The San Francisco 49ers lost a very close game to the New Orleans Saints this week. They are now primarily in the mix with a few teams for a wild card berth in the playoffs. There is still no reason for the 49ers to worry. As Jim Harbaugh put it, “The greater the struggle, the greater the glory.” This team is still very much in contention and will be there as things go down to the wire. There were some good and bad things that we saw in the loss to the Saints.
1. Ahmad Brooks For the second week in a row, Ahmad Brooks is the first positive that I will mention in my Good and Bad article. Brooks has elevated his game to a new level. He register a sack, a forced fumble and an interception against the Saints. He would have made the game sealing play when he sacked Brees and forced him to fumble. Patrick Willis recovered the fumble and the 49ers had the ball with three minutes to go and up by three points. The problem was that the ref called a personal foul on Brooks for “a blow to the neck.” This resulted in the Saints getting the ball back. Prior to that, Brooks had a phenomenal one handed interception in which he tipped the pass to himself. The interception put the 49ers in position to kick a field goal.
2. Back Shoulder Throw To Boldin Sometimes progress is measured in baby steps. This is one of those times. The 49ers have struggled to pass the ball, especially against press coverage. Teams have begun to press the 49er receivers. The 49ers found a way to beat the press coverage. Colin Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin connected on a couple of pretty nice back shoulder plays. One of them was for a 11 yard touchdown.
3. Phil Dawson Dawson connected on a 55 yard field goal. That tied his career long.
4. NaVorro Bowman Bowman continued to play like a possessed man. He was all over the field. Bowman registered 12 tackles on the day.
1. Run The Ball Once again, Greg Roman failed to get Frank Gore the 20 carries that he needs in order for the 49ers to have a shot on offense. Gore only had 13 carries for 48 yards, but is the kind of running back that will break a long run if you keep feeding him the ball. The Saints did a good job of limiting the run but the 49ers waisted too much time trying to work the outside runs and long developing plays. This team is at it’s best when they run the read option, trap plays and work off of wham blocks.
2. The Passing Game The 49ers found a way to beat press coverage as mentioned above. Despite that, they only had 127 yards of passing offense. That will not win in any league. Something needs to be done to kick start Kaepernick and the passing game. They need to run more screens. I pointed out before how the New York Jets where able to go to Greg Silas for a few big gains by way of the bubble screen. The 49ers needed to do this also. The Saints were blitzing from all over. There is no reason why Roman shouldn’t have dialed up a few screens to the running backs to counter the blitzes. Kaerpernick threw an interception but was able to track down the defensive back and he fumbled out of the end zone. The 49ers also need to run more rub routes out of bunch formations. This is something that they did use once and it resulted in an eight yard catch by Mario Manningham.
3. Kassim Osgood and the Coverage Unit Osgood set the table for the Saints to start the game winning drive with an additional 15 yards after the punt. He failed to see Darren Sproles call for a fair catch. For some reason, he stopped then proceeded to tackle Sproles. The coverage unit also gave up an 82 yard kickoff return to Travaris Cadet. The Saints were able to go ahead 14-10 after that play put them into position to score their second touchdown.
4. Third Down Defense The 49ers defense continued to struggle on third downs. They allowed the Saints to convert on 42% of their third downs. These are the kinds of plays that are a back breaker for the defense.
5. Time Of Possession Once again the 49ers lose the time of possession battle and sure enough, once again they lose the game. This time the time of possession was lopsided. The Saints had the ball for 34:39 while the 49ers had the ball for 25:21. That is a difference of almost ten minutes. It is hard to win when the opposition is dominating the time of possession like this.
The 49ers still have a chance to get things back together. They will be getting a big time bonus with the return of Michael Crabtree but it remains to be seen how long Tarell Brown and Mike Iupati will be out. This team can still get healthy down the stretch and put together a winning streak heading into the playoffs. There is even a chance that they still host a playoff game. It isn’t the end of the world. The 49ers just have to get into the tournament. That’s what the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants before them did when they won the previous two Super Bowls.