The 49ers’ 25-20 win over the Ravens on Sunday was about X’s and Os and exes.
For the second straight game, San Francisco’s offense found production with quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking snaps under center, not in the shotgun, and it got big plays from two former Ravens, wide receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin.
The win by the 49ers (2-4) halted a four-game losing streak and allowed them to take advantage of Sunday losses by the division-leading Cardinals (4-2) and Seahawks (2-4). The Rams (2-3) had a bye.
During the offseason, the 49ers felt they could capitalize on a strong running game with play-action fakes that would freeze opposing safeties and allow their receivers to break free downfield. That scenario had been elusive through the first five games but finally came to fruition in the second quarter when Smith, the team’s fastest wideout, put a stop-and-go move on his opponent, caught Kaepernick’s pass in stride and sped away for a 76-yard touchdown.
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Smith finished with 96 receiving yards. Boldin had five catches for 102 yards.
Earlier in the game, fullback Bruce Miller, off of play-action from Kaepernick, darted downfield for a 52-yard pickup. Miller, who had 30 receiving yards on the season before the game, had 89 yards by the end of the first quarter, easily a single-game career high for him.
“I think we ran the football really well last week,” Miller said. “And that makes teams bring the roof down, put more guys in the box. And now we can take shots. I think we hit – what – three of them today? That was nice to see. Finally hit some big plays and switched the field position on them. That was big for us.”
Smith’s long catch came against Ravens cornerback Shareece Wright, who was in coverage on both of Kaepernick’s touchdown passes.
That was no coincidence.
Wright had been on the 49ers’ roster just eight days earlier. Unhappy with his lack of playing time over the first four weeks, the veteran cornerback asked to be traded or released. He was quickly picked up by the Ravens, who have suffered a rash of injuries at the position and were eager to hear what Wright knew about the 49ers’ offense and defense.
But the 49ers said they had an advantage, too.
“When you have a guy on your team for that long, you get to see him every day in practice, (and) you understand his weaknesses as well as his strengths,” Boldin said. “That was one of the things we wanted to attack today.”
Another touchdown – this one 21 yards to wide receiver Quinton Patton in the fourth quarter – came when Wright fell while trying to change directions.
Said Kaepernick: “I think being around any player, you pick up on their tendencies. You pick up on what you can take advantage of. There were a couple things we thought we could take advantage of, and we did.”
During the 49ers’ first four games, Kaepernick mainly operated out of the shotgun as the team used plenty of “Pistol” formations and gave the quarterback the option to run. In fact, the most snaps he took from under center during that span was nine.
Sunday’s ratio was reversed.
He lined up in the shotgun only 11 times – most of them on third down – and attempted just three runs for 10 yards, his lowest total of the season. Like last week against the Giants, dropping back in the pocket and making quick throws seemed to allow the quarterback to find an early flow.
Kaepernick finished the first half with 225 passing yards, his most ever at halftime. By the end of the game, he had 340 yards, the third-highest total of his career.
Asked about the biggest difference in the 49ers’ offense after the team’s horrid start to the season, Miller quickly said it was the unit’s rhythm.
“And it’s all over the place,” he said. “From the guys building chemistry up front and with the quarterbacks and receivers. We had a new group, a lot of new faces. There was a building that took place that we’re still in the middle of.”