49ers report card

It was a disappointing defeat to begin the season for the 49ers, but upon further review, the Niners get good grades for solid performance in several areas after their 34-27 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Quarterback Alex Smith looked to be in charge as he completed 23 of 40 passes for 288 yards - all career highs - and a touchdown while protecting the ball well with no turnovers. Smith was sacked only once and showed a quick first step when evading rushers who came free off the edges. Smith also showed an ability to get the ball deep downfield on target. Receiver Antonio Bryant showed some big-play ability with four catches for 114 yards. He also had a 52-yard TD negated by right tackle Kwame Harris' holding penalty. Tight end Vernon Davis showed his explosiveness after taking a short pass 31 yards for a touchdown. But Davis, who had five catches, also fumbled and dropped a fourth-quarter pass on a third-and-2 that would've kept a drive alive deep in Cardinals territory. Frank Gore also proved to be a consistent threat out of the backfield with a team-high six receptions for 83 yards - a 13.8 average which is superb for a running back. Secondary receivers Arnaz Battle and Bryan Gilmore combined for four receptions but didn't make much impact.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Gore was terrific, running with determination and showing all the reasons why the 49ers discarded Kevan Barlow during the summer. Gore gained 87 yards rushing - averaging 5.4 yards a pop on his 16 carries - and scored two touchdowns on the ground, showing great surge to carry defenders into the end zone. The run blocking was good - particularly since the 49ers lost run-blocker supreme Larry Allen to a knee injury on the their first offensive series - and when the line did not open things up, Gore did a good job of making positive yards. Fullback Chris Hetherington had a few solid blocks, which isn't necessarily his forte.

PASSING DEFENSE: C-plus -- The 49ers did not get much pressure on Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner early in the game, and he picked them apart. But as the game wore on, the 49ers were able to get some pressure on him. Linebacker Brandon Moore recorded a sack and pressured Warner into an intentional-grounding penalty. The 49ers recorded three sacks on Warner, who threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns. The coverage in the secondary might have been a little better than those numbers suggest, and it got better as the game progressed. That's a direct correlation to the pass rush, since San Francisco defensive backs often were very close to receivers in coverage on several plays instead of getting beat by wide margins. Warner put the ball exactly where it needed to be to be caught several times. Cornerbacks Shawntae Spencer and Walt Harris combined to knock away three passes and make 12 tackles. Nickel back Sammy Davis had two passes defensed, but dropped an interception on Arizona's first drive that could have been huge in sustaining the 49ers' early momentum.

RUSHING DEFENSE: B-plus -- The 49ers held running back Edgerrin James to a 1.9 average in the first half and he finished with just 73 yards rushing despite toting the football 26 times - a 2.8 average. The 49ers' front seven did a good job of winning battles up front and clogging up the running lanes and looked much better than during its iffy preseason performance. Linebacker Derek Smith had a game-high nine tackles and Manny Lawson had six tackles and some nice back-side pursuit in his NFL debut. In 29 rushes, Arizona's longest run went for just 10 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Joe Nedney missed a 34-yard field-goal attempt - the first time he has missed from within 38 yards as a 49er - which was the only real gaffe on a strong day by the special teams. That miss gave the 49ers nothing to show for a 61-yard drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters. Arnaz Battle had a 60-yard punt return to the Arizona 5-yard line that set up a Nedney 22-yard field goal. In the final 32 seconds, Nedney's 44-yard field goal and onside kick, which Marcus Hudson recovered, gave the 49ers one last chance to send the game into overtime. Andy Lee dropped three punts inside the Arizona 20-yard line and the Cardinals had zero return yards on four punts. Maurice Hicks averaged 25.2 yards on six kickoff returns as the 49ers won the battle of field position.

COACHING: A -- Offensive coordinator Norv Turner assembled a fine offensive game plan, enabling the 49ers to gain 393 yards of total offense. Defensively, the 49ers used a variety of blitzes to get some pressure on Warner after failing early in the game. Nolan made a risky decision to send out his field-goal unit for a 44-yard attempt on first down when the 49ers needed two scores with under a minute to play, but it turned out to be a great move that gave his team an opportunity in the final seconds to send the game into overtime, which it came a few end-zone incompletions from doing.

Niners Digest Top Stories