49ers report card: Grading the Rams game
QUARTERBACKS -- Grade: B-minus
Because of the final result, the big mistakes stand out as glaring, though Colin Kaepernick's pass out of the end zone that was ruled a safety might have been a bad call by the officials, and his wild pitch on a read option clearly was a bad play call at a bad time. Even with those two gaffes taken into context, Kaepernick still played well enough win, and he remained patient and didn't force passes even though the Rams were taking away the deep stuff throughout the day. Kaepernick completed 21 of 32 passes for 208 yards and was victimized by several drops, including on the final drive of regulation when his perfectly-placed pass to Delanie Walker at the goal line could have sealed a victory. Kaepernick's 50-yard scramble on the play preceding that pass was part of his game-high 84 yards rushing and put the 49ers in position to win with a David Akers field goal. Running out of bounds the play before that field goal, however, gave the Rams plenty of extra time for their game-tying drive at the end of regulation.
RUNNING BACKS -- Grade: C
Can't question the effort of Frank Gore, who ran hard as always and never quit plugging away. But the results weren't there like they usually are as Gore couldn't find holes and didn't get stronger as the game progressed, as is usually the case. Gore began the game in fine fashion, rumbling for 34 yards on his first three carries. But after having a 16-yard burst nullified by penalty, Gore gained only 24 yards on his final 20 carries of the game as the NFL's top-ranked rushing game stalled. That left Gore with just 58 hard-earned yards to show for his 23 carries, an average of just 2.5 yards a pop. That was the most carries Gore has had in a game this season, but it produced his third-lowest total in 12 games this year. Gore also dropped the only pass thrown to him on San Francisco's first offensive play. Brandon Jacobs was the only other running back to carry the football, but he produced just six yards on four carries. Jacobs looked powerful blasting over the right side for a 3-yard gain on third-and-1 to keep San Francisco's lone touchdown drive moving, but he was a nonfactor after that. Fullback Bruce Miller contributed two catches for 17 yards.
WIDE RECEIVERS -- Grade: A-minus
It was an excellent day for a unit that was missing versatile Kyle Williams for the first time this season. Michael Crabtree was a difference-maker with seven receptions for 101 yards, including several third-down situations when the Niners needed him to make a play. Mario Manningham also produced on third downs and ran practically unstoppable crisp slant patterns while pulling in five receptions. Used more with Williams out, Randy Moss had three receptions – his second highest-total of the season. Ted Ginn also caught a pass, giving this unit 16 receptions for 169 yards on the day. Manningham had to leave late in the game with a shoulder injury that is a concern moving forward.
TIGHT ENDS -- Grade: C-minus
Delanie Walker had an egregious drop at the goal line on the final drive of regulation, a pass he clearly could have caught that could have given the Niners a victory. He was called for holding on the play after that, pushing the 49ers back from the St. Louis 14 and forcing them to settle for a field goal in the final minutes. Walker also couldn't hold onto a deep pass early in the fourth quarter that he had going down to the ground but couldn't maintain possession of once he landed. The Rams were called for roughing the passer on the play, so the Niners advanced 15 yards anyway. Walker also conspicuously missed a few blocks. Vernon Davis was given little opportunity to show his big-play ability and was practically a non-factor in the passing game with just two receptions for 15 yards.
OFFENSIVE LINE -- Grade: C-minus
Not a great day for this unit, which couldn't open holes in the running game against an aggressive Rams front. There were problems in pass protection, too, as Kaepernick was sacked three times, hit five times and forced out of the pocket on several other occasions. Left tackle Joe Staley had a holding call that negated a 16-yard run by Frank Gore early in the second quarter, and the entire run game seemed to bog down the rest of the afternoon. Left guard Mike Iupati was flagged for holding at the San Francisco 1-yard line late in the third quarter, pushing the 49ers back inches from their own goal line. And seldom-used swing lineman Daniel Kilgore, in on the play as an extra blocker, was flagged for holding in overtime after the 49ers had moved out to their 35-yard line on their first possession of the extra period. That put the 49ers in a first-and-20 situation back at their 25, and they were unable to get out of the hole as the drive bogged down.
DEFENSIVE LINE -- Grade: A-minus
Unit was unyielding and aggressive throughout the afternoon, controlling the line of scrimmage and shutting down St. Louis' running game for four quarters. Justin Smith was a shining star with an All-Pro performance that featured a team-high eight tackles and a sack of Sam Bradford. Smith was a beast and constantly in the St. Louis backfield while finishing with three stops behind the line of scrimmage. Isaac Sopoaga also had a tackle behind the line and was tough on the nose. Steven Jackson averaged just 2.3 yards per carry on his 21 totes, but the line may have tired a bit at the finish as Jackson was able to pop through the line for 16 of his 48 rushing yards on the final drive that led to Greg Zuerlein's game-winning field goal.
LINEBACKERS -- Grade: B
The play here against the run was stellar by middle backers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, who combined for 12 tackles. Aldon Smith had his NFL-leading 17½th sack and put good pressure on Bradford. Smith and Ahmad Brooks combined for six tackles. On the down side, Brooks had an opportunity for an interception on the game's first play but couldn't bring in Bradford's pass. This unit was slow to get to the ball in pass coverage, and Willis was beaten by Lance Kendricks for a seven-yard reception on the two-point conversion that tied the game late in the fourth quarter.
SECONDARY -- Grade: B
Chris Culliver had a stellar performance guarding the sidelines and made several plays in coverage. Starting cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers also were solid in coverage, and Brown was locked on Austin Pettis in the end zone as Bradford's fourth-down pass fell incomplete to thwart a St. Louis scoring opportunity in the third quarter. Safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner combined for 11 tackles, but Goldson missed a tackle on Jackson after a short pass that allowed the St. Louis back to rumble for big yardage, and Goldson's unnecessary roughness hit on a sliding Bradford was the big play that put the Rams in position for their game-tying field goal at the end of regulation.
SPECIAL TEAMS -- Grade: D-minus
Even in a dome, a 51-yard field goal isn't a gimme, but given the circumstances, it was one that David Akers had to make Sunday. Akers missed it – he's now 7 of 15 from beyond 40 yards this season and just 21 of 30 overall – and that cost the 49ers their opportunity for an overtime victory over the Rams for the second time this season. The miss from that distance also gave the Rams a short field on which to drive for their game-winning field goal. Akers made routine field goals from 23 and 33 yards, but it's the one he missed that everyone will remember and was most consequential. Ted Ginn Jr. had just six yards on two punt returns and he squandered opportunities for better returns on both of them. C.J. Spillman and Tramaine Brock both were flagged for penalties on coverage units, Brock's penalty coming in overtime. The bright spot was punter Andy Lee, who began his day with a 61-yard punt and placed four kicks inside the St. Louis 20 while averaging a 45-yard net on his six punts.
COACHING -- Grade: D-minus
The 49ers gave this game away after controlling it for most of four quarters, and coaching had a lot to do with it. The decision to get fancy – and risky – with a read option pitch on third-and-3 from the San Francisco 17 with little more than three minutes to play and victory at hand may have been the worst play call so far in the Jim Harbaugh era. The Niners also made several other poor decisions in crunch time and overtime, and the clock management at the end of regulation left the door open for the Rams to have a chance to tie the game in the final minute. The 49ers seemed content to protect a 7-0 lead rather than pushing the ball on offense to build on it through three quarters, and several San Francisco players said the Rams seemed to constantly have the right defensive call to thwart San Francisco's scheme. And with a first down at the St. Louis 37 in overtime, the Niners sent Gore into the line for two short plunges followed by a short incomplete pass, which did little to give the struggling Akers a better opportunity than from 51 yards out.
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