Often times there are arguments over winning ugly, boring wins, and basically anything that detracts from a 49ers victory. There was plenty that detracted from the 49ers 33-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, but nonetheless, the 49ers walked away with a 33-17 victory. Every unit had a mix of ups and downs, but the defense and special teams made the necessary adjustments and took care of business.
The defense did not have a "complete" game but when they did start struggling, they seemed to step up as needed. The Ted Ginn kick return for a touchdown was a huge help, but the defense still gets credit for a strong performance thanks primarily to a wicked pass rush.
We'll have plenty more on the defensive front seven, but for now it's still worth pointing out how well they performed. Ray McDonald was an absolute monster on the field and showed why the team was willing to give him a long term deal and insert him at left defensive end. He grabbed a sack, was consistently in Tarvaris Jackson's face and also showed up well in the running game, finishing with six total tackles. There were strong performances across the board, but before Ted Ginn's two kick returns, McDonald was in the running for player of the game.
Beyond McDonald, the team received huge impact plays from Justin Smith and Parys Haralson. They each grabbed a pair of sacks and both of Haralson's sacks resulted in fumbles. Haralson had some downs to go with his ups, but if he can consistently make impact plays, it'll be a good thing.
Speaking of ups and downs, the secondary had its share of issues and will be one area that Vic Fangio can focus in on this week. On the first touchdown drive Tarell Brown had some issues with coverage. I still believe the actual touchdown play was more great play-calling as they set a bit of a pick on Brown that was tough to get around.
On the second Seahawks touchdown drive, the big play was the 55-yard catch and run by rookie Doug Baldwin. Brown was on Baldwin at the line of scrimmage, but the 49ers called some sort of zone defense on the play and Baldwin moved out of Brown's zone. The touchdown seemed to be a result of some overpursuit by Reggie Smith that had him shoot past Baldwin and not have time to recover. Throw in the fact that Baldwin found a perfect seam and it was a well-executed play.
The second Seahawks touchdown cut the 49ers lead to 19-17 and Seattle seemed to have all the momentum at this point on both sides of the ball. Although the Seahawks were trailing, had they forced a three and out by the 49ers on the ensuing possession it would not have surprised me to see them reach into our chests and yank out our hearts with a late score.
Fortunately, special teams stepped up in as big a way as is humanly possible. Ted Ginn Jr. got the call as both kick and punt returner and he hit an absolute home run in the fourth quarter. Ginn was a strong punt returner in 2010 as he finished third in the NFL in punt return average. His kick returning was a little more average, but still decent.
Earlier in Sunday's game Ginn returned a punt 31 yards. He followed that up with a loss of ten yards as blocking broke down and he tried to make something out of nothing. When you get a big play return man, these things will occasionally happen. You take the bust with the boom. And boy did Ginn bring the boom on Sunday. He returned one kick off 102 yards for a touchdown and followed that up a minute later with a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown. Game, set and match.
This followed a day in which the special teams units were mostly awesome. There was one bad play in which Tavares Gooden was called for roughing the punter. I would have thought running into the punter would have been more reasonable, although it was 4th and 3 so it would have remained Seattle ball either way.
Beyond Gooden's miscue, the 49ers special teams were mostly brilliant on Sunday. Andy Lee was a beast, even by his own standards. He averaged a 59.6 per punt gross and a 54.2 per punt net. The 49ers used field position as a key part of their strategy. Jim Harbaugh indicated he is still learning a lot about his offensive players due to the limited offseason. The good news is that he knows all he will ever need to know about Andy Lee. Accordingly, he was able to utilize's Lee's powerful leg to take control of the field position battle.
David Akers also proved strong in his debut connecting on four field goals and three extra points. None of his field goals was longer than 31 yards, but for his first regular season performance at Candlestick it was a solid start to things.
As the 49ers look ahead to the Dallas Cowboys in week two, they'll need to continue the strong performances on defense and special teams, even though two more Ginn TD returns might be asking a bit much. Most notably though on defense, they'll need to correct some of the deficiencies we saw in the secondary. The performance on Sunday was quite dynamic, but in regards to the pass rush it will be interesting to see if they can develop consistency over multiple games.
The 49ers defense has done well in recent years in accumulating sacks, but we saw a much more aggressive unit on Sunday. We saw coverage sacks, we saw hussle sacks, and saw the defense just bulldoze their way into Tarvaris Jackson's face for sacks. My favorite was when Ray McDonald grabbed Jackson by the back and basically said, GET OVER HERE!
If the 49ers can consistently bring this kind of aggression, the defense could be in good shape. They need to clean things up in the secondary, but a strong pass rush is nice first step in that direction. I'd imagine we didn't see everything in Vic Fangio's bag of tricks, but he showed us a solid repertoire. We'll find out next week how much of the success this week was because of Seattle's fairly porous offensive line and how much is courtesy of talent and scheming.