The San Francisco 49ers victory over the Detroit Lions had numerous who might deserve a game ball. On offense, Frank Gore had some big runs, Michael Crabtree had big catches, the offensive line did good work slowing down the Lions front seven, and Alex Smith had the big pass at the end of the game. On defense, it was a dominant team effort and really you could hand out a game ball to much of the unit. On special teams, same thing as Ginn, Akers, Lee and others were all over the box score.
After re-watching the NFL Network broadcast of the game (cut down to an hour and a half) and looking over some big plays, I'm prepared to give a significant game ball to tight end Delanie Walker. He had a dropped touchdown that hurt, but he more than made up for that with a somewhat important touchdown catch later in the game. Add in some significant blocks and it was a good day for Walker.
The touchdown catch at the end of the day gets much of the press because it was 4th and goal and he made it into the end zone by mere inches. His knee hit the ground almost simultaneously to the moment the ball crossed the threshold of the goal line. It was a huge play and he deserves much credit. It was his third touchdown of the season, which actually exceeds his career total of two heading into this season.
Last week I made a few comments about how I thought Delanie Walker would be a big part of the offense this past week following the loss of Joshua Morgan. I expected a bit more involvement in the offense in terms of expecting more targets and a bigger stat line. In reality, he was a huge part of the offense on Sunday, even if it didn't get him gaudy receiving stats. He got the huge touchdown and dropped another, but it was his work as a blocker that was just as important.
The 49ers ran their inside "Wham" play multiple times and Delanie Walker actually had the block that sprung the hole for Gore three different times. The play has been described over and over again and it really was a work of art. Walker would line up off the primary tight end and then start sliding in motion, stopping behind Anthony Davis. At the snap, Davis and Jonathan Goodwin would spring forward to make second level blocks and right guard Adam Snyder would swing over towards the center/left guard spot. Ndamukong Suh sees this huge opening and drives in but does not see Walker coming in to easily block him out of the way and spring Gore.
Walker has always been a versatile weapon for the 49ers, even working in the kick return game on occasion in season's past. This year however, he seems to be getting a more and more focused role both as a receiver and a blocker. There's a reason he has exceeded his career touchdown total to date. The Jim Harbaugh/Greg Roman offense employs the tight ends in a variety of ways quite frequently and Walker is benefiting. The game planning has adjusted a bit from week to week based on the opponent, so it will be interesting to see how Walker's role evolves throughout the season.
For now though, he is taking a nice step forward. He has been a player who has tempted 49ers fans for years. He is not putting up huge numbers, but he is filling a bigger and bigger role in the offense. It is enjoyable to watch.