49ers report card

Another week of unsatisfactory grades for the 49ers after their 24-14 loss to the St. Louis Rams:

QUARTERBACKS: Tim Rattay finished with decent numbers (31 of 47 passing, 299 yards, two touchdowns) in his return after missing two games with a separated shoulder. But those numbers were padded by a second half during which he completed 24 of 35 passes for 220 yards and both of his scoring throws against a Rams defense that was just holding on to secure a game that already was won. Rattay did shake off the rust and looked like he could move the offense on four second-half drives that each gained at least 45 yards. But the damage was done early on his fumble that turned into a 14-0 St. Louis lead and an underthrown ball that was intercepted on San Francisco's next drive. Rattay was not bad, and he kept plugging away, but his early ineffectiveness helped dig the hole that buried the Niners. Grade: C-

RUNNING BACKS: Once again, the Niners had to abandon the running game, but there wasn't much there to begin with, even against a defense that ranked 30th in the NFL against the run entering the game. Kevan Barlow ran hard but there was nothing doing as he gained just 42 yards on 15 carries. Terry Jackson averaged four yards on his three carries, but fumbled when he was popped hard (the Niners recovered). Fullback Fred Beasley's blocking was decent, but he needed more help up front. Grade: C-

WIDE RECEIVERS: Cedrick Wilson had trouble getting open, but Curtis Conway had a nice showing with six receptions, including a 21-yard touchdown grab on a quick slant that ended San Francisco's scoring drought at seven quarters. Rookie Rashaun Woods' first pro reception came on a third-and-10 play that kept the chains moving on San Francisco's first scoring drive, and he later got open in the corner of the end zone to haul in an 18-yard touchdown reception in the final minute. Grade: C+

TIGHT ENDS: Eric Johnson had a game-high 10 receptions for 113 yards, becoming the first San Francisco tight end in eight seasons to finish with more than 100 receiving yards in a game. He was a reliable target over the middle and he got open. The blocking of the tight ends did nothing to help the running game, but that no longer was a priority after the Niners fell quickly behind. Grade: B

OFFENSIVE LINE: This unit continues to struggle and remains the heart of San Francisco's offensive problems. Rattay was sacked three times - the first ending the Niners' promising opening drive, the second forcing a fumble that the Rams quickly turned into a two-touchdown lead. The protection got better in the second half, but holes for the running game were virtually nonexistent except on a handful of plays. It's tough to expect a lot of this unit that is missing starters Kwame Harris and Jeremy Newberry, but it is what it is, and this group often appears overmatched. Grade: D-

DEFENSIVE LINE: Marc Bulger, who was sacked five times in each of the past two games, had plenty of time to sit back and find his open receivers. And the run defense, which had been one of the few bright spots through San Francisco's first three games, was shredded for 174 rushing yards by the Rams. Anthony Adams made a few plays, but Bryant Young was not the menacing presence he was during September games. The St. Louis offense was able to set the tone of the game and then quickly take command of it by winning the battle up front. Grade: D-

LINEBACKERS: Not even San Francisco's shining unit could prevent the Rams - 25th in NFL rushing entering the game - from running all over the Niners. Jeff Ulbrich (seven tackles) and Julian Peterson (five tackles) were in on some plays, but the Rams were able to find some openings that usually get closed fast by this speedy unit. It hurt the Niners when Derek Smith had to leave with a leg injury that could keep him out until the end of this month. Except for one 25-yard completion by Marshall Faulk, this unit did a very good job against St. Louis' short passing game and secondary receivers. Grade: C+

SECONDARY: The Niners couldn't stop Isaac Bruce, and little Shaun McDonald got free in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard scoring reception that put St. Louis in control early. But otherwise, the St. Louis receivers did little. But that was enough. Torry Holt was kept in check on three receptions for 28 yards and receivers not named Bruce had eight catches for only 59 yards. Tony Parrish was solid with six tackles and his partner at safety, Ronnie Heard, led the Niners with 10 tackles. Grade: C

SPECIAL TEAMS: Jimmy Williams set the tone for special teams when he circled underneath Andy Lee's high punt to end San Francisco's first offensive drive ... then let it bounce right past him for a touchback. Lee was punting from the St. Louis 30-yard line, so the Niners ultimately netted 10 yards on the play. Lee put his other two punts inside the St. Louis 20 and had a 47-yarder. The coverage units were solid, but the return game still isn't explosive, though Arnaz Battle had punt returns of 13 and 10 yards. Grade: C-

COACHING: Once again, the Niners stalled at the start, allowing another opponent to jump ahead and establish control of the game early. San Francisco wasn't prepared to stop a St. Louis running game that ranked 25th in the league entering the game, and the Niners also weren't prepared offensively to exploit one of the NFL's worst defenses. Going back to the Oct. 19 New Orleans game, the Niners were outscored 65-0 over a span of eight quarters before finally ending that agony with a 14-point fourth quarter. That goes back to coaching. The decision not to try an early field goal with a fourth down at the St. Louis 30 also was dubious, particularly since the resulting punt ended up as a touchback. Grade: F

OVERALL: In some ways, this game was even worse than last week's 34-0 blanking in Seattle. The 49ers were dominated in the first half by what appeared to be a mediocre St. Louis team. There were a few sparks in the second half, however, and that prevents the Niners from receiving a failing grade here. But it's obvious they have a lot of work to do if they want to get their first victory any time soon. Grade: D-


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