San Francisco 49ers

Did the 49ers hold back against the Broncos?

I had never heard of Louis Riddick before today, so it’s risky to take his analysis and run too far. But I know and trust Matt Barrows, and he’s the one who retweeted this into my timeline. Riddick had a couple more thoughts.

I tried to watch as much as I could on the coaches film, but either the feed was incredibly slow or my Wi-Fi wasn’t at its strongest. I was able to watch the first quarter’s passing plays while Denver was on offense until everything bogged down no matter how many times I closed out and went back into the video. All the plays I saw looked similar. The 49ers went with nickel, rushed four, dropped Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland into coverage, and Peyton Manning picked them apart.


Chris Borland 49ers

Jeff Deeney from Pro Football Focus, who recently joined us for a BASGcast, sends out weekly emails to some of the 49ers writers that are full of useful information. In the defense section, the numbers tell us that Vic Fangio didn’t do anything special to disrupt Manning’s rhythm.

Here’s the information from this week’s email (in return, I’ll mention that anyone who loves the NFL should seriously consider subscribing to PFF):

Defensive Summary

  • Ian Williams (+0.8) and Ahmad Brooks (+0.4) were the only members of the starting front seven with a positive grade.
  • Peyton Manning’s time to throw (attempt a pass or get sacked) was 2.22 seconds, quickest of any QB this week.
  • Including plays nullified by penalty, 49ers only pressured Denver’s QBs on 7 of their 32 dropbacks (21.9%).  SF blitzed on 3 of Manning’s 30 dropbacks (10.0%) and never rushed the QB with more than five guys.
  • Antoine Bethea had his lowest grade by far of the season (-4.1).
  • Manning was 6-7, 198 yards, 2 TDs on throws of 10+ yards downfield.


  • Tramaine Brock had a -2.8 coverage grade, allowing catches on all six of his targets for 126 yards and 2 TDs.
  • Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite each had -1.9 coverage grades on the night.


What’s the point of neutering your personnel with a vanilla gameplan in a game that was already daunting to begin with? The 49ers would never admit this, but it’s almost like they looked around at all their injured players and the team in front of them on a short week, and “punted” on this one. Of course, there are a couple of ginormous holes in this theory: 1) they were out of the playoff picture if the season ended before Sunday night’s game, and 2) they left Colin Kaepernick in the game for an extremely long time, given the score and the offensive line situation in the fourth quarter.

But there’s an anecdotal precedent for this idea of the 49ers leaving creativity at the door against a team they might eventually meet in the playoffs. After losing Vernon Davis to a concussion early on, the 49ers went 2-for-13 on first downs against the Panthers in their regular season tilt. They didn’t have Michael Crabtree either, and with a full complement of players they moved the ball with ease in the first half the next time they faced Carolina (in the divisional round).

Maybe it’s just a situation where the 49ers do what they can with the personnel on hand. Fangio might think asking Borland, Wilhoite, a hobbled Brock and the rest to blitz a ton and mess with Manning’s pre-snap reads isn’t feasible. But if the 49ers were effectively placing a ball on the tee for Manning and backing away silently, one has to wonder if they looked at this game as more of an evaluating tool than a competitive football game.

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