Washington at 49ers: Getting It Done, Sorta…

408234_1280x720AP Photo

The 49ers won a slow, frustrating game against an inferior Washington team on Sunday, the latest in a series of defense-first, nail-biting comeback wins. They survived numerous mistakes and failed to build on a strong start to the game. Here is what I saw:

The Good Things

Pass Defense

Once again, the 49ers won because of their pass defense, which held Washington to just 77 yards through the air. Credit goes to the pass rush, which swallowed up Robert Griffin III, and the secondary, which blanketed star wideout DeSean Jackson all day. Rookie cornerback Dontae Johnson had an excellent day, adding his name to the growing list of rookies shoring up the 49ers’ battered defense.

Anquan Boldin

Q had one of his best games as a 49er, picking up 137 yards on 9 receptions and a touchdown. He manhandled Washington’s secondary; his only mistake coming in the 3rd quarter when his route was jostled by Baushaud Breland, leading to a pick. Q has been one of the most entertaining 49ers for two years running. His reliability in 3rd and long situations has saved so many drives, it’s frankly amazing he isn’t doubled or tripled every time.

The Bad Things

Offense

It was a horrible day for the offense, who barely managed 17 points against one of the worst defensive units in the league. They only picked up 66 yards on the ground, their second lowest total of the year. There were numerous drops, a botched snap and other mistakes, making it like basically every other 49ers game this season.

Counterpoint: The 49ers had to contend with horrible field position all game, thanks to Washington’s punter and Perrish Cox’s mediocrity as a return man. They also turned over the ball three times, two of which were fumbles, and managed to survive. They lost their other two multiple turnover games of the season, the 49ers (The Bears in week two and the Rams in week nine), so credit to this team for overcoming their mistakes. That said, it would be nice to see them get in some kind of rhythm.

Vernon Davis

Davis continues to play well below our expectations, depriving the team of their favorite home run hitter. He had an ugly drop and twice ran a too-short route on 3rd down. Whether it be age, focus or just an unfortunate string of bad luck, Davis has been mostly useless in the pass game. As the 49ers gear up for a playoff push, his speed will be sorely missed.

Run Defense

The 49ers’ run defense has regressed since losing Ian Williams, and even Chris Borland playing out of his mind hasn’t stopped teams from running over the 49ers. They gave up 136 yards on Sunday, the same amount they gave up to the Saints two weeks ago. They won both contests, but given that neither team is necessarily great at running the ball, this is a worrying trend. Hopefully Glenn Dorsey can help them plug the gaps, but until he returns, they will have to rely on Quinton Dial and Tony Jerrod-Eddie at nose tackle.

The Other Thing

Colin Kaepernick

It was another so-so day for Kaep, who did an excellent job handling Washington’s blitz packages but also had some ugly overthrows. His pass to Boldin at the end of the 4th quarter was incredible, but was eclipsed by Boldin’s tough yards after the catch. I’m beginning to wonder whether or not Kaep will ever truly ‘take over’ a game like he did last season. With the offense sputtering and failing as frequently as it does, Kaep has done a good job of making plays when they count. However, his play has been more ‘proficient’ than ‘spectacular’. Here’s to hoping he puts on a show for the home crowd on Thanksgiving.

49ers vs. Titans: What to Watch For

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The 49ers begin their roadtrip in Tennessee, where they take on the potentially resurgent Titans. Losing Jake Locker for a few weeks stifled any momentum the Titans developed in week 1, but the defense has kept the team afloat. Locker is back, saving the 49ers the pleasure of facing the Sophoclean tragedy that is Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Titans remind me of the Cardinals; they are a team with plenty of potential but still capable of masterful self-destruction. Fortunately, the style of offense the Niners have used in the last three weeks should match up well with Tennessee’s defense. If they are able to brutalize the Titans’ defensive front, we will have reason to slap hands. What I will be watching for:

Feeding Gore: The Tennessee Titans aren’t great against the run. After facing Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch, they will have to contend with the 49ers’ brutal ground game. That is, of course, so long as Greg Roman calls the right plays. The 49ers faced another bad run defense in the Colts, but Roman called a pass-heavy offense and the Niners turned over the ball twice. Roman seems to have wised up, but against a defense as turnover-happy as the Titans cute play calling will not be tolerated. If the 49ers can impose a presence on the ground early on, they can open up the playbook a bit.

Red Zone Execution: In 55 red zone plays, the 49ers have scored 9 touchdowns, which is just over 16%. Red zone struggles go back a couple of years (13.8% in 2011, 21.1% in 2012), but it isn’t something that can stand going forward. Despite two interceptions putting them in the red zone last week, the 49ers were only able to score 6 points. If the 49ers are able to rattle Jake Locker and force turnovers, they need to be sure that the offense can take advantage.

Pressure: The Titans offensive line is just okay, and they will be starting rookie center Brian Schwenke over Rob Turner. The 49ers will have to generate a lot of pressure and make Locker uncomfortable early on. He is still working through an injury, and pressuring him will limit the Titans’ passing game. Corey Lemonier and Justin Smith have been playing out of their minds, but the rest of the defensive line is banged up. The amount of pressure they bring will be a big difference maker in this game.

Run Defense: The 49ers are facing another elite running back in Chris Johnson, and will need to limit his big play ability. With Ian Williams out and Glenn Dorsey unlikely, San Francisco will have to rely on Tony Jerrod-Eddie and rookie nose tackle Quinton Dial to spearhead their run-stopping power. The running narrative on Chris Johnson is that he is struggling due to age, but he has faced two great defenses in the last two weeks and probably still has plenty left in the tank. Whether or not the Niners can handle Johnson is my biggest concern going into this game.