49ers report card
RUSHING OFFENSE: The 49ers' ground game had been steadily developing momentum and productive effectiveness over the past month, but that all came to a screeching halt against the Giants. New York loaded the box and shot the gaps, and a San Francisco line that recently has blocked so well in the run game could do virtually nothing against a physical, aggressive opponent. Kevan Barlow (4 yards on 10 carries) and Frank Gore (33 on 7) had few openings as San Francisco was pushed off the ball. Take away Gore's 22-yard sprint around left end, and the 49ers had just 30 yards rushing on their other 21 carries – and 15 of those yards were gained by quarterback Cody Pickett. Any semblance of a running game shut down after guard Eric Heitmann was injured in the second half, and the Giants – daring the 49ers to pass – always seemed to know what was coming, and they were there waiting for it. Grade: D- PASSING OFFENSE: Pickett's inexperience showed most often when he tried to fit quick throws into tight openings on his first read, but he was not the problem here. Everyone else around him was. The pass protection was terrible, and tackles Anthony Clement and Kwame Harris combined for three holding penalties (one was declined) and four false starts – on their home field! – as the line as a unit was flagged nine times. The sequence where three penalties on Clement and Harris turned a first-and-10 at the New York 30 into a third-and-33 on the San Francisco 47 was both laughable and pathetic. Pickett threw an ill-advised interception on the next play, his biggest mistake of the day, which led to New York's first touchdown. Otherwise, he was not bad in his first NFL start, particularly considering the time he has had this year to prepare for the role. Two of his best passes were spoiled by others, and each could have had a big impact on the game. Brandon Lloyd's spectacular 31-yard reception near the goal line was negated by a Clement holding penalty, and tight end Trent Smith dropped a perfectly-placed deep pass over the middle that would have went for big yardage and taken the 49ers deep into New York territory in the first quarter. Grade: D- RUSHING DEFENSE: The Giants are a good running team and Tiki Barber is a quality back who reads blockers well and hits holes quickly, but the 49ers once again did an outstanding job bottling an opposing running attack. The front wall of Bryant Young, Anthony Adams, Marques Douglas and Isaac Sopoaga continues to do a good job holding the line of scrimmage so that others can come up and make tackles. The Giants – who are fourth in the NFL in average per rush – averaged just 2.9 yards on their 32 rushing attempts. Linebackers Julian Peterson, Derek Smith and Brandon Moore were quick getting to the football. The Giants did get two 1-yard touchdown plunges by Brandon Jacobs in the fourth quarter to seal the deal, but both of those scores were set up by long passing plays. Grade: B PASSING DEFENSE: Save a handful of plays, and the secondary did an outstanding job against a team with several legitimate receiving weapons. Two of those plays, however, set up touchdowns, and another was a touchdown when safety Tony Parrish failed to stay with tight end Jeremy Shockey on a 4th-and-1 play. That's not the only time Parrish missed an assignment in coverage, and he also dropped a sure interception deep in San Francisco territory. Cornerbacks Shawntae Spencer and Bruce Thornton were solid in coverage throughout the afternoon, and they were right there to make tackles when they weren't able to prevent a completion. The secondary got no help from a pass rush that was, for the most part, practically non-existent. Grade: C- SPECIAL TEAMS: Besides allowing a 35-yard kickoff return by Willie Ponder, the coverage units again were excellent against an opponent that features one of the NFL's best return games. Rasheed Marshall averaged 10 yards on three punt returns, but the 49ers never went far with their kickoff returns. Andy Lee had another strong game punting with a 44.6 average and a net of almost 40 yards, and kicker Joe Nedney was superb while supplying San Francisco all of its points for the second consecutive week with long field goals of 48 and 52 yards. Once again, special teams helped keep the 49ers in the game. Grade: B+ COACHING: The 49ers had a solid premise, going with the same game plan that worked the week before against Tampa Bay. But, even with an inexperienced Pickett at quarterback, the 49ers needed to try to exploit the NFL's 30th-ranked passing defense more often, particularly when it became evident New York was loading up on the run and daring the Niners to pass. The defensive plan was sound against a quality opponent that has multiple weapons. Shifting out of punting formation and lining up for a fake punt on a fourth-and-7 play in the second quarter – and then taking a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty – seemed like a strange and dubious move. Coach Mike Nolan explained it away as giving opponents something to think about in the future, and that seems to be more and more what this season is becoming all about – the 49ers playing for the future. Grade: C- OVERALL: The 49ers had the defense and special teams to compete with one of the NFC's best teams. But the offense is so deficient that it often negates what the team can do in other areas, and that was never more evident than Sunday. When a team produces just 138 yards of offense and commits 12 penalties, it has virtually no chance of winning, no matter how competitive it is in other areas. The 49ers have to start finding some answers on offense and getting points from someone other than their kicker – and fast. Grade: D+
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