2011 49ers Week 8: Five observations

Five things I noticed while watching the San Francisco 49ers' 20-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns in Week 8:

  • The 49ers had plans against pressure. Alex Smith is the only quarterback in the NFL with no interceptions and more than four touchdown passes against five or more pass-rushers. He is the only quarterback with no interceptions and more than two touchdown passes when opponents pressure with at least one defensive back. I can see why. The 49ers protected beautifully when Smith found Vernon Davis for a 19-yard gain and Michael Crabtree for a 41-yarder, both on third-and-9 plays against five-man pressure. Smith had a quick outlet against five-man pressure on a third-and-6 play (he found Braylon Edwards for a first down). And when the Browns rushed safety Usama Young near the goal line, Smith reacted quickly, finding Crabtree for a 2-yard touchdown with Young bearing down and leaping in the quarterback's face.

  • Joe Thomas met expectations. The Browns' Pro Bowl left tackle encountered very little trouble against the 49ers' talented defensive linemen and outside linebackers. Justin Smith nearly got around Thomas in a two-minute situation before halftime. Aldon Smith redirected the running back after slipping past Thomas to the inside. That was about it. On one play, Colt McCoy found Benjamin Watson for a 29-yard gain after Thomas shoved Parys Haralson backward hard enough for Haralson to knock down Justin Smith, removing both men from the play. Aldon Smith got his sack on an inside rush, not working against Thomas.

  • Free safety Dashon Goldson got caught letting up. Josh Cribbs beat 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown for a touchdown catch up the left sideline. It's tough to know whether Goldson should have arrived earlier to help, but it's clear Goldson should have run through the whistle on this one. He let up when it appeared either Brown was going to make the tackle or Cribbs was on his way out of bounds. Goldson accelerated when he realized Cribbs had broken free, but by then it was too late. Cribbs ran the remaining 15 yards to the end zone.

  • Alex Smith's running is OK, to a point. The 49ers called multiple designed runs for their quarterback. A shotgun run to the perimeter behind tackle Joe Staley worked near the goal line. Smith took a big hit on another outside run when the 49ers led 17-3 early in the fourth quarter. There's a fine line between outsmarting opponents and risking quarterback injury without good reason. Jim Harbaugh might think he can win with Colin Kaepernick, but there's no need to find out. Seattle lost Tarvaris Jackson to a pectoral injury on a designed run.

  • Patrick Willis the pass-rusher found the QB. Willis finished last season with six sacks, a career high. Expectations surged when new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he thought pass-rushing was the one area Willis could improve to become an even more dynamic player. The 49ers haven't needed to blitz much this season. Willis went into Week 8 without a sack. He finally got one Sunday. Willis lined up wide to the right and easily overpowered running back Chris Ogbonnaya before taking down McCoy. As I recall, Willis has usually rushed up the middle when pressuring. Perhaps he'll get more pass-rushing chances after making this outside rush work.

This wasn't a perfect performance, but the 49ers were in control all the way. They did more than enough to win the game, rarely taking risks beyond the quarterback rushes.