Alex Smith

49ers game-winning TD drive, play by play

We talked about the San Francisco 49ers’ defense and special teams and their roles in Sunday’s 25-19 win over the Detroit Lions. But without Alex Smith’s touchdown pass to Delanie Walker, our outlook on everything this week would be so different. Here’s a look at the drive the Niners needed to clinch their third road win of the season.

5:37: Ginn catches punt at the 49ers’ 26. Misses a tackle and returns the ball to the 40. Ball placed on the 35-yard line just a few seconds later … oopsie!

5:29 — 1st and 10 at the 35: Handoff to Kendall Hunter off right tackle. Vernon Davis, who was in motion, blocks LB Bobby Carpenter. Ndamukong Suh is double-teamed by Jonathan Goodwin and Chilo Rachal, who follows with a burst to the second level to clear out some more room. Anthony Davis runs past Cliff Avril (Davis got in a great Twitter beef with Avril after the game, in case you missed it), who gets tripped up by Bruce Miller out of the backfield. Anthony gets a good block on Stephen Tulloch, then finishes the play by knocking LB DeAndre Levy off the pile. 9 yards on the play for Hunter.

“This is gonna be a fun combination to watch as the season goes on,” says Darryl Johnston of Frank Gore and Hunter.

4:53 — 2nd and a long 1 at the 26: Three guys in the backfield (Gore, Miller and Sopoaga), no receivers. Sopoaga moves the pile a little, Anthony Davis makes contact with three defenders in the second level, but Rachal can’t handle Suh on his own. Suh bounces around Rachal and stops Gore early … but not early enough to keep Gore from getting the first down.

4:10 — 1st and 10 at the 25: Walker starts out behind Vernon Davis on the left, motions toward center. Vernon makes a great block on DE Lawrence Jackson, Walker takes on Corey Williams and Joe Staley does very well to engage Levy.

While there’s a good initial hole created mostly by the work of those three, it’s Hunter’s effort that doubles the yardage. Safety Louis Delmas runs at Hunter, dives and strikes Hunter at the ankles, throwing Hunter forward. Hunter’s arms hit the ground but he stays off the turf and runs for another 4-5 yards, gaining almost 10 on the play.

3:30 — 2nd and 1 at the 11 16: Same formation as the last 2nd and 1, with three guys in the backfield and everyone else stacked on the line.  Handoff to Gore, who would’ve had a TD if not for Williams barely grabbing Gore’s left ankle. Every single blocker contributes something on the play, but the highlight was probably Rachal handling Suh by himself, tying him up for the entire play. Suh got no penetration and didn’t even seem to know where Gore was until the very end, after Gore gained 4 9 yards.

2:57 — 1st and goal at the 7: 49ers line up in the same 3-man-backfield formation with Sopoaga, and Gore gets stopped for a loss by Williams. A few problems on this play:

  1. The Lions knew what was coming and made personnel adjustments.
  2. The entire line got very little push.
  3. Iupati pulled and ran to the right, but Miller and Sopoaga were already there, clogging things up.

2:10 — 2nd and goal at the 10: Smith (remember him?) in the shotgun. Three WR package, with Vernon and Walker bringing to the total to five receivers, but they actually end up acting as blockers as Smith throws a quick pass to the left to Michael Crabtree who’s tackled by Eric Wright.

2:00 — 3rd and goal at the 6: Smith in the shotgun again. Four WR spread, Hunter split wide to the left. Vernon also acts as a receiver, leaving five o-linemen to block. The Lions rush six, and the 49ers pick up everyone except DE Jackson, who comes in untouched from Smith’s left. Smith’s rushed throw is out of the reach of Kyle Williams and Hunter. Not one Niners receiver was open on the play.

1:56 — 4th and goal at the 6: So much to say about this play.

— The Lions rushed four this time, and they were all picked up easily. Fantastic job by the right side. Rachal and Goodwin worked on Suh, corralling him to the left. Anthony Davis let Avril come around the outside, and kept him far away from Smith. The combination of Suh pushed to the left and Avril moved way out to the right opened up a huge passing lane for Smith through the right side of the line.

— Great routes by both Crabtree and Walker on the pick play.

— Even better throw and catch. Walker’s ability to keep his knee off the ground near the goal line has already been talked about extensively. But still, wow.

— I have no idea what the Lions’ Carpenter was doing. He was watching Smith, but if he knew where Walker was he could have easily helped Delmas make the tackle. Watching the Eagles and Lions makes one appreciate the 49ers’ linebackers even more.

Final Analysis

It took five plays until the Lions could stop the 49ers from running the ball effectively. The offensive line played almost perfectly the entire series, and the tight ends not only contributed the winning score with Walker’s catch, but also showed blocked extremely well (Walker was a killer against Suh earlier in the game as well). Vernon was much better as a blocker than he was in week 2 against Dallas.

Smith was near perfect as well in the chances he received. He completed the pass to Crabtree for a few yards, and many quarterbacks would’ve forced the ball and thrown a pick on 3rd and goal when Jackson came in unblocked. And his throw to Walker was spot-on, probably the best ball he’s ever thrown. The 49ers didn’t have to travel that far to score that touchdown, but the way they did it shows how far they’ve come.

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