Offensive line: It's almost remarkable the strides this unit has made since September, when it was looking like the conspicuous weak link in the entire operation. Now San Francisco's big boys up front are actually developing a reputation around the league. "Their offensive line is a monster," Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said during a conference call Wednesday with 49ers writers. "They're just smashing guys. They're just running it down people's throats." Indeed, San Francisco's offensive front has been taking control of games by allowing the 49ers to dictate the tempo with their running game. This improving unit paved the way for 174 yards rushing last week against a good Cleveland defensive front, which followed a mauling of a vaunted Detroit defensive wall that the Niners beat for 203 yards rushing, which followed a whipping of Tampa Bay's defensive front to the tune of 213 yards rushing. The 49ers averaged just 69.6 yards rushing per game in their first three games, and this unit was pointed at as one of the main culprits for the shortfall. The 49ers have rushed for at least 164 yards in every game since. And it isn't just in the run game that this unit has become a force. After allowing 14 sacks in a three-game stretch through early October, the Niners have allowed only three sacks in the three games since, and just one last week against the Browns. Every player on this unit has raised the level of his game, and it has gotten to the point that the 49ers are even sending out left tackle Joe Staley on pass patterns, where the veteran produced a 17-yard catch-and-run last week.
WR Michael Crabtree: The third-year veteran remained San Francisco's top target in the passing game against Cleveland even with Braylon Edwards back in the lineup. Crabtree led the 49ers in receptions for the second consecutive game with five catches against the Browns, and he has been targeted with passes 24 times in the past two games. Not only is he displaying a consistent ability to go up in the air to make difficult catches, but he also has been getting behind defenders. Crabtree slipped behind the Cleveland defense several times last week, turning one of those opportunities into a season-best 41-yard reception. He also had his first touchdown catch of the season on a 2-yard reception that put San Francisco ahead 17-0 in the second quarter. Crabtree's downfield blocking has been outstanding, and a guy who has been labeled a diva is showing regular signs of developing into a fine all-around wide receiver. "I really, really think Michael's been playing great football," Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said. "The last three weeks, especially. He just keeps getting better and more comfortable, and his abilities are shining through. And his consummate team-type of guy (with) the way he's blocked... He does so much more for the team that doesn't get talked about outside of our meeting room in terms of the way he blocks, and willingness to do what needs to be done. He's doing a heck of a job."
CB Shawntae Spencer: The eighth-year veteran's stock has fallen to the point that he didn't play one snap against the Browns despite suiting up for the game. Spencer was the only player on San Francisco's active roster besides rookie backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick that was in uniform but did not play in the game. To suggest that former-starter Spencer is falling out of San Francisco's defensive plans would not be an understatement at this point, since he had the bye week to rest his sore toe but still could not get on the field. Spencer clearly has lost the No. 3 cornerback role to rookie Chris Culliver, who continues to play well, and Spencer could fall even further down the depth chart at the position with Tramaine Brock – who had interceptions in each of San Francisco's first two games before breaking his hand – scheduled to return from his injury either this week or next. Spencer actually held status as San Francisco's No. 1 cornerback when training camp began back in July after he started each of San Francisco's previous 36 games over the past two seasons at the position. Now it appears he's barely hanging onto a roster spot.