49ers vs. Rams: Thumbs up and thumbs down

Which way does the thumb turn for the 49ers after their 35-0 rout of the St. Louis Rams, including a Superman performance by LB Patrick Willis, blitzing inside linebackers, a slow-starting offense, LBs Takeo Spikes and Scott McKillop, an Ahmad Brooks sighting, QB Shaun Hill, TE Vernon Davis, RB Glen Coffee, winning the takeaway battle, taking command in the NFC West and much more? Check inside.

Thumbs up: He may not be able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound, but Patrick Willis sure can leap over opposing offensive linemen, and he got the jump on the St. Louis offense for a full 60 minutes Sunday. To put it simply, San Francisco's All-Pro middle linebacker played like Superman in cleats, making plays all over the field and coming at the Rams throughout the afternoon with reckless abandon. Willis showed it all Sunday – the full array of the skills that make him so special, and his 23-yard interception return shows his increasing acumen as a playmaker while capping off a tremendous performance that has him as a legitimate early candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors this season. Besides his pick and TD, Willis also had eight tackles – three of them behind the line of scrimmage – a career-high 2.5 sacks and three other hits on St. Louis quarterback Kyle Boller. That's called doing it all.

Thumbs up: Willis' partner in crime in the middle of the San Francisco defense – veteran Takeo Spikes – also came up big throughout the afternoon. Spikes tied Willis and Michael Lewis for team-high honors with eight tackles – two of them behind the line of scrimmage – and recorded his first sack of the season. Spikes helps to set San Francisco's aggressive tone on defense and is the perfect complement to the great young player next to him.

Thumbs up: When you add up the numbers above, you'll see that the 49ers' middle linebackers combined for 3.5 sacks. The 49ers can obviously bring it up the middle on blitzes, and with the kind of results they got doing it Sunday, it's something they need to make a regular part of their defensive repertoire.

Thumbs down: A bumbling start and just 228 total yards at the end of the day just won't get it done on offense, especially since it came against such a NFL weakling like the Rams. The 49ers simply have to do better, and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye needs to start getting his attack dialed in on a more consistent and productive basis.

Thumbs up: That said, it was nice to see the 49ers come out throwing on the first play to wide receiver Isaac Bruce. Those kind of short patterns are there for this offense and need to be brought out on a much more frequent basis.

Thumbs up: Now, that was some great pressure on Rams quarterback Kyle Boller from start to finish. If the 49ers can put the heat on opposing passers like they consistently did Sunday, they will have a lot more outcomes like they did Sunday. Boller was sacked five times – a season-high for the 49ers and their most in a game since last October – and hit on nine other occasions. And the heat was coming from everywhere – the front line, linebackers and even safety Dashon Goldson, who recorded his first career sack.

Thumbs up: The 49ers got a nice game from outside linebacker Manny Lawson (five tackles, half a sack), and there also was an Ahmad Brooks sighting as the reserve linebacker came from the backside to stuff running back Samkon Gado for a one-yard loss on third-and-2 in the first quarter. That forced the Rams to attempt a 51-yard field goal by Josh Brown, which fell one yard short of the crossbar – the yard Brooks took away from the Rams with his big play.

Thumbs down: It was a shoddy effort protecting quarterback Shaun Hill by the San Francisco offensive line, which allowed their QB to get hit way too often. Hill was sacked four times and hit seven other times while in the pocket. There also wasn't a whole lot going on up front to clear out space for the running game.

Thumbs up: We can't mention Hill without giving another strong thumbs up for another strong, efficient outing by the veteran quarterback, who withstood the pressure to calmly complete 14 of 24 passes for 152 yards, including well-thrown touchdown strikes of 13 yards to Vernon Davis and 24 yards to Josh Morgan. Hill had a 104.9 quarterback rating for the day and is as big a reason as any for San Francisco's 3-1 start.

Thumbs up: That was quite a heads-up play by rookie linebacker/special teamer Scott McKillop to keep pursuing the play into the end zone on a punt, where he was rewarded with a gift touchdown when he and a swarm of teammates converged on the Rams' Quincy Butler, knocking the ball loose for McKillop to recover it for a special teams touchdown. Very well done.

Thumbs up: For those keeping track, the 49ers scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams Sunday, the first time that has happened in a game since 1997. Any time a NFL team can do that, it is almost certain to lead to a victory.

Thumbs up: Rookie running back Glen Coffee ran hard for 74 yards on 24 carries in the little space that was there, and it was nice to see his development as a receiver out of the backfield as he led the 49ers with four receptions Sunday. Coffee had one glaring drop, but if he can handle passes like he did against the Rams, that will add to his game and the San Francisco offense.

Thumbs up: The Shaun Hill to Vernon Davis collaboration is becoming a real favorite in the San Francisco offense and one of the 49ers' most effective scoring options. Linebackers just can't cover Davis up the seam, and Hill has a knack for dropping in his passes perfectly between defenders when Vernon is on the receiving end. The pair hooked up again for their third touchdown in two weeks as Davis slipped up the middle and made a nice grab between defenders deep in the end zone to complete a 13-yard touchdown play that put the 49ers up 14-0 in the third quarter and effectively decided the outcome.

Thumbs up: Speaking of Davis … Vernon continued to his ascension to star status with another impact game, hauling in three receptions for a team-high 43 yards. And the most impressive aspect of his performance Sunday was the way he continues to catch the ball with his hands away from his body, something that had always been a weakness in his game before this season. The guy is definitely coming along and reaching his potential.

Thumbs up: The 49ers finally got Josh Morgan involved in their passing game, and he responded with a 15-yard catch-and-run for a first down and a 24-yard touchdown reception, the first TD catch by a San Francisco wideout this season.

Thumbs down: It was a nice day for Morgan, but all the niceness came after he dropped a deep pass in the clear that would have went for a 56-yard touchdown in the third quarter when the 49ers still were clinging to a tenuous 7-0 lead. Morgan got behind the St. Louis defense and Hill hit him on the hands inside the Rams' 10-yard line, but Morgan let it slip down his chest and fall to the turf for a rally killer on San Francisco's first drive of the second half, which ended with a punt two plays later.

Thumbs up: For a situational player, defensive end Ray McDonald sure makes a lot of plays, and he was at it again Sunday, picking up a fumble in the St. Louis backfield and returning it 11 yards for his first career touchdown. McDonald has a nose for the football and seems to make a big play at least once a game.

Thumbs up: Nate Clements sure loves to hit, and once again he was tremendous in run support. He is probably one of the best hitters and tacklers at cornerback in the NFL. He contributed five tackles to the stellar defensive effort Sunday.

Thumbs up: Clements and his partners in the San Francisco secondary stoned the Rams throughout the day as St. Louis finished with just 82 net yards passing. That's the fewest the 49ers have allowed in a game since 2005.

Thumbs up: The Rams were limited to just nine first downs, the fewest allowed by the Niners in a game since 2003. NFL teams that allow just nine first downs in a game usually win those games. The 49ers also limited St. Louis to just a 31 percent conversion rate (5 of 16) on third downs.

Thumbs down: The 49ers continued their own struggles on third down, converting just 31 percent themselves, moving the chains on only four of 13 third-down opportunities. This has been one of the team's most glaring inefficiencies during the first quarter of the season.

Thumbs up: Despite struggling over extended stretches on offense, the 49ers had no turnovers while producing three takeaways on defense. That's a winning ratio that can lead to blowout victories.

Thumbs down: So why wasn't Allen Rossum active Sunday? The 49ers went with Arnaz Battle to return punts instead of last year's productive return specialist, and Battle had just three yards on three punt returns, continuing the team's struggles in that area, while also dropping one punt that he fortunately was able to recover.

Thumbs up: Every San Francisco player that was active for the game except for backup quarterback Alex Smith played in the game. Now, that is really what you call a total team effort.

Thumbs up: Repeat that final score one more time – 35-0. It has been a long time since the 49ers have won a game so decisively, and even longer since they have blanked an opponent. Thirty-five-point wins don't happen often in the NFL and neither do shutouts. The victory marked San Francisco's first shutout in 119 games dating back to the Niners' 2001 regular-season finale, and it was their most lopsided victory in 87 games dating back to a 50-14 win over Arizona in 2003. Obviously, that's an indication the 49ers are going somewhere.

Thumbs up: And where are they going? Well, the first stop is an early stranglehold atop the NFC West, which the 49ers now lead by 1½ games just four games into the season with victories already over all three divisional opponents. At the quarter pole of the season, that's a pretty darn good place for them to be, and if they can keep up this kind of performance, they could soon be running away with the division. One play away from being 4-0, the 49ers looked like a team to be reckoned with Sunday, even if it was against the sorry Rams.



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