabtree for the rest of the season. He’s a tough blocker, a good route runner, he has very good hands, and he’s an outstanding runner after the catch.

Tight end: C. Vernon Davis dropped an easy touchdown catch in the end zone. He finished with five catches for just 32 yards. Delanie Walker and Justin Peelle caught none of the passes thrown their way. Either Greg Roman has lost confidence in Delanie Walker’s hands, or he’s “setting the table” to use him as a receiver in the playoffs by not calling many pass plays for him in the second half of the season. He did call an end-around for him, which Walker executed very well, picking up 14 yards.

Defensive Line: A. They helped hold the Rams run game to 31 yards on 23 carries (that’s a 1.3 yards per carry average). Justin Smith had one tackle for loss. Ray McDonald had a sack and a forced fumble. Aldon Smith had a fumble recovery and two sacks. On one sack he bull-rushed the Rams left tackle onto his back. After the other one he broke out a unique celebration – he sprinted to the bench and sat down as if nothing had happened. I asked him after the game what he called that – he said it’s the “Run Home.”

Linebacker: A. Patrick Willis pulled his hamstring early, but Larry Grant stepped up in his place. He recorded six tackles – NaVorro Bowman did, too – and he sacked Feeley once. He also made a big third and one tackle without a helmet on his head.

Secondary: A. They held the Rams top receiver, Brandon Lloyd, to one catch. Also, Dashon Goldson intercepted Feeley once. Donte Whitner was strong against the run – he had three tackles – and he broke up a deep pass that would have put the Rams at the Niners’ 1 yard line. At this point you may be wondering why I didn’t give the defense A-pluses across the board. They shut out the other team, after all. It’s just that the other team was the Rams, and behind quarterback A.J. Feeley they were one of the worst offenses I’ve ever seen. I’ll reserve the A-pluses for elite performances against tougher offenses.

Special teams: A. David Akers made four field goals and broke the Niners’ franchise record for most field goals in a season. Andy Lee landed three punts inside the Rams’ 20 yard line, and Ginn Jr. did another good job returning punts and kicks.

Coaching: A-. Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio called an excellent game, holding the Rams to zero points. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman had his moments – the first drive of the third quarter stands out. He called back-to-back end-arounds – the first to Ginn Jr. who ran right, and the second to Delanie Walker who ran left. Both plays picked up about fifteen yards, and they stretched the Rams defense out horizontally. Then, Roman called the deep pass down the middle of the field to Crabtree. Of course he was wide open – Roman and the offense had set up the deep pass perfectly. Roman was less successful on third downs and in the red zone. He called lots of run plays, and as a result the Niners went 4 for 14 on third down and 0 for 4 in the red zone. The Niners will struggle to beat playoff teams with numbers like that. But the Rams are hardly a playoff team, so it’s hard to knock Roman for being conservative. Jim Harbaugh didn’t have to do much of anything to help his team win. The best thing he did all day was partially sidestep Joe Staley and Anthony Davis’ Gatorade shower.

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