San Francisco 49ers

Upon further review: 49ers’ play of the year so far; unsung heroes; not-so-special teams

SANTA CLARA -- There were two amazing aspects of Frank Gore's 55-yard touchdown catch and run in the second quarter of Sunday's game.

The first was the throw. Thirty-yard throws are fairly common in the NFL. Thirty-yard throws laterally are not. Colin Kaepernick looked like an MLB shortstop moving one way and throwing another on the play, which is something he did a lot when he was at Nevada. Best of all, Kaepernick had his eyes down-field as he was scrambling, something he was criticized for not doing (or not doing well) in the previous two games but did throughout Sunday's win over the Eagles.

His touchdown throw to Stevie Johnson was another example of this. Kaepernick escaped the pocket but instead of tucking the ball and running, he kept his facemask up, then fired a strike to Johnson.

The second amazing thing to happen is that 31-year-old Gore outran a defensive back who had a perfect angle on him. That hasn't happened since the 2006 season. After Gore caught the pass, he seemed to lull safety Earl Wolff by slowing down a bit. Wolff in turn slowed his stride and prepared to make a hit. But the crafty running back suddenly hit the gas, stiff-armed Wolff in the same motion and was gone. It was the best bit of open-field running Gore has had since the 2006 season when he was 23 years old.

****************************

There were plenty of standout players, starting with Gore on the offense and Antoine Bethea on defense. On the Eagles' penultimate drive, Bethea made two huge plays back to back. The first was tackling running back LeSean McCoy at the 1-yard line on second down. On the next, he blitzed Nick Foles from Foles' right, forcing the quarterback to rush his throw to Brent Celek. Celek was breaking free on the play, and if the play had lasted one more beat he would have been wide open in the corner of the end zone.

Perrish Cox also deserves recognition. The two most consistent defensive performers through four games have been Cox and Justin Smith. What happens when Tramaine Brock returns from his toe injury? Does Cox keep his job at cornerback? Does he bump rookie Jimmie Ward from the nickel spot? Cox not only has been the 49ers' best cornerback, he's been one of the top corners in the league. He is scheduled to be a free agent in March (and so is Chris Culliver), which means there's a very good likelihood that he'll be a starter somewhere.

*****************************

On offense, the unsung player was fullback Bruce Miller, who played only nine snaps in last week's loss to Arizona. He was in on 49 offensive plays against the Eagles and was out ahead on all of Gore's big runs.

*****************************

The 49ers' special teams units have been hugely problematic. The punt block followed a false start by Vernon Davis and a sack of Kaepernick. The Eagles only rushed four on the sack but both center Daniel Kilgore and right guard Alex Boone allowed their men to slip through the protection quickly. Kaepernick can get away from one rusher, but not two when they are coming from both sides.

On the punt, two Eagles slipped through the same gap to force Dan Skuta into punter Andy Lee. It's hard to tell whether the issue was to Skuta's right in Corey Lemonier or whether snapper Kyle Nelson was supposed to do more.

On the punt return for a touchdown, the 49ers simply underestimated Darren Sproles' speed. The only players who got a hand on Sproles were the two gunners, Kassim Osgood and L.J. McCray. Everyone else didn't come close.

Even one of the 49ers' four made field goals was odd. On Phil Dawson's 51-yarder, it seemed like guard Joe Looney simply didn't block on the play, which allowed his Eagles counterpart to come straight up the middle and nearly get a hand on the attempt. Looney simply bent over, perhaps expecting a low trajectory on the kick.

The bottom line is that the 49ers' former special teams coordinator, Dave Phipp, had his players better prepared than their current one, Brad Seely, and it nearly cost San Francisco the game.

*****************************

Right tackle Anthony Davis was having an excellent game before his injury sent him to the locker room. Davis is getting an MRI today that should reveal the extent of the damage. Joe Staley continues to have an un-Staley-like start to the season. He allowed Brandon Graham to get to Kaepernick on the play, and both quarterback and defender crashed into Davis' knee. (See Paul Kitagaki's picture above).

Kaepernick clearly has developed a rapport with Johnson, who went over 100 yards receiving last week and who had a touchdown catch this week. So why did Brandon Lloyd play almost triple Johnson's snaps (36 to 13)? Harbaugh said Johnson woke up under the weather with a bug and gutted – almost literally – out the game.

******************************

I wrote about the overall state of NFL officiating on Friday. Everything I cited was on display Sunday – primarily, calling penalties that simply don't need to be called. There was a phantom illegal pick against the 49ers and a phantom offensive pass interference against Eagles. All that does is stop the flow of action and make the telecast harder to watch.

Ed Hochuli's crew called 20 penalties, 10 against each team. This time, the 49ers may have been the biggest beneficiary. After back-to-back sacks in the third quarter, the 49ers were bailed out in a huuuuge way by a defensive holding penalty that gave them a first down. Later in the drive, Kaepernick and Johnson connected on their touchdown.

*******************************

The hustle award goes to Justin Smith. On the last play of the first half, he was standing on the Philadelphia 40-yard line when Nick Foles threw the ball to Riley Cooper. The receiver eventually was stripped, the ball was kicked down field, rolled around and finally was recovered at the 49ers' 30-yard line by …. Justin Smith.

Aaron Lynch played 25 snaps on defense. Lemonier played none. That looks like it will be the pattern Sunday against the Chiefs.

*******************************

NFL teams often suffer from after-Eagles effect. That is, Chip Kelly's teams run so many plays that there is a hangover by the opposing defense the following week. That won't be the case for the 49ers. They played only 56 snaps (as opposed to 76 for the Eagles defense) thanks in part to Philadelphia going 5 for 13 on third downs.

Meanwhile, the 49ers' next opponent, the Chiefs, will be coming off a Monday game.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

  Comments