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 at the quarter pole of the season as the team prepares for Sunday's battle of first-place teams against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


Offensive line: After being embarrassed practically to a man on the final week of September by the Cincinnati Bengals, this unit did almost a complete about-face last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, taking command of the line of scrimmage and thus control of the game at the finish with pounding run blocking. The addition to the starting lineup of Adam Snyder at right guard steadied the volatile situation that had characterized that position previously with former starter Chilo Rachal. The pass blocking at Philadelphia also improved markedly starting from left tackle Joe Staley across to Snyder against a team that ranked second in the NFL in sacks entering the game. The conspicuous problems in pass protection by RT Anthony Davis continued, but Davis also contributed to the team's fine run-blocking, which allowed the 49ers to churn for 164 yards on the ground, averaging 6.6 yards a pop. This unit finally had its first solid all-around game and gave a glimpse of what San Francisco's offense can accomplish when it's playing that way.

QB Alex Smith: The seventh-year veteran was steady and efficient as a game manager through the first three weeks, but Smith's standout performance against the Eagles sent both his status and reputation soaring like no other game in recent memory. That's what happens when quarterbacks lead their teams all the way back from 20-point second-half deficits to victory. Smith was greatly responsible for San Francisco erasing Philadelphia's 23-3 third-quarter lead with his cool and crisp direction of three second-half touchdown drives. Smith's third quarter was about as good as any quarterback can be – 9 of 9 passing for 179 yards and two touchdowns – and with 291 total yards through the air, Smith served notice that the 49ers can beat a good opponent with him leading the way, and that they can be a passing team when they need to be. Smith's performance is getting a lot of attention around the NFL world this week, and he was nominated for FedEx Air NFL Player of the Week honors.

FS Dashon Goldson: Goldson's name was on the lips this week of both 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Buccaneers' coach Raheem Morris after Goldson's bruising effort against the Eagles, when he finished with a game-high 10 tackles and also recovered a fumble in the final minutes that helped seal the victory. In just his second game back in the lineup after missing the season's first two weeks with a knee injury, Goldson looked to be in top form as an aggressive hitter and also is rounding into form in coverage. To be sure, receivers around the NFL are aware that Goldson is now lurking on the back end of San Francisco's defense. "He played a terrific game, made some real big hits and had a chance to be a spectacular game," Harbaugh said. Said Morris, "I love the way he plays the game. He plays the game with great emotion. He has high intensity. He has the ability to track the ball. He has the ability to play the ball in the air. He has the ability to smash you. He's our type of guy."

RB Frank Gore: Like the offensive line, Gore bounced back in a big way at Philadelphia after his stock went from slow decline to plunging against the Bengals, a game in which Gore rushed for a season-low 42 yards, averaging 2.5 a carry, and also finished with a sprained right ankle that kept him out of practice the following week. It was uncertain whether Gore would even play against the Eagles until game time and he did not start. But Gore sure did finish, shrugging off the sore ankle to rush for a season-high 127 yards on 15 carries, including a 12-yard burst up the middle for the winning touchdown with three minutes to play. Gore stabilized his status as the team's lead back despite the fine play of emerging rookie Kendall Hunter, who is proving to be an ideal complement for Gore both by keeping him fresh and giving opponents another dimension to worry about at the RB position. But Gore's stellar effort against the Eagles re-assured everybody that he should remain a central figure in the team's offensive approach.


Nickel secondary: The 49ers were in this package often against the Eagles, and while it came up with some very opportunistic plays that contributed to the victory, the fact is this unit was torched throughout most of the game for big plays and huge chunks of yardage. The Eagles finished with 416 yards passing and were moving down the field again through the air to a possible game-winning score in the final minutes before that threat ended with a turnover that resulted from the magnificent effort of defensive lineman Justin Smith. The play of this unit brought back visions of San Francisco's only loss, when the 49ers allowed 432 yards passing and had several secondary breakdowns against Dallas in Week 2. Safety Reggie Smith can be a playmaker on this unit, but he continues to be caught out of position and take poor angles. The Niners have been giving up way too much in the form of yards and big plays with this unit on the field not to be considering making some changes and adjustments to it.

RT Anthony Davis: The second-year veteran continues to be San Francisco's Achilles' heel in pass protection. He was abused last week throughout the day by Philadelphia's Jason Babin, who had each of the Eagles' three sacks, and Davis continues to struggle mightily in pass protection against speed ends. Davis had an encouraging performance with his run blocking, but it's not going to matter much unless he begins holding up more consistently protecting the right edge on passing downs. Davis also was flagged for two tripping penalties on Babin, instinctively going to a leg whip after already getting beaten. The 49ers might not yet be at the point that they are ready to make a change with Davis, as they did with Rachal, but opponents will continue to challenge and look for ways to expose this weak link in San Francisco's line until Davis shows he can do better.

PR/WR Ted Ginn Jr.: Ginn's stock was soaring after the season opener, and with his quick-striking potential, the 49ers certainly aren't considering any changes that would take Ginn off the field as a return specialist. But after his spectacular game against Seattle in Week 1, when he returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns, Ginn has been a nonfactor returning punts, and he in fact went backward against the Eagles, finishing with minus-6 yards to show for his two punt returns. Ginn averaged 6.3 yards on three punt returns the week before against Cincinnati. And, even with Braylon Edwards out of action due to a knee injury, Ginn has gone from starter status at wide receiver in the preseason to nonfactor at the position one quarter into the regular season. Ginn did not catch a pass for the second consecutive week against the Eagles, and he has had only one ball thrown his way over that span.

Niners Digest Top Stories