Grading the NFC West: Week 14

Handing out report cards to the 49ers and their three divisional rivals in the NFC West for their performances in Week 14 games.


49ers report card: Arizona 21, San Francisco 19


PASSING OFFENSE: D-plus -- Alex Smith moved the ball crisply in the first half by throwing mainly out of three-step drops. But then the 49ers completely stalled in the second half with one first down and four three-and-outs. Smith was also 2-for-7 for 13 yards and a sack and he had one run for minus-3 yards in the red zone. He was 4 for 13 for just 30 yards passing in the second half and finished the game with one of his worst statistics lines of the season: 18 of 37 passing for 175 yards and no touchdowns for a passer rating of 62.3. Smith also was sacked five times and hit nine times as the protection in front of him was poor by an offensive line that was hampered by injuries. Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams combined for 11 receptions but averaged just 9.5 yards on those catches.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- When the 49ers did run it, they weren't half bad, particularly when they gave it to Frank Gore, who surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing barrier for the fifth time in six seasons. Gore finished with only 10 carries, but he gained 72 yards and had a 37-yard scoring run that put San Francisco ahead 19-7 early in the third quarter. However, Gore carried just twice more in the game's final 27 minutes and he may have been limited by injury issues. The 49ers got very little out of backup Kendall Hunter, who averaged just 2.5 yards on his eight carries with a long run of six yards.

PASS DEFENSE: D-plus -- Strong safety Donte Whitner said San Francisco's secondary lost the game, and he might not have been very far off. A look at the offensive grades says otherwise, but nevertheless, the defense did allow a backup quarterback on a 6-7 team to amass 282 yards passing and three touchdowns. And John Skelton was the same guy the 49ers had embarrassed just three weeks earlier in San Francisco, intercepting him three times until the Cardinals finally ran in third-stringer Richard Bartel. Free safety Dashon Goldson said Skelton consistently checked into the proper play, which a young quarterback should not do to an experienced defense. Interceptions by Goldson and cornerback Tarell Brown were highlights, but the secondary allowed a 60-yard catch-and-run by Early Doucet for a touchdown, and the Niners had no answer for Larry Fitzgerald, who dominated them for seven receptions that went for 149 yards.

RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus -- Too bad the 49ers were having trouble on the back end of their defense, because their front end was again magnificent against the run. There was absolutely nowhere to run against the NFL's No. 1 rushing defense for Arizona running backs, who were limited to 30 yards rushing on 17 carries. Beanie Wells, who's having a breakout year, was absolutely stuffed, gaining just 27 yards on 15 carries. Once again, the 49ers did not allow a 100-yard rusher or a rushing touchdown, which kept those season-long streaks alive and kept them moving toward record proportions. Skelton slipped free of the pocket several times for 24 yards rushing, which improved Arizona's final tally to 55 yards rushing on 23 carries, a 2.4 average. For the second game in a row, Larry Grant filled in admirably for injured Pro Bowler Patrick Willis at inside linebacker, recording a game-high nine tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- San Francisco's specialty units were stellar once again, following a season-long pattern. The 49ers had no reservation in punting to dangerous returner Patrick Peterson and he only averaged 8.8 yards on his returns, with a 19-yard return boosting that average. Peterson, who has returned four punts for touchdowns this season, averaged 6.3 yards on his other four returns. Meanwhile, Ted Ginn Jr., the 49ers' counterpart, ripped off punt returns 52 and 25 yards. Ginn also returned a kickoff 33 yards. Andy Lee averaged a superb 46.9 yards net on his punts and David Akers made four of five field goals and put each of his kickoffs out of the end zone. Akers' only miss was from 50 yards – his first miss from 50 yards or beyond this season after making his first six tries.

COACHING: C-minus -- The 49ers' red zone woes continue, and coach Jim Harbaugh blamed it partially on play-calling. The 49ers' constantly shifting personnel groups on offense used to cause confusion, but now they don't. The defense completely fooled John Skelton in the first game, but not so this time around. It was Skelton who made the last-second adjustments that resulted in big plays. The 49ers had no answer for the Cardinals' second-half defensive adjustments and lost a game they led by 12 points in the second half against a team they had dominated during a 16-point victory just three weeks before. The 49ers were out-gained 325-233 by the same team they'd outgained 431-229 the first time around. That's a swing of 18 points and 294 yards in 21 days, and the 49ers folded at the finish of this game in a manner unlike any of their other 2011 performances.


Cardinals report card: Arizona 21, San Francisco 19


PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Backup quarterback John Skelton had two passes intercepted, but he threw for three touchdowns and 282 yards. Larry Fitzgerald had catches of 53 and 46 yards, and Early Doucet had one of 60 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- The Cardinals didn't think they would have much success against the 49ers' front seven, so they didn't try to run much. Beanie Wells had 15 carries for 27 yards. The overall 2.4-yard average was a disappointment.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- For the second consecutive week, five different players recorded sacks. The Cardinals didn't have an interception, but they didn't yield a touchdown pass either.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- For some reason, the 49ers gave the ball to Frank Gore just 10 times. He produced 72 yards so it was odd they didn't keep feeding him. The Cardinals did a solid job overall, allowing 90 yards on 21 carries.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Punter Dave Zastudil didn't have a great day statistically, but he kicked out of his end zone three times, and he's playing with a torn biceps tendon. The Cardinals gave up a 52-yard punt return while their return teams produced nothing.

COACHING: A -- The Cardinals have won five of six and made themselves relevant after losing six of their first seven. The defense played well for a sixth consecutive game. While the offense is still struggling, there were signs of life. And the play-calling was creative.


Rams report card: Seattle 30, St. Louis 13


PASSING OFFENSE: F -- A 50-yard screen pass to RB Steven Jackson and a 37-yard completion to WR Brandon Lloyd that would likely have been a touchdown if it weren't underthrown accounted for 87 of QB Sam Bradford's 193 passing yards. Without those plays, he would have been 10-for-27 for 106 yards. With them, his passer rating was 49.9, and he completed 41.4 percent of his passes while playing on a bad ankle. It might be time to shut him down for the rest of the season.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- It was better than the previous game against Seattle, although 26 of Cadillac Williams' 49 rushing yards came on a fourth-quarter drive when the score was 23-6. RB Steven Jackson had some solid runs and ended up with 63 yards, although he had just 13 yards on nine attempts in the second half.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- It's tough to assess this when the secondary is so injury-depleted and DE Chris Long continues to play on a bad ankle. Seahawks QB Tarvaris Jackson was patient, completing 21 of 32 passes for 224 yards with a touchdown. He was not intercepted. Jackson spread the ball around to nine receivers.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Rams played hard and made Marshawn Lynch work for his yards. Lynch ended up with 115 yards on 23 attempts, with 30 coming on Seattle's final touchdown drive after the Seahawks took over at the Rams' 42-yard line following a failed onside kick.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D-minus -- The only good were two Josh Brown field goals (46 and 29 yards) and the kickoff-return effort by Jerious Norwood (six returns for a 28.3-yard average with a long of 47). The Seahawks took an early 7-0 lead on a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown. Seattle's Leon Washington had a kickoff return of 54 yards and a 17-yard punt return, while Doug Baldwin had a 37-yard kickoff return.

COACHING: D -- The only thing keeping this from being a failing grade is that the score was still 13-3 late in the third quarter. However, inexplicable play calls on offense, especially a naked bootleg with Bradford, were head-scratchers. The decision to start Bradford could be questioned, considering his problems even completing a pass at times, but there was little alternative (Tom Brandstater, Kellen Clemens).


Seahawks report card: Seattle 30, St. Louis 13


PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Once again, Tarvaris Jackson didn't have an overwhelming performance, but he was effective, completing 21 of 32 passes for 224 yards and a 29-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin. The rookie receiver out of Stanford led the Seahawks with seven catches for 93 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus -- Marshawn Lynch finished with 115 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Lynch has rushed for 100-plus yards five times in the past six weeks. Lynch averaged 5 yards a carry, and Seattle finished with 145 yards on the ground.

PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- The Seahawks held Sam Bradford to just 193 passing yards, sacking him three times. Bradford finished with a 49.9 passer rating. Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner notched his team-leading fifth interception of the year.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Seahawks held St. Louis running back Steven Jackson to 63 yards on 20 carries. Jackson has never rushed for 100 yards against Seattle in 15 games.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Doug Baldwin blocked a punt that Michael Robinson returned for a touchdown, and Baldwin also had a 37-yard reverse on a kick return to open the game. Leon Washington had a 54-yard kick return that set up a Baldwin touchdown reception.

COACHING: B -- The young Seahawks proved that they are mature enough to beat a team they are supposed to defeat by taking care of St. Louis at home on "Monday Night Football." Now Pete Carroll takes his team on the road to see if it can compete against a much better team in Chicago.


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