Alex Smith

49ers win opener, bring back West Coast … special teams?

Ted Ginn had the ball in his hands, what, a full minute longer than any other 49er against Seattle? Along with a long run in terms of space covered on an end-around that ended up gaining all of 0 yards, Ginn had nine combined kickoff and punt returns, amassing 268 yards and more importantly, 2 late touchdowns that rescued a game the Seahawks threatened to steal.

Besides the inflated margin of victory, this 49ers win against an inferior opponent was like any Mike Nolan or Mike Singletary win in a lot of ways. 500 yards and a cloud of passing touchdowns this game was not. In Jim Harbaugh’s first game his 49ers were afraid to make mistakes, struggled to hold the lead they built in the second quarter and barely escaped with a victory. But on the other hand, Harbaugh just won his first game with barely any time to prepare his team for the season. In honor of Harbaugh’s first win, we’re going to do a new segment called “Arrow Up” and “Arrow Down.” And if this works out (and if no other writer already did this and calls me out for copying their material in the next day or two), maybe we’ll do this for the rest of the year.

Ted Ginn (Arrow Up): I got on Ginn early on in the game on Twitter, calling for him to stop dancing (or as I wrote in Twitter-speak, #StopDancing). Part of me feels kind of silly, but Ginn did lose about 15 yards on a punt return when he tried to run around several tacklers, and on his one carry seemed hesitant to take the ball upfield. But who cares, this game was all about Ginn, who flashed world class speed and may start to see some more chances as a wide receiver due to the health and ineffectiveness of…

Michael Crabtree (Arrow Down): Crabtree’s foot is still giving him problems (although X-rays were negative), and the lasting impression he gave was his tantrum after Alex Smith ignored him in the back of the end zone in the first half. He was open on that play, but rarely heard from again. I’ll come out and say it — I’m worried that his foot is going to give him problems the rest of his career.

Andy Lee (Arrow Up): 5 punts, 59.6 yard average and one downed at the 2-yard-line. We already knew he was good, but he was a weapon today.

Moran Norris (Arrow Down): Why’s he still on this team? He got blown up trying to block for Frank Gore at the goal line by Kam Chancellor, a safety. It’s time for the Niners to test out Bruce Miller and see what he’s got, because Norris has very little left.

David Akers (Arrow Up): That’s right, three special teamers get the first three “Up” spots. Akers wasn’t challenged when it came to the distance of his field goals, but he picked up a totally fraudulent roughing penalty that allowed the Niners to waste a couple minutes before attempting another short field goal.

Frank Gore (Arrow Down): Most of his issues were blocking- and playcalling-related, but Gore didn’t seem to have the same burst he has in years past. Maybe as the linemen wipe the Singletary/Raye stench off them and start learning how to open up holes, Gore will look like the guy we’re used to seeing. But after hip surgery, the 49ers should at least consider dividing the workload up a little more than it was on Sunday (Gore had 22 carries, and Kendall Hunter had only 2).

Justin Smith (Arrow Up): The spin move on Russell Okung that led to his first sack was a thing of beauty, and his second sack couldn’t come at a better time — when Seattle faced 3rd and 10 with 3:29 left and the 49ers led by 9.

Greg Roman (Arrow Down): Perhaps this isn’t fair, but the 49ers’ playcalling all game was far from imaginative (and could have been a good part of the reason why Gore only averaged 2.7 yards per carry). It’s unclear whether Roman controls all the calls or if Harbaugh is hands-on in that area, but in a game where the refs were quite whistle-happy, it would have paid off to take a few more shots downfield. Maybe that’ll take place in future games against better teams, after a steady performance from…

Alex Smith (Arrow Up): 15-for-20 for only 124 yards, but when asked to make tough throws he looked as good as he ever has. The placement on his throw to Vernon Davis on the left sideline near the end of the first half to put the Niners in field goal range was outstanding, as was that throw to Joshua Morgan, who, as @NinnyJams pointed out, came down with the ball while giving a knee to the Chancellor’s chest on the play. Smith also had a couple nice runs, including an 11-yard carry for a first down and a 1-yard TD where he got walloped.

Reggie Smith (Arrow Down): Smith was out of position on Doug Baldwin’s touchdown that brought the Seahawks within 2 in the fourth quarter. NaVorro Bowman also looked lost on that play. Bowman deserves a squiggly arrow for his performance on Sunday, because he had some brilliant moments along with some missed assignments.

Donte Whitner (Arrow Up): Whitner stood out as the best player on the field (besides Andy Lee, of course) during the lone 49ers practice I watched in person, and he effectively erased Zach Miller and came up with a nice first down- (and possibly touchdown-) saving tackle on a pass to Justin Forsett.

Delanie Walker (Arrow Down): Guess I was wrong about Walker finally having the breakout year he’s been predicted to have for the past few seasons. The arrow pointing all the way down may be a stretch though, since the 49ers were so conservative on offense and Walker contributed 4 tackles on special teams.

Parys Haralson/Ray McDonald (Arrow Up): It’s time to wrap this up, so we’ll go with these two here since they combined for three sacks and gave the Seahawks trouble along with the rest of the d-line.

Overall, the arrow is up on the 49ers, who have a lot to improve upon but still came up with a win. Sure, the Seahawks have a below-average quarterback and an inexperienced offensive line, but their pass rush as as consistently strong as it’s been in quite some time.

The key for the 49ers will be to not do what they did in the past after clumsy wins against inferior opponents and congratulate themselves for the next week. The offense, which only gained 209 net yards, had a difficult time run-blocking and stretching the field. And while playing not to lose was somewhat understandable in this strange season’s first game, the Niners can’t keep settling on field goals against stronger teams (and by the looks of things, almost every team in the league is stronger than Seattle).

While the pass rush was good, the mistakes in pass coverage in the second half were worrisome, especially with the Cowboys coming to San Francisco in a week. The Niners will need to open up the offense and tighten up the defense to have any chance next week.


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