Talk about reversing trends. Up until today’s game the 49ers were at least consistent in being great and playoff-worthy in the first half, while being equally awful in the second half. They would create huge leads in the first half, like they did two weeks ago against the Bears, where they went up 17-7 in the first half, then lost 28-20. Today, they were down 21-13 entering halftime, although they only scored the last field goal with under a minute to go. They then managed to comeback in the second half for a 26-21 win, shutting out the Eagles’ usually prolific offense.
In fact, they actually shut out the Eagles’ offense for the whole game. Yeah, read that again. The 49ers defense gave up zero points, and the Eagles’ offense scored zero. Now, how did they get their points then?
Well, it started with a punt block touchdown on the 49ers first drive in the first quarter. Colin Kaepernick trotted about a pathetic, slow offense, and then he finished by getting sacked on third down to put the team on the 2 yard line. Punter Andy Lee then had to work from inside the end zone, literally with his feet on the back line, and he got clobbered by the Eagles’ line as they blocked his punt. The Eagles’ special teams ace Brad Smith then fell on the ball in the end zone for the Eagles first score.
Fortunately the 49ers were able to stay in the game as they ran a long eight and a half minute drive and Phil Dawson kicked a 29 yard field goal. During this drive, Kaepernick used his legs to the fullest, scrambling when nobody was open, and he was able to score even though the offense still seemed sluggish.
Colin Kaepernick had another couple impressive scrambles on the next drive, and then completed a miracle pass that somehow scored a touchdown. On the first play of the second quarter he rolled out left to escape the defense the jumped in the air, turned his body, and chucked a pass across the field to Frank Gore who had leaked out on the right. Although Kaepernick threw this pass about 45 yards, it went in the stats as a twelve yard pass and a 43 yard run by Frank Gore, for a 55 yard receiving touchdown, the longest of Gore’s career. With this score, the 49ers actually went up 10-7.
Unfortunately, they gave up this lead their next offensive drive as Kaepernick threw a pick six to the Eagles’ corner. Now the Eagles retook the lead with a score of 14-10. To make the insult even worse, after the 49ers and another unsuccessful drive, Phil Dawson punted the ball (and fortunately did not get blocked), but the speedy Darren Sproles ran it back 82 yards for a touchdown.
As you can see, the Eagles scored all 21 of their points, without a single offensive score. They had a punt block touchdown, a pick six, and a punt return touchdown for their points. On that note, the 49ers only gave up 213 total yards of offense at an awful 3.8 yards per play average. Even more striking, about 80 of these yards came on the Eagles last ditch drive in the fourth; until then they did not even have 150 yards of offense.
In total, the 49ers defense actually looked exemplary as they completely contained the Eagles offense until their last drive. They even held their Pro-Bowl running back LeSean McCoy to 17 yards, and the entire Eagles’ rushing offense to 22. They intercepted Nick Foles two times, and one pick sealed the game for the 49ers. They also forced and recovered two key fumbles to stymy two separate Eagles’ drives.
On the offensive side of the ball, Kaepernick looked somewhat indecisive throughout the game, and this confusion extended to the play clock, which he let run out a couple times. He also called a timeout after being told to take the penalty so Andy Lee could punt, costing them an important timeout. Overall though, the passing offense was just good enough to win the game. Kaepernick was 17 of 30 for 218 yards, a couple touchdowns, and the pick six. In fact, he had some throws that looked really good, including one where he threaded the needle to Vernon Davis through four defenders, although he could not hold onto the ball, and the touchdown catch to Stevie Johnson that was perfectly placed.
The rushing game, on the other hand, was extremely good, although underused. Frank Gore got 24 touches, and he used them amazingly to earn 119 hard fought yards. He still looks dominant in the backfield, plowing through defenders even at 31 years of age. Kaepernick also picked up 58 yards on 7 carries, as his scrambles literally saved some drives.
The takeaways from this game are as follows:
1) The defense is really good, and they played really well today. If they can maintain their stamina and play with intensity and speed through the game they can keep shutting down rushing attacks, putting pressure on quarterbacks, and forcing bad throws, with great coverage on the backend. The best part of today’s game was probably the shutdown defense.
2) Run the ball more.
3) RUN THE BALL MORE. The 49ers have Frank Gore who has proven over and over that he can still run the ball. They also have their rookie running back Carlos Hyde who is a great change-up back, with a shiftier, edge-to-edge running style. Finally, they have Kaepernick, possibly the most mobile quarterback in the league. The 49ers need to trust their running game and just rush more, as that’s the focus of their offense and what they are built to do. Passes should come off play actions and read options rather than five wide sets and empty backfields. In summary, they need to run if they want to keep their defense rested and win games.
The 49ers play another game at Levi’s Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday at 1:25, led by their ex-quarterback Alex Smith. Hopefully they can grab another win and bring their record above .500, because as it stands, 2-2 and therefore in third place in their division behind the 3-0 Cardinals and the 2-1 Seahawks since the rest of their division had a bye this week.
-Vernon Davis got nailed in the back on the third quarter and was out for the rest of the game. He needed help walking back to the locker room. This was his first game back since his last injury, so hopefully he does not have to miss any time as he is a vital point of both the 49ers’ passing and rushing game.
-Anthony Davis also went out with an injury after Kaepernick was knocked onto his left leg. His left leg was rolled up and he hurt his left knee in the second quarter, in his first game of the season. Hopefully he does not have to miss any games either, and fortunately his injury seemed less significant.
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Stats courtesy of ESPN.com
Cover image: By Jim Bahn (Flickr: Levi’s stadium opening) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons