Thoughts and observations following the 49ers' 10-6 victory over the Bears in Week 10:
The 49ers' failure on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak was predictable and a reflection of their offensive line. Alex Smith is a lanky quarterback. His offensive line has not been dependable. I realize the running game was effective only sporadically and often through deception, but Frank Gore finished with 104 yards rushing. He needed to get the ball in that situation.
The 49ers averaged 0.8 yards per carry on 10 rushing plays from their base offense featuring fullback Moran Norris. This team's conventional running game has hit a wall. Coordinator Jimmy Raye did a nice job mixing in runs from the shotgun. I also liked the first-down call that sprung Frank Gore for a 14-yard touchdown run. The 49ers used three wide receivers on the play. It was only the sixth time all season the 49ers had handed off from three-receiver personnel on first down. More, please.
Smith did not appear to be the problem or the solution. At some point, he needs to be the difference in a 49ers victory. He was the difference in this one only by default. Jay Cutler threw five interceptions and Smith did not. It was critical for the 49ers to win a game with Smith at quarterback. Baby steps.
Few people in the NFL take over a game as completely as referee Ron Winter and crew. If the 49ers hadn't held on to win, more people would be talking about the questionable penalty against Dre Bly' for illegal contact on the Bears' final drive. Bly barely touched Bears receiver Earl Bennett away from the ball. Winter's crew regularly leads the league in penalties. The phantom tripping call against Minnesota at Pittsburgh stands as the signature call by this crew in 2009.
Veteran 49ers linebacker Takeo Spikes, a value signing before the 2008 season, is breaking down physically and I wonder whether he can make it through the season. He turns 33 next month. He could not finish the game Thursday night. This is looking like his final season.
Tight end Vernon Davis does not seem to be blocking with the same tenacity he showed last season, at least on a consistent basis. I wonder if his shoulder injury is limiting him. If Davis and Delanie Walker do not block well, the 49ers' two-tight end personnel group loses some of its punch on running downs.
Rookie receiver Michael Crabtree continues to impress. He had four catches for 48 yards and nearly made a spectacular grab in the game. It's time to target him in the red zone.
Interested in how Raye used his personnel on offense? Download my personnel overview from the game.