The 49ers started off 2014 with a win, which is all one can ask for to start the season. While it was a victory, and a largely impressive one at that, there are positives and negatives to be had in every game. Here's a breakdown of what I liked and didn't like in Week 1.
What I liked
Justin Smith lassoing Romo twice
It looks like that offseason shoulder surgery worked wonders for the man with the Anheuser Busch tattoo on his bicep. Smith registered two sacks on Sunday and was handful for the the Dallas offensive line all afternoon. Many feared that age was finally catching up to the 34 year old vet but he showed off his relentless motor on Sunday and came up big for a generally-pedestrian 49ers pass rush.
Perrish Cox and Dontae Johnson stepping up
Cox and Johnson (has to be a better way to say that) were thrown into the fire Sunday after Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver exited with injuries. Both played very well with Cox nabbing Romo's third interception of the day and Johnson breaking up a deep pass from Romo in remarkable fashion. I was most impressed with Johnson, considering the fact that he's a fourth-round rookie. Hopefully, Brock and Culliver will be ready to suit up against Chicago come Sunday but Cox and Johnson looked sharp in relief and should be up to task whenever their numbers are called.
New year, same Boldin. The wide receiver with the fullback physique picked up right where he left off in 2013, hauling in eight catches for 99 yards in Big D. His 37-yard catch-and-run set up the 49ers second touchdown of the day, while several others garnered first downs during crucial points. With Crabtree hobbled by that calf injury, Boldin stepped up and was the go-to target for Kaepernick when the Niners needed to move the chains.
Let the running back controversy begin. The first-year Ohio State product looked very good, albeit against a porous Dallas defense. Hyde ran with power, speed, and purpose en route to a 50-yard, 1 TD performance. The most eye-popping statistic is the 7.1 yards per carry (YPC) average. It's only one game, so while it wasn't Gore's best day and Hyde looks liked a force to be reckoned with, it would be remiss to assume that Gore is done and Hyde is the new dynamo feature back. I'm confident Gore will bounce back and Hyde's YPC average will come down to earth some. Make no mistake though, Hyde represents the future at the running back position and showed why coaches were singing his praises through preseason. Regardless of Gore's performance, the 49ers will look for ways to get the ball in Hyde's hands this year.
Kaepernick's accuracy and pocket presence
The TD pass to Vernon Davis, on the run, with a defender wrapped around his ankle, was a thing of beauty: pinpoint precision, perfect placement. It's a good thing Davis was able to correct that bobble and reel it in or it would have been a real shame. Fresh off of that nice new contract signing in the offseason, Colin Kaepernick demonstrated improved accuracy Sunday.
Additionally, he showed a bit more patience in the pocket. Yes, at times, he stood in a little too long, but in general, he hung in there an extra second or two in the face of pressure, which enabled him go through his reads and find an open man. In total, Kaepernick boasted a nearly 70% completion percentage and zero turnovers, making for a a very solid outing across the board in Dallas.
What I didn't like
Wow, there were some rage-inducing calls on Sunday that would have stirred up even more discontent had it not been for the outcome of the game. Laughable illegal contact calls on Craig Dahl and Jimmie Ward, and the egregious flag on Brandon Lloyd for offensive pass interference (which wiped out a 32-yard completion to Vernon Davis) reinforce that the NFL game has drastically changed...and not for the better in instances such as these. The more frustrating issue is the lack of consistency. If the NFL is going to employ a glorified two-hand touch approach, it has to be enforced the same way in every game. Yes, there's always going to be human error on behalf of the referees but, many times, the same play that gets flagged one week isn't flagged the next. This leaves defensive players void of an accurate gauge on what they can and can't do, making it pretty impossible to effectively defend.
Injuries: All day, every day
Just brutal. The 49ers continue a bad streak of misfortune in the player health department. Tramaine Brock left with a sprained toe, Culliver's day ended after a concussion, and Jimmie Ward went down with a concussion forcing Brock back into action. It's a good sign that Brock was able to re-enter the game but the rate at which the 49ers are sustaining injuries is alarming. They've already got Glenn Dorsey, Kendall Hunter, and NaVorro Bowman on the shelf. Michael Crabtree, nursing a calf injury, clearly wasn't close to 100% Sunday, either. Thankfully, Dontae Johnson and Perrish Cox played admirably in relief, but the 49ers depth is diminishing, especially in the secondary. Updates this week will provide a clearer picture of just how significant these injuries are. Hopefully, they don't require any missed game time.
3 penalties on one drive? Really? Equally as detrimental, Brooks looked a little slow (most noticeably when he whiffed on a backfield tackle) and didn't provide the kind of rush the 49ers need in Aldon Smith's absence. A few weeks ago, both Vic Fangio and Brooks himself stated that the 30-year old veteran did not enter camp in good shape and was overweight. Per the SF Gate's Eric Branch:
"It’s all about eating right," Brooks said. "I’m 30 years old now, so my metabolism has slowed down. So it takes a little bit longer (to lose weight) than before.
"… Some of the things I used to get away with. I can’t get away with any more. Yeah, I do have to lose some weight. Is it affecting me? I don’t know. But, yeah, maybe a little bit."
The 49ers are counting on him to replicate last year's Pro Bowl-earning performance to mitigate the loss of Aldon Smith and, despite notching a sack during Sunday's contest, Brooks did not look the part. He needs to continue to condition and get that weight down so he can be the faster, more effective pass rusher he's been for the past several seasons.
...did not look good once again. Not sure what's wrong here but it needs to be rectified quickly. Iupati is not one of the o-lineman one would have expected to be concerned about this year. But between preseason and Sunday, he's shown to be a weak link in the chain. This recent skid certainly doesn't bode well for the 49ers offense at the moment nor does it any favors for Iupati himself, who is a seeking a new contract this year. Considering the patchwork nature of the 49ers' line right now, it's imperative that Iupati return to form and anchor the left side with Joe Staley, but that may not be an easy feat if the injury he sustained in last year's playoffs is the cause of his woes.
The Cowboys ran on the Niners with ease this past weekend. Had Dallas not gone down by such a large score and been forced into heavy passing so quickly, it could have proved much more costly for San Francisco. At day's end, Dallas registered 127 yards on the ground with a whopping 5.5 YPC average. The loss of NaVorro Bowman was underscored with each yard DeMarco Murray gained. In the 49ers' defense, Murray is a very talented back and Dallas sports one of the league's strongest offensive lines. At any rate, San Francisco has to figure out a way shore up the middle heading into their Week 2 matchup against Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears.
Vernon Davis' hands
I'm not sure whether it stems from Davis' penchant for catching the ball against his body/shoulder pad, or whether that technique is his way of combatting poor pass-catching ability. Either way, he nearly muffed that perfect TD pass from Kaepernick and he dropped a pass that hit him in the hands later in the game. While it's hard to criticize a player who registered a 2-TD performance and is a constant threat to defenses, Davis would be wise to hit that jugs machine a bit harder this week. His freak athleticism counter-balances this flaw but as age sets in and speed declines, it will be all the more glaring, and in seeing a new contract, he'll have to prove that he can refine that part of his game.
What were your likes and dislikes from Week 1?