2011 49ers Week 9: Five observations

Five things I noticed while watching the San Francisco 49ers' most recent game, a 19-11 road victory against the Washington Redskins in Week 9:

  • Ahmad Brooks should try decaf. The 49ers outside linebacker committed his NFL-leading sixth penalty for offside, encroachment or a neutral zone infraction. Two of the six penalties took place in fourth quarters. Another proved costly in the 49ers' only defeat of the season. The Dallas Cowboys had thrown incomplete on third-and-9. The penalty against Brooks nullified the play. The Cowboys' Tony Romo completed a 53-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing third-and-4. The offside penalty against Brooks in the Washington game wasn't costly, but the 49ers need more disciplined play from him.

  • 49ers could have a 70 percent passer. The 49ers suffered two dropped passes against the Redskins. They have now dropped 13 passes for the season. Their drop percentage is about what it was last season, but 20 teams have fewer drops than San Francisco this season. Quarterback Alex Smith, though efficient overall, still has games when he misses too many open receivers. He's completing 64.1 percent of his passes. With fewer drops and better accuracy, it's plausible to envision the 49ers approaching 70 percent completions under coach Jim Harbaugh in the future. Smith has completed 132 of 206 passes. Give him 145 completions and he'd be at 70.3 percent. That's not too much to ask for a team making relatively few high-risk throws.

  • Anthony Davis appears vastly improved. The 49ers' right tackle still faces a few difficult matchups this season, including one against Justin Tuck and the New York Giants. He performed well against the Redskins and has shown better consistency overall. I've long thought Davis would fare better playing alongside a more consistent right guard. That has been the case since the 49ers replaced Chilo Rachal with veteran Adam Snyder. Davis has no penalties in his past three games. When the Redskins got pressure in Week 9, it generally wasn't coming from Davis' man. More on Rachal/Snyder: Frank Gore has averaged 3.1 yards per carry in 65 attempts with Rachal in the game. He has averaged 6.0 yards per carry on 108 attempts with Snyder in the game. There are other factors at work here, including general improvement on offense. But that switch to Snyder has been a good one for Davis and the offense overall.

  • Those dominant inside linebackers. Anyone following the 49ers this season knows Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are giving San Francisco stellar play at inside linebacker. It's tough to think any team in the league is getting better play from the position. One play stood out against the Redskins. Roy Helu was gaining ground quickly on a screen and had blockers set up to make this an even bigger play for Washington. Willis dipped beneath guard Chris Chester, made the tackle and forced a fumble. Bowman got around center Will Montgomery even though Montgomery, like Chester, had the angle. Donte Whitner recovered for the 49ers.

  • Sudden-change mentality. The 49ers have earned a reputation for conservative play on offense. They were aggressive after Whitner recovered that fumble. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman went with a deep pass on the next play. This wasn't the typical vertical throw given that fullback Bruce Miller was on the receiving end. It was still an aggressive play designed to capitalize on the momentum change. Smith was standing at the Washington 37 when he made the throw. Miller caught the ball at about the 7. Michael Crabtree was the only wide receiver on the field, making this a run-oriented personnel grouping. I'm wondering when we'll see the team release tight end Vernon Davis on one of these plays, perhaps from a short-yardage situation.

That's a wrap on Week 9. I'll be headed over to Candlestick Park for the Giants-49ers game in the not-too-distant future.