Monday, December 22, 2014

10 observations about the 49ers

Here's what I noticed about the 49ers after watching their 24-9 win over the Cardinals on Monday night:

10 observations about the 49ers

Here's what I noticed about the 49ers after watching their 24-9 win over the Cardinals on Monday night:

1. Frank Gore is a handful. He keeps his legs churning, is tough to bring down and is a threat to break one at any time. Gore's 5.2 yards per carry ranks third in the NFC. Only Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson have more carries of 20-plus yards. Gore was also very good in short-yardage situations last week. Someone needs to explain to me how 21 running backs in the NFL can have more rushing attempts than him this season.

2. If there's one offensive lineman to keep an eye on, it's No. 64 - left guard David Baas. Baas did a great job pulling on a couple big Gore runs against Arizona. In pass protection, the 49ers have given up 33 sacks on the season, 10th-most in the NFL. However, Smith has been sacked just twice in the last three games. That probably has more to do with the next item than anything else. Gore did miss a couple blitz pickups against the Cardinals.

3. I would be surprised if Alex Smith is able to do much against the Eagles' defense. It's very much a dink-and-dunk passing game for the 49ers. At least three of Smith's passes were batted down at the line of scrimmage against the Cardinals. The key for him Sunday will be to take care of the football. Smith had thrown just one interception in 119 attempts before getting picked off twice against Arizona.

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4. Smith has two weapons in the passing game, and not much else. The first is rookie wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Despite holding out for the first five games of the season, he's the team's second-leading receiver. Crabtree had a couple impressive individual efforts against Arizona, finishing with five catches for 67 yards and a touchdown. But it's clear he and Smith are not always on the same page. The timing was off on several plays Monday night, leading to incompletions. No other wide receiver had more than 14 yards in the Niners' win.

5. The other weapon is tight end Vernon Davis. He's having a breakout year, with 66 catches for 815 yards and 11 touchdowns. Five times this season, Davis has piled up 90 yards or more. He's scored in four straight games and has receptions of 30 yards or more in three of his last four. The Cardinals put a safety on him for much of last week's game, limiting Davis to three catches for 34 yards. He did have a couple drops. The Eagles' struggles against opposing tight ends has been well-documented all season. Of course, Sean McDermott's linebacker shuffle will have an impact here.

6. Defensively, keep your eye on No. 94, Justin Smith. I was pretty surprised to see he only has 2.5 sacks on the season. Smith had a better game than the numbers indicated last week, getting good pressure on Kurt Warner and sometimes standing up at the line. In the middle is tackle Aubrayo Franklin, who did a good job of opening up space for the 49ers' linebackers.

7. Another guy to watch is No. 55, Ahmad Brooks. He was a beast last week, finishing with three sacks. All three came off the right edge, Warner's blind side. In addition to Jason Peters, that means LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver will likely have to help chip. Brooks looked quick off the edge.

8. Patrick Willis is a playmaker at linebacker. He leads the NFL in tackles and showed last week he can be effective as a blitzer, getting to Warner to pick up a sack. Against the run, Willis really relies on his defensive line to take up blocks, freeing him up to fly around and make tackles. Beanie Wells actualy had a lot of success running the football against San Francisco, picking up 79 yards on 15 carries. On the season, the 49ers are allowing 95 rushing yards per game, third-fewest in the NFC.

9. In the secondary, safety Dashon Goldson killed the Cardinals, forcing two fumbles and intercepting a Warner pass. It's no secret the 49ers won because they forced turnovers, seven in all - five fumbles and two interceptions. San Francisco has 25 takeaways on the season, fifth in the NFC. Their best chance to win Sunday is to force Eagles turnovers.

10. And finally, two ex-Eagles on the 49ers' defense. One is linebacker Takeo Spikes, who spent a season here back in 2007. And the other is safety Michael Lewis, who of course spent the first five seasons of his career with the Eagles.

Sheil Kapadia Philly.com
About this blog
Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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