Well week 1 of the NFC West was certainly interesting wasn't it? The 49ers went into Qwest field as big favorites and ended up getting whupped 31-6 behind a Seahawk defense that was surprisingly tough. The Arizona Cardinals traveled to St. Louis and narrowly escaped with a 3 point victory, winning 17-14.
I've already posted my game recap, which covers the events of the day, so what I wanted to do here is take a closer look at some of the action and talk about some things that maybe went unnoticed a bit.
Pass interference call on Nate Clements. The first 1 1/2 quarters of play were pure domination by the 49ers (though the score didn't reflect that). The Seahawks got the ball back with 6:23 to go in the half. The first play is a Julius Jones run off the right side for a 6 yard gain (tackled by Willis). The second play was a run off the left side for no gain. This brings up a crucial 3rd down situation to keep the Seahawks from clawing their way back into the game. On 3rd down, with 4 yards to go Hasselbeck throws to Deion Branch, incomplete. At this point the 49ers had complete domination of the game and were riding high on the success of the defense.
However, there's a flag on the play. Nate Clements is arguing that he was held by Deion Branch, and replay confirms that Branch held on to Clement's arm. However the ruling comes down as holding against the 49ers which is 5 yards and an automatic first down. The stunned defense couldn't recover and the Seahawks marched down for the score on a Matt Hasselbeck scramble into the endzone.
Alex Smith and the offense come out looking to make some noise. At this point we're only down by one point, so we should still be able to win, especially given the way we dominated the play on both sides of the ball earlier. Gore gets a nice 7 yard run to open things off, only that's called back because of a holding penalty on Josh Morgan. Now it's 1st and 20 with 2 minutes left. Three yard short pass to Crabtree, Vernon Davis' bread and butter pass for 12, and then an interception that bounced off Crabtree's hands.
It was this series of plays that killed the 49ers. They came back in the second half and in the first drive Alex Smith threw an INT that was taken back for 6 points, but I'm convinced that it started with the bad call on Nate Clements. Had the ref called it on Deion Branch like he should've, or not called it at all, the Seahawks drive would've stalled. The 49ers would've gotten the ball back with about 5 minutes left on the clock, and based on how well we were playing we could've marched down the field and put at least 3 points on the board, going into the half up 9 to 7 instead of down 14 to 6.
The sense of panic that was pervasive after the half would not have been there and I think the game would've been completely different.
I don't have much good to say bout the 49ers. They fell apart once things started going badly and could never get back into the swing of things. They have to be able to play disciplined ball (which is more than not making mistakes or committing penalties).
The Seahawks really surprised me. Their offense was about where I expected them, but their defense was much better than I was expecting. They got more pressure than I would've thought possible and their secondary looked really sharp. I was particularly impressed with Marcus Trufant (probably worth picking up if you play in an IDP), Chris Clemons also impressed with his pass rush.
49ers coaching staff looked defeated once things got down early and that leaked over into the players. Again the team had issues with communicating the plays to Alex Smith which helped prevent the offense from getting into a rythmn. I wasn't too upset with the playcalling for the most part, though the decision to go for it on 4th down twice inside the 20 was overkill for me.
Mike Singletary--D It's his job to make sure things were running smooth and he didn't
Jimmy Raye--C I liked most of his play calling but the team couldn't execute
Greg Manusky--C If a team like the Seahawks can put up 31 points on us you can't give the defensive coordinator a good grade
Pete Carroll--A I hate to say this but he managed the clock well and clearly did a better job gameplanning than the 49er coaches did.
Jeremy Bates--B The Seattle offense moved ok. Their defense won this game for them
Casey Bradley--A The Seahawks defense was definitely ready for us and once they had our number they didn't let up but kept going for the throat.
I really thought the Rams could win this one and they came close, but in the end they just couldn't pull it off. They lose 17-14 behind a valiant effort from Sam Bradford as well as a strong defensive line presence.
This game was pretty close all the way around, but there are a couple of moments that stand out to me. The Rams opened up with a good defensive series to stop the Cardinals, capped by a forced fumble caused by OJ Atogwe. That drive stalled out on the Arizona 16 yards line and Josh Brown goes to attempt a field goal. Adrian Wilson comes unblocked through the interior of the line and blocks the field goal, taking off an easy three points.
Early in the second quarter the Rams were down by 3. On a 3rd and 13 Bradford throws a beautiful pass to Mark Clayton that goes in and out of his hands. Clayton was wide open and had he caught it he was homefree for a touchdown. Drive ends, no points are put on the board and a chance for some early confidence building is lost.
Adrian Wilson impressed me quite a bit with his play. He caused a blocked field goal, and had two interceptions. Overall the Arizona secondary did a good job. The Cardinals only sacked Bradford twice and seemed to rarely pressure him. Offensively the Cardinals line got destroyed by the front 7 of the Rams. Derek Anderson did a great job getting rid of the ball but he had pressure nearly constantly.
For the Rams I thought Chris Long stood out on the defensive line. Didn't record a sack but he was bringing the heat hard. Larry Grant notched 4 tackles, but even more impressive notched 2 forced fumbles in just one game (the Rams would walk away with 4 forced fumbles on the day)
If I'm a Rams fan I'm feeling good about my team right now. Ok protection from the offensive line, Sam Bradford looking pretty good for a rookie, and the defense is surprisingly good (especially the defensive line). I have to be worried about making Bradford throw 55 times in his rookie debut--that's not balanced play calling and will wear him out fast.
I'm a Cardinals fan I have to love what my secondary is doing, but be concerned about the offensive line. Derek Anderson looked competent and when you have Larry Fitzgerald on the team you're never out of it. I have to worry about the lack of pressure from my defensive line, especially since one of those linemen just got a nice juicy contract.
If I'm the head coach of either team I have to be worried about the turnovers (4 fumbles on the Cardinals, 1 fumble and 3 INTs on the Rams).
Ken Wisenhunt--B Play calling was ok, the team got the win but there are some big concerns on both sides of the ball
Russ Grimm--C He's in charge of the offensive line (in addition to being "assistant head coach") and the line had a horrible showing against the Rams. If they want to be contenders they have to get it fixed
Bill Davis--B Showed some creative blitzes but did his best work in dialing up plays to confuse Bradford in coverage. 3 INTs isn't too shabby,
Steve Spagnuola--A I'm really impressed with how much better this team looks than they did last year. I'm also impressed by how well this team played for a whole game. Last year they would only play good for a couple of quarters.
Richard Curt--C He's the "assistant head coach" and in charge of QBs. Mixed grade because I liked that he called a bunch of short passing plays to get Bradford some confidence but having Bradford throw 55 times in one game is ridiculous. (The only QB with more attempts this week was Peyton Manning and he threw for 433 yards.)
Ken Flajole--B I thought he did a good job bringing the pressure. His secondary still needs some work, but his front 7 is much improved and played good football.