Friday, October 19, 2012

49ers Fend Off Seahawks

It wasn't he prettiest win of the season, and wasn't especially re-assuring after the way they just lost to the Giants, but the 49ers did manage to hold of Seattle Thursday night for a 13-6 victory.

You can really chalk this win up to the defense, and the lucky fact they were facing a rookie quarterback cause it was another lack luster performance offensive for the Niners. After scoring just 3 points last week vs. the Giants at Candlestick Park, the 49ers put up just 13 against a solid yet unspectacular Seattle D. Alex Smith, who played his worst game of the season last Sunday, had a slight improvement in Thursday's game, but his final line of just 14 completions and 140 yards through the air was hardly inspiring. Fortunately for the 49er offense, they did get another exceptional day on the ground out of Frank Gore, but it may have come at a steep price. Gore was forced to the sidelines for much of the 2nd half after racking up 130 yards on just 14 carries. Kendal Hunter filled in nicely after Gore suffered the bruised ribs and had to exit, but the 49ers need their workhorse back healthy for next Monday vs. Arizona. The 49ers knocked off one of the teams chasing them in the NFC West, but the Cardinals have been showing they're for real too, and enter this weekend with a chance to break even with the 49ers again at 5-2.

One of the topics that has quietly been circulating around the Bay Area sports media over the last week has been the use of Colin Kaepernick, and whether or not Jim Harbough is trying to ease the youngster into the lineup more with his sights set on a possible QB swap at some point later in the season. Alex Smith has had his best statistical season of his career so far, but in the games the team has lost, he's been downright awful, and his performance vs. the Seahawks was hardly the turnaround he was looking for after his 3-interception game last week vs. New York. With that huge game he put up against Buffalo, I was hoping Smith would turn the corner and become more of that go-for-the-kill quarterback, but he's regressed significantly since that Week 5 showing. That said, the 49ers are winning, and Smith, for the most part, has played a relevant role in their victories. I do get the excitement over Kaepernick, as he's come in and electrified the offense with that wildcat set up, and has displayed that cannon right arm. I just don't think it's time to make a big change like that at this point in the season. I'd keep using Kaep like they have been, maybe get him a few more plays where he's throwing the ball rather than just running him all the time, but Smith is still the guy I want in there for the majority of the snaps.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

49ers The Team to Beat in NFC

If you didn't think that loss to the Vikings in Week 3 would light a fire under the 49ers, think again. After shutting out New York in the Meadowlands in Week 4, the 49ers romped the Bills, 45-3 in Week 5.

It was probably the most complete game by San Francisco that I've seen since the 90's. They displayed dominance on defense and a killer instinct on offense, and they did it vs. a team many expected to a factor in the AFC coming into 2012. Granted, the Bills have been a bit banged up on the offensive side of the ball, the 49ers made them look like a High School varsity team going up against an NFL squad, as they allowed nothing to Buffalo all day long. The lone bright spot for the Bills came on a punt return for a TD that ended up being called back because of holding, and that really seemed to swing the momentum early. Even though they dominated the game defensively, the 49ers only came up with two takeaways, but they held Buffalo to just 204 yards of total offense. They also cashed in on both of those takeaways and put the game away early in the 2nd half. Patrick Willis again led the charge with 7 tackles, including a forced fumble, and Chris Culliver came up with a pick. They had such an advantage, that Harbough used mostly 2nd teamers throughout the fourth quarter.

The real standout in this game though was the 49ers' offense. It was Alex Smith's best day as a pro, throwing for 300+ yards, 3 scores and didn't get sacked one time. Smith's QB rating was a near perfect 156.4 and he only needed the 18 pass completions to eclipse the 300-yard marker. He had big passes to just about every receiver, hitting Crabtree on a few big plays, including his first TD reception of the season. He also connected with Vernon Davis early on for a 49 yard play that set up their first score. Smith could have had even more yards through the air if the 49ers didn't commit penalties on a few big completions, including a 40-yard catch-and-run to Mario Manningham. It was the first game in which we've seen the newly stocked 49ers receiving core make a real difference, and they did it with #84 factoring in on just one catch for 11 yards. The running game was also exceptional Sunday for the Niners, as Gore again reached 100 yards and had a score on just 14 carries. Kendall Hunter also found pay dirt and collected 81 yards on the ground with just 11 carries. The 49ers also had success running the wildcat with Colin Kaepernick under center, though he did cough it up one time.

Over the last couple weeks, the 49ers have gained a ton of momentum, and will be in peak performance mode heading into a crucial re-match of last years NFC Championship with the Giants this weekend. This will be the first real big test for the 49ers since Week One in Green Bay and will be undoubtedly the best defense they'll have faced all season up till now. It should be interesting to see if the 49ers can run and pass on New York like they did Buffalo last week. Also, the 49ers pass defense will be tested this week as the Giants expect to get Hakeem Nicks back in time for the game.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A's, Giants Ready for Division Series

It's been a long time coming, but the Giants and the A's are once again in the playoffs together and the Bay Area is right in the heart of the MLB Postseason.

The Giants wrapped up their division almost 2 weeks ago, as they hit their surge in August and just ran away with the NL West. For the A's though, it was a longer trek, but it payed off handsomely. First off, up until a few weeks ago, everybody counted Oakland out not just in their division, but the AL Wild Card race as well saying their youth would eventually catch up with them. But much like the Giants did in 2010, the A's just kept getting better and better down the stretch and clinched a wild card spot before overtaking their division on the final day of the season. It capped off an memorable run, as the A's held first place in the AL West for just one day in 2012, but luckily for them, it was the only day that mattered. Now, instead of having to play for their playoff fate in a one-game elimination, the A's will face off with the Detroit Tigers in the best-of-five ALDS, and the A's will have to once again prove they're not just a bunch of kids in over their heads. With the way they've been playing though, I don't think anyone is really counting them out. They have the pitching to help carry them to the finish line, but there is still some question marks surrounding their offense and ability to generate runs without the long ball. The key for them vs. the veteran Detroit bunch will be to ride their energy and keep playing like they have something to prove.

Across the Bay, the Giants haven't played a real meaningful game in weeks, but have their big series with Cincinnati set to start up Saturday night at AT&T Park. For San Francisco, the expectations are much higher, as their fans aren't just happy making it to the dance, they want another tittle. While the Reds are a pretty well balanced squad, their strength lies in their lineup and especially the power department. Obviously, the Giants strength lies in their pitching staff, so this could be another series very similar to the 2010 World Series when the Giants knocked off the Rangers. The Giants will send out their two most consistent arms from this season in Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner and those two have to set the tone for the series. If the Reds come out swinging and put runs up early, it's going to be a tough hole for the Giants to climb out of cause Cinci isn't just an offensive juggernaut. They can pitch too. If Cainer and Bumgarner can throw their typical 7 strong innings and keep the Reds offense to 3 runs or less, then the Giants are going to be in good shape... We'll have more In-depth and day-to-day Giants coverage, over at our Giants Baseball Blog.

Could 2012 be another Bay Bridge Series? Only time will tell, but both these teams are peaking and neither will be tough to knock off.