San Francisco 49ers

49ers film review: No sacks for Ahmad Brooks; here’s one reason why

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes under pressure from San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (55) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes under pressure from San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (55) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, in Pittsburgh. AP

SANTA CLARA -- Colin Kaepernick's interceptions can be divided into two categories. He was pressured on the first two, threw off his back foot and because of that didn't have nearly enough zip to get the ball to his target before the defender arrived.

On the first, he seemed to lock into Vernon Davis, or at least the right side of the field, the entire way. The 49ers had trouble picking up a stunt through the middle -- a common theme in the first three games -- and both center Marcus Martin and right guard Jordan Devey allowed their opponent to get to Kaepernick.

On the second, Kaepernick first looked left to Davis then went back to his right where Tyrann Mathieu initially had given Anquan Boldin a lot of cushion. Fullback Bruce Miller picked up a blitzer, who eventually got free. Kaepernick again was late with his release and compounded that by throwing off his back foot.

On interceptions Nos. 3 and 4, Kaepernick misjudged where -- or perhaps how -- to throw the ball. He had plenty of time on each in which Davis and Torrey Smith were cutting across and down the field from left to right. Each had a defender underneath him. But instead of putting air under the throw and allowing his receiver to run away from the defender (there was no deep safety lurking on either) Kaepernick threw both passes on a rope. Both were easy interceptions.

Davis and Smith are supposed to be the 49ers' big-play pass catchers. Kaepernick seemed to look toward Davis a lot in the first quarter, indicating that the 49ers wanted to get the tight end involved early. He targeted Davis twice. Both passes were intercepted. He targeted Smith twice. One was incomplete, one was intercepted.

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Jim Tomsula on Monday said the strength of the 49ers' offense is its tight ends. That might be a fine concept on a team with a great defense. Multiple tight end formations allow a team to run and to pick up small chunks, which the 49ers did against the Vikings. But what happens when the 49ers have to play catch up?

Or when one of the tight ends is hurt? Vance McDonald (knee) didn't play Sunday; Davis (knee) is dealing with an injury this week. Against the Cardinals, Garrett Celek caught three passes for 29 yards and Blake Bell had one catch for one yard. That was it for the 49ers' tight ends.

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After three games, the 49ers' top pass rusher, Ahmad Brooks, has no sacks. Their second-best pass rusher, Aaron Lynch, has one sack. One of the problems is that the outside linebackers have more coverage duties than they did in Vic Fangio's defense. That is, they're not always rushing the passer.

Sometimes they even are being asked to cover slot receivers one on one, which Brooks had to do against Larry Fitzgerald in the first quarter. Obvious result: 14-yard gain by Fitzgerald and a Cardinals first down. On those plays, the 49ers typically bring an odd blitzer -- a safety or a cornerback. The problem the last two games is that those blitzers aren't getting to the quarterback before he sees the mismatch. To their credit the 49ers did less of this in the second half Sunday. Brooks was credited with one quarterback hit.

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NaVorro Bowman was a half step behind some of the plays and obviously was in some pain at the end of the game. He easily could have taken himself out of a contest in which the 49ers were trailing by 33 points. No one would have said a peep. But he didn't and it was impressive to see him battle.

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Offensive lineman Nick Easton, whom the 49ers acquired just before the season, did not play a snap. Still, he was active for the first time, indicating that he is gaining the confidence of coaches. Could he swoop in and grab a starting spot anytime soon? And if he did, how would the 49ers reshuffle the line?

Arguments could be made that both Martin and Devey have to go. If Easton plays center, who plays right guard? Even if Easton is held in reserve, it's something the 49ers will have to answer when Daniel Kilgore -- now without a walking boot -- returns to action after Week 6.

By contrast, right tackle Erik Pears had his pass game so far when it comes to pass blocking. Pears' enemy is speed, and if the Cardinals have a defensive weakness it's that they don't have speedy outside pass rushers.

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Yes, there were some bright spots. Cornerback Dontae Johnson had a strong game and position mate Kenneth Acker bounced back after a rough outing in Pittsburgh. That's exactly what the 49ers thought they'd see from the feisty young cornerback. The Cardinals targeted Acker in the red zone at the end of the first quarter but he played two fades perfectly (There was a bogus hands-to-the-face penalty against him).

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

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