Here are my week 5 grades for the 49ers.
Quarterbacks: A. Here’s Alex Smith’s stat line: He completed 11 of 19 throws for 170 yards, 3 TDs and QB rating of 127.2. His first TD throw – the long one down the seam to Delanie Walker on the Niners first drive – was perfect. His screen pass to Joshua Morgan in the third quarter was perfect as well. He also threw a couple balls high, and he threw two passes that could have been picked off – they bounced off the Tampa Bay defenders’ hands. Still, this was the best game of Alex Smith’s career Harbaugh really does have him improving every week. Colin Kaepernick played well, too. Every throw he made was on point and on time. He looked like a completely different quarterback from preseason. It would be interesting if Alex Smith led this team to the playoffs and Harbaugh and Baalke still chose not to resign Smith since they felt Kaepernick was ready to take over in 2012. But I’m getting way ahead of myself.
Offensive line: A+. They made holes for 213 yards rushing and allowed zero sacks against a very good defensive line. Every member of this group played great, even Anthony Davis. Adam Snyder is a big upgrade over Chilo Rachal at right guard. In fact, Snyder is the 49ers best guard right now. The power run plays when he pulls are the most effective power plays right now – more effective than the one where Iupati pulls. This could all change next week, but for week 5, Snyder was the offensive line’s MVP.
Running backs: A. Frank Gore rushed for 125 yards on 20 carries. That’s an average 6.3 yards per attempt, and that’s very good. Harbaugh said after the game that Gore got his burst back, which implies he didn’t have it at the beginning of the season. But that doesn’t matter anymore because it’s back. He’s still one of the top running backs in the league, and I still believe he’s going to have the best year of his career this year. Kendall Hunter finished with 65 yards rushing on 9 carriers, but most of that yardage came on a sweep run in the fourth quarter. Bruce Miller led him all the way down field. Bruce Miller is fast, and as he gets stronger he’s going to become a premier fullback for the 49ers.
Wide receivers: A. Crabtree continues to make spectacular catches. Morgan played a heck of game before breaking his ankle. He made huge runs after the catch. Kyle Williams made a nice play breaking up an interception on an underthrown Alex Smith pass. He and Ted Ginn Jr. will have to step up next week in Detroit with Morgan and Edwards hurt.
Tight Ends: A. Vernon Davis caught two touchdown passes and Delanie Walker caught one. Davis ran extra strong after runs today, breaking numerous tackles. He’d never run so well and so strong after the catch in his whole career.
Defensive line: A. They helped limit LeGarrette Blount to 34 yards rushing. Ricky Jean-Francois held his own in place of Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle. Justin Smith had one sack and Aldon Smith had two, and both guys looked dominant today. Justin can bull rush anyone, and Aldon is violent and effective with his club move. He runs upfield and gets the tackle to chase him, and then he clubs the tackle in the head with his forearm and cuts back to the quarterback. It looks painful for the offensive lineman.
Linebackers: A. Patrick Willis played his best game of the season. He looked like the best linebacker in football today. Even though he’s lighter than Blount, he wrapped him up and brought him down easily all day. Willis finished the game with 12 tackles, one pass defensed and one fumble recovery. Ahmad Brooks got credit with one quarterback hurry, but he was in the backfield a lot, as usual.
Cornerbacks: A+. Carlos Rogers interception and return for a touchdown was phenomenal. He’s supposed to have bad hands, but he’s grabbed interceptions in three straight weeks. Chris Culliver had a big game to, and he needed to because Shawntae Spencer didn’t play. Culliver made an outstanding interception after it looked like he was beaten on the play. Both Culliver and Tarell Brown recorded three passes defensed a piece.
Safeties: A. Both Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner had 4 tackles, and both guys hit very hard. Reggie Smith had a very good game as well. He came close to grabbing an interception and he made a couple of very strong tackles. It seems like Smith and Goldson can play both safety positions.
Special teams: A. Ted Ginn Jr. had 51 yards on punt returns. He’s an excellent returner, and he’s a valuable member of this team. I was down on him in training camp but I was wrong. He gives the 49ers offense better-than-expected field position very often. Besides Ginn, David Akers was two for two on field goals, and he also made a 46 yarder which didn’t end up counting because of a Tampa Bay leverage penalty.
Coaching A. I’d give them and A+ if Morgan didn’t get hurt. I understand the reasons for passing on that play, but I still think they should have run the ball or kicked a field goal. Every other call the coaches made was excellent, though. Greg Roman is one heck of a play caller. Now that he’s figured out how to run successfully, the whole offense is opening up, and almost every play call he makes works. They key to getting the running game going was the emergence of the pitch sweep play to Kendall Hunter. So far teams haven’t been able to stop it. You can count on Hunter to gain anywhere from 5 to 45 yards on the play, and that’s opened up the inside running game for Frank Gore, and it’s opened up the passing game for Alex Smith. You can bet we’re going to start seeing pitch sweeps all across the league soon, and then Greg Roman will officially be a trend setter. Fangio gets major credit for making the 49ers so-so secondary look elite. And Harbaugh gets the most credit for turning Alex Smith into a good NFL quarterback. What was impossible for others, Harbaugh accomplished in five weeks.