2011 49ers Week 12: Five observations

Five things I noticed while watching the San Francisco 49ers' game against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night:

  • 49ers must not trust their coverage. That's one way to explain the team's continued aversion to sending more than four pass-rushers. We could also say the 49ers trust their ability to get pressure with only four rushers. Rushing fewer than five wasn't getting results against the Ravens, however, and still the 49ers refused to send added pressure. They sent five or more rushers on only three drop-backs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Joe Flacco completed 1 of 2 passes for 10 yards on these plays, with both pass attempts coming on second down. He also scrambled for a 6-yard gain on third-and-7 when the 49ers brought more than four. Flacco completed 7 of 10 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown on third down. Four of the 49ers' last five opponents have converted at least 41.2 percent of their third-down opportunities, above the league average (38.4). The 49ers seemingly could have done more to pressure Flacco, unless they feared giving up a big play to Torrey Smith. Flacco entered the game with below-average numbers against added pressure, however (41.5 Total QBR, 75.7 NFL passer rating).

  • Alex Smith wasn't going to lose the game, or win it. The 49ers would rather take sacks than risk interceptions. This approach makes sense overall given the team's strength on defense and special teams, and given Smith's strengths/weaknesses. The 49ers took this approach to the extreme in this game, absorbing nine sacks. The protection was poor, but no quarterback should take nine sacks, no matter what protection issues exist. The 49ers needed better quick-throw options against pressure.

  • Wide receiver play was a liability. Michael Crabtree continued to make strides as a receiver. Ted Ginn Jr., despite dropping a pass late in the game, made a strong play for what would have been a 75-yard touchdown reception without a 49ers penalty. The 49ers need more from Braylon Edwards and Kyle Williams, particularly when their tight ends are needed in pass protection. Edwards has struggled to produce through injuries and made no play on the end-zone pass Baltimore intercepted. The pass Williams dropped near the left sideline appeared likely to gain significant yardage.

  • Blueprints can be overrated. One school of thought says the Ravens showed future 49ers opponents, specifically playoff opponents, how to expose San Francisco's weaknesses. This line of thinking has limitations. Baltimore's defense fed off its home crowd. The 49ers will be the home team for at least one playoff game. Also, the Ravens' defense is better than the defenses San Francisco is likely to face in the NFC playoffs. The 49ers will have an easier time running the ball against, say, New Orleans. That doesn't mean we should disregard what happened Thursday night. The 49ers obviously must improve on offense. This marked the 49ers' first game without a possession in the red zone since their 2010 shutout defeat to Tampa Bay, and their second since it happened to them against Baltimore during the 2007 season.

  • Getting Adam Snyder healthy is key. The 49ers were not a guard away from beating the Ravens, by any stretch. They've been much better up front with Snyder in the lineup, however. They were worse off once a hamstring injury sidelined him. Bad things seem to happen when Rachal is in the game. His split-second decision to shove Ravens safety Bernard Pollard after teammate Frank Gore's cut block on Pollard produced a chop-block penalty against Gore, nullifying that 75-yard touchdown reception. Gore had played 94 games previously without incurring a chop-block penalty. The referee in this game, John Parry, had called only one chop block since becoming a ref in 2007, and none since 2008.

I'm heading to San Francisco for the 49ers' game against St. Louis in Week 13. First, though, I'm set to attend the Seattle Seahawks' home games against Washington and Philadelphia.