Pretty boring half and a pretty busy day for me, so this will be a bit shorter. Oh, and if you're wondering why I use bullet points so much, I figure a lot of people have to read these articles in chunks, perhaps from work, and that the BPs give clear demarcation so you can pick up were you left off.
- This was a much better half for Alexander, even if he didn't do anything particularly spellbinding. For a little point of reference, I think of a running back having three gears. I don't know when I decided this, and it's not based on anything I've read, but if you bear with me I think you'll find this theory simple and logical. The first gear is the torque gear, it allows rushers to hit the hole quickly and get back up to speed after cuts. This is the most important gear, rushers like Jerome Bettis made an entire career more or less on their first gear. Alexander has never had a great first gear, but in his prime it was solid enough to turn smart cutbacks into big gains. Nowadays, he neither hits the hole quickly nor is fast out of his cuts. The second gear is usually the one rushers hit when they are just past the line of scrimmage or about 4-6 yards into a straight line run. This has always been Alexander's best gear, he generates a lot of speed from a mid-length stride, and the reason medium length rushes--especially near the goal line--have always been his bread and butter. Shaun looks quick and hard to tackle, even now, when he's in this gear. The third gear is the break away speed gear. Easily the least valuable gear, this kicks in to turn big gains into touchdowns. Rushers and receivers with awesome third gears but lousy first gears are a dime a dozen, the classic boom and bust back/deep threat. Alexander still has the best second gear on the team and that makes him valuable, for a few plays every game he's able to pick his way to a mid-size gain. Maurice Morris clearly has the better first gear though. He simply gets up to speed much more quickly than Alexander; Can, therefore, exploit seems Alexander consistently has close around him.
Here's a good comparison: On the first play of the final series wherein Holmgren decided to feed Morris to the dogs, calling five straight runs against a true nine man front, Spencer missed a tackle allowing Marques Douglas (who had a great game) into the backfield. Morris did what you expect a running back to do, cut away from the defender and outrun the 3oo pound defensive end. The blown block didn't really factor into the play and Morris netted a tidy nine. On an earlier play Douglas ran down Alexander on a stretch play. Alexander took two little weird stutter steps forward before he was caught, which didn't help his cause, but it was mainly that Alexander is just no longer very fast out of the blocks. Douglas didn't record the tackle, Alexander plunged desperately forward at the last second abandoning the stretch, but Douglas was just steps behind him and probably the impetus for Alexander's abandonment/plunge.
- It's funny that I mentioned Hasselbeck underthrowing Branch in the first quarter for a 65 yard strike and how the result was fine but Beck still screwed up, because they ran the same play in the second half. This time Nate Clements didn't bite on the fake---Branch was doggin' it a little bit too--and when Beck delivered the pass Clements had only to turn around to be in position for the pick. It's an important lesson in not taking results and working backwards to a conclusion. Hasselbeck underthrew the first pass despite the excellent outcome. When he did it again in the third, things didn't work out so well.
- I thought it funny that Fox noted that San Francisco led the NFL in onside kicks since 2005, commending them on their brash play-calling. Onside kicks are a desperation move. Seven onside kicks since 2005 is a dubious achievement indeed.
- Marcus Trufant got two picks, a gimme that could as easily have been any DB on the roster and another that may be proof of real growth. The gimme was on the Niners first play from scrimmage after the onside kick. Trufant just happened to be in the best position to grab Trent Dilfer's badly sailed pass. The second, also ridiculously enough on a play-action (think you better scrap the play-actions once your team is down by twenty Mike?) was an exciting display of coverage and well timed aggression. Trufant is at his customary position, alongside the receivers hip, when Dilfer tosses a wounded duck. Tru breaks coverage and zips back to the ball. Playmaking is the component Trufant has long needed to become a next level corner. For the past few years he's excelled in coverage. You very rarely see Tru out of position on a pass, but he's never mastered creating fear in opposing quarterbacks. That comes from opportunism and turning bad passes into picks. Some of the problem has been his hands, which are just okay, but the larger factor is that Trufant rarely ever plays anything but the receiver. It's good cover corner technique and I don't want him to become a Delta O'neal type route jumper, but the best corners know when to play cover and when to play the ball. Maybe Trufant is finally figuring that out.
- On a don't pat yourself on the back too quickly note, Seattle still looks to have trouble tackling Frank Gore. I hazard to guess Gore has more than a few headaches to induce for Seattle in the near future.
- Finally, let us end in praise of Rocky Bernard. Bernard has never gotten the full credit he deserves, but he is, plainly, the man. One gap tackles don't get a whole lot better than Bernard, who could possibly beat Alexander in a three yard footrace. While Julian Peterson was mopping up with three sacks, it was Bernard's out and out mastery of Justin Smiley that forced San Francisco to concentrate pass protection to the right side, allowing Peterson free lanes to the quarterback. For his long yeomen contributions, I award Sunday's game ball to Rock, keep shuffling big guy.