San Francisco 49ers

49ers film review: First the good news ...

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) scrambles to pass after evading Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Arthur Moats (55) in the first quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015 in Pittsburgh.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) scrambles to pass after evading Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Arthur Moats (55) in the first quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015 in Pittsburgh. AP

Yes, yes -- I know. This game was over when the Steelers went into the locker room with a 29-3 lead. Everything that happened after that is weak sauce. But if you're looking for a kernel of positive news from Sunday's 49ers' loss, it's this: For the second straight week, Colin Kaepernick played mistake-free football and showed progress as a passer.

Kaepernick has surpassed the 300-yard mark four times in his career, including Sunday when he threw for 335 yards. That number is indicative of the lopsided score more than anything else. He attempted a career-high 43 passes. But his completion percentage -- 71.7 percent -- was easily the highest of his four, 300-yard games and was the third highest of any start in his career.

Kaepernick was accurate, he made the right decisions, and when he wasn't being rushed up the middle -- a big issue in the game -- stepped up and out of pressure and either ran or threw the ball. He even used cadence to draw the Steelers off-sides three times. One of the biggest assignments for offensive coordinator Geep Chryst and quarterbacks coach Steve Logan this year is to make Kaepernick better. It's early, but the signs so far are positive.

After two weeks, only two quarterbacks -- Aaron Rodgers and Andy Dalton -- haven't turned the ball over. The only reason Kaepernick isn't on that list is because the botched exchange between him and Carlos Hyde in the third quarter Sunday was given to him.

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Kaepernick was particularly sharp on throws to Torrey Smith, completing six of seven attempts to the free-agent addition for 120 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion. His passer rating when targeting Smith was a perfect 158.3. The downside, of course, is that 91 of Smith's yards came after halftime when the game was out of hand.

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Kenneth Acker won the 49ers' starting cornerback job fair and square. He's smart, feisty, is good in run support and has good skills when the ball is in the air. But the contrast in speed between him and Steelers receiver Antonio Brown was stark. Brown didn't need much space to gain comfortable separation and burned Acker on two long passes down the sideline in the first half. Acker, in case you're wondering, was clocked at 4.50-seconds in the 40-yard dash before the 2014 draft.

Of course, safety Eric Reid seemed to underestimate Brown's speed, too, and was late on arriving for those two passes. In short, the 49ers didn't have any answers for Pittsburgh's deep passing game. Hedge toward the sideline and Ben Roethlisberger beat them over the middle. Stick toward the center and Brown beat them down the sideline.

It should be noted that Roethlisberger was excellent. His throws landed softy on the receivers' fingertips in stride. He was on his game. And with little pass rush to contend with could have thrown for 500 yards if the 49ers offense had put more points on the board early.

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Why was inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite alone and covering a receiver, Markus Wheaton, late in the game? Wilhoite popped up after the 48-yard gain and made the universal, "Whe hell?" sign with his arms. On the play safety Antoine Bethea moved up along the sideline to cover Brown, who had been let go by cornerback Tramaine Brock. That left no safeties deep on the left side of the field. The 49ers actually are lucky it wasn't a touchdown.

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Hyde averaged 3.3 yards a carry after averaging 6.5 yards against the Vikings. A big difference is that there were no running lanes when he cut back against the grain. Pittsburgh obviously saw the Vikings game and made it a priority to plug the back side on wide runs.

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This falls under the category of dead-horse beating, but there were plenty of struggles on the right side of the line. It's apparent that Daniel Kilgore will regain his starting center spot when he is healthy. The question then becomes, what do the 49ers do at right guard -- leave Jordan Devey there or replace him with Martin?

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Finally, a pet peeve of mine -- replay challenges. There were five challenges in the game, only one of which was overturned. That's about par for the course in the NFL as officials only reverse themselves if the call is blatantly obvious. (Did Anquan Boldin fumble in the second quarter? Yes! Did the officials overturn themselves? Nooooooo). The only thing the challenges typically succeed in is upsetting the rhythm of the game. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather watch young men play a sport than middle-age men haggle over calls. If you agree, please write your congressman or congresswoman, pronto.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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