Stock watch: Rising and falling 49ers

Taking a look at the biggest movers among the units and individuals whose stock is rising and falling for the 49ers as the team begins preparation for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the start of a two-game road swing that will take the Niners into October.


Rising


Defensive line: It has been two tremendous efforts in a row to begin the season for line coach Jim Tomsula's unit. The D-line continued to build on its outstanding performance in the season opener against Seattle with another strong outing against Dallas in Week 2 when the starting trio of Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Isaac Sopoaga controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the contest. There wasn't the bundle of sacks that was produced in the opener – when McDonald and Smith combined for three sacks and six quarterback hits – but the pressure against Dallas again was good from Smith and McDonald from edges, with McDonald producing his second sack in two games and McDonald and Smith each registering two more quarterback hits. Sopoaga – with big shoes to fill this season as Aubrayo Franklin's replacement at nose tackle – has been doing his job clogging the inside lanes and occupying blockers to allow San Francisco linebackers to get to the football. McDonald and Smith, with rotational help from Ricky Jean Francois and Will Tukuafu, also did a good job of this against the Cowboys, allowing middle linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman to roam free for a combined 19 tackles. As a result, San Francisco owns the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL after two weeks, allowing just 54.5 yards per game, and also is No. 1 in the league in yards allowed per rush at 2.5. This unit is greatly responsible for both of those stingy numbers.

QB Alex Smith: Jim Harbaugh and his cautious, conservative approach on offense began to allow Smith a little more leeway to make plays against the Cowboys, and the seventh-year veteran responded with another efficient, productive performance within the system. Smith has thrown for only 303 yards – 28 NFL quarterbacks have thrown for more after two weeks – but he has been working the West Coast system as it is drawn up and is off to the best start of his career in key areas such as passer rating (95.2) and completion percentage (70.5). Smith continued to make plays against Dallas when given an opportunity to take shots down the field, threading a perfect rope into the corner of the end zone for a 12-yard scoring pass to Kyle Williams, then reading the defense perfectly and putting another spot-on spiral into Delanie Walker's hands on a 29-yard scoring pass that put the 49ers ahead entering the fourth quarter. Smith has shown that he can manage the offense and play within the system after two weeks, and his play at the game's most important position has been good enough to lead the 49ers to a 2-0 start rather than the 1-1 record the team takes to Cincinnati.

Falling


Secondary: One-half of football into the season, this revamped unit was looking superb, having allowed the Seahawks only 42 yards at halftime in the opener against Seattle. But it has been all downhill from there, as coverage breakdowns allowed two second-half touchdowns and 155 yards passing after halftime that allowed the Seahawks to cut a 16-point halftime deficit to 19-17 late in the game before special teams saved the day for San Francisco. There would be no such save against Dallas as this unit collapsed after helping the 49ers build a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. The Niners allowed 288 yards passing in the second half and 432 overall, and a lot of it had to do with the play of this unit, where every player involved had a conspicuous breakdown that led to big plays by Dallas. None was worse, of course, than the 77-yard pass from Tony Romo to reserve receiver Jesse Holley on Dallas' first offensive play of overtime, when cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Donte Whitner – who had both played reasonably well to that point – froze on Romo's play-action fake and allowed Holley to slip behind them for the play that decided the game and provided a final insult to a bad day for unit that is sinking fast.

FS Reggie Smith: For the second week in a row, Smith was embarrassed on a long touchdown pass in which he was the final line of defense and responsible from stopping the play from going all the way to the end zone. The first came late in the fourth quarter against Seattle, when Smith over-ran the play on a simple slant pass to Doug Baldwin, then got turned around and watched Baldwin run past him for a 55-yard touchdown play that brought the Seahawks within 19-17 with 4:08 to play in the opener. Smith admitted last week he still isn't all the way back yet from his minor knee surgery in August, and that showed late in the second half against Dallas with the 49ers nursing a 14-0 lead near midfield. Smith looked like he was playing in slow motion again when Cowboys receiver Miles Austin got wide open across the middle in front of Smith, who took a poor angle on the play and allowed Austin to run away from him to complete a 53-yard touchdown play that put the Cowboys on the scoreboard and cut San Francisco's lead in half right before halftime. As the nickel safety, Smith has recorded four tackles in two games but has done little to justify his job in coverage, which is to prevent long pass plays and, certainly, long touchdowns. Despite playing primarily on passing downs, Smith has yet to get his hands on a pass so far this season. With Dashon Goldson likely returning to the San Francisco lineup this week, Smith could lose his job as the nickel safety to Madieu Williams, who has been the Niners' starting safety in base defense with Goldson out the first two games due to a knee problem.


Niners Digest Top Stories