We take a look at the 49ers special teams struggles and how they impacted their 24-24 tie with the St. Louis Rams
In a game that featured a whole host of issues that prevented the 49ers from winning, special teams was one area that stood out as much as anything. The biggest concerns were with the punt defense unit and David Akers. The punt defense unit allowed two successful fake punts, and David Akers missed a 41-yard field goal attempt in overtime that would have won the game.
The fake punts were pretty ballsy calls by the Rams. Punter Johnny Hekker was a quarterback in college, so these fakes were not exactly surprising. The first fake late in the second quarter was actually not called by the coaching staff. After the game, Hekker said that he had an option for a sort of hot read. The fact that it occurred with Hekker punting out of the end zone makes it all the more incredible. According to Hekker, when Chris Culliver came off gunner Rodney McLeod to attempt the block, it left McLeod wide open.
The only reason that fake hurt the 49ers is they would have had the ball back with some time on the clock to potentially notch a field goal before the end of the half. It was a woulda, coulda, shoulda moment, but something you don't want to give up.
The second fake was costlier as the Rams were able to keep a drive alive that ended in a go-ahead touchdown. That fake was called in by the coaching staff, and Hekker easily completed the pass to Lance Kendricks. The defense still had opportunities to stop the Rams after that conversion, but that kept the drive alive.
The more important issue in terms of the bigger picture has to be the struggles of kicker David Akers. He missed a 41-yard field goal in overtime that would have won the game. Additionally, when the 49ers were set up at the 37 earlier in the game, the team elected not to attempt what would have been a 54 or 55 yard field goal. When the 49ers elected not to take the kick some folks mentioned the wind as a possible reason. When I looked up at the goal post, the little flags up top were barely moving. Although Coach Harbaugh would probably never admit it, that would seem to show some question of confidence in Akers.
I am not quite so concerned about the fake punts at this point because not every team rolls out an apparently decent quarterback as a punter. It's an issue that can be addressed, but otherwise is more of a non-issue. The Akers question is a tough one to figure out. He now ranks 30th in field goal percentage, and has missed 9 of 15 dating back to Week 3, and 3 of 8 from at least 40 yards. It is not a pretty picture and could be an issue for one of a number of reasons.
As Eric Branch pointed out in the link above, Akers was not around when the media arrived to the locker room after the game. Player availability is pushed back to Wednesday because of the Monday Night Football game, so we'll see what he has to say, if anything, on Wednesday.