2011 49ers Week 10: Five observations

Five things I noticed while watching the San Francisco 49ers' most recent game, a 27-20 home victory over the New York Giants:

  • Akers' impressive form. Kicker David Akers' onside kick fooled the Giants for a couple reasons. Situation played a role. Teams generally do not opt for onside kicks with five minutes remaining in the first half. Akers' execution was also flawless. His run-up to the ball sold a regular kickoff. Two of the Giants' five up men had their backs to the ball as Akers followed through with the kick. Akers also struck the ball perfectly, producing a high kick.

  • A changeup on offense might help. The Giants stacked nine defenders near the line of scrimmage for one first-and-10 running play. It was hard to fault them. The 49ers had only one wide receiver on the field as part of their "22" personnel group with two backs and two tight ends. Frank Gore never had a chance. The Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul ran down the line unblocked and tackled Gore violently, injuring him. This play made me wonder whether the 49ers have become predictable from this run-oriented grouping. They have run the ball on 18 of their past 22 first-down plays using 22 personnel, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Previous 49ers coaches sometimes used 22 personnel to free Vernon Davis for long receptions in short-yardage situations. So far this season, the 49ers have run the ball on all six third-and-1 plays featuring 22 personnel.

  • Bear Pascoe's over-the-top celebration. The Giants' tight end and one-time 49ers draft choice celebrated wildly after running over Carlos Rogers and through Patrick Willis during a reception up the right sideline. Microphones picked up his primal howls. He was far less demonstrative when the 49ers' Parys Haralson flat-backed him during a pass-rush matchup in the backfield a few minutes earlier. Pascoe lined up at fullback on the play. Haralson ran over him violently. Eli Manning tossed a near-interception on the play (free safety Dashon Goldson could not get a second foot down inbounds).

  • Smith's mobility. Analysts sometimes praise a quarterback for his ability to "throw open" a covered receiver. The 49ers' Alex Smith doesn't seem to do this. His throws seem deliberate and reflective of the team's emphasis on avoiding turnovers. Smith does put his mobility to good use. This could have been a five-sack game for him. Instead, he took only two. Smith repeatedly bought time, sometimes changing direction abruptly within the pocket to avoid defenders. And his well-timed scrambles contributed to the 49ers' day-long advantage in field position.

  • About those controversial shifts. The Giants became the latest team frustrated by the 49ers' presnap tactics. Tight end Delanie Walker drew them offside by rising from his stance at the end of the line and backing up after receiver Ted Ginn Jr. went in motion to his side of the field. Ginn slapped Walker on the butt as he ran past. It's pretty clear the 49ers are trying to draw opponents across the line even though coach Jim Harbaugh says they're merely shifting to affect the strength of the formation. Walker's movement away from the line timed up with a hard count from Smith. I doubt that was a coincidence. It'll be fun to watch how the Arizona Cardinals react Sunday. Their defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, used the word "cute" to describe the shifting.

All for now. I'll be heading over to Candlestick Park in the not-too-distant future.