Flea Clicker: Welcome back, 49ers


Sometimes there isn’t a particularly convenient reason why a team, or a unit (offense or defense), or a player suddenly gets it, and stops being awful. There’s a sort of organic flow to it, and a natural talent takes over. This is what we saw Thursday night from Colin Kaepernick, and the San Francisco 49ers offense as a whole.

Kaepernick had put together two games when he completed less than 50.0 percent of his passes while throwing four interceptions. Over his first 10 starts last year including the playoffs those things didn’t happen, and he threw only three picks, so his sudden wayward throwing was especially jarring. In the first quarter last night in a divisional game against the Rams there was more of that startling sputtering early, with Kaepernick completing only two passes during the 49ers’ first three drives.

Then the fog lifted, and throughout the rest of the game he had only five more incompletions with 167 passing yards and two touchdowns, while he did exactly what offensive coordinator Greg Roman asked: roll out, make a simple read with the field cut in half, connect, and repeat. The end game was the 49ers scoring more points in the second quarter (14) than they had throughout the previous two games (10), and a 35-11 win.

The rapid career acceleration we’ve come to expect from quarterbacks doesn’t provide any room for even brief struggles. It’s easy to forget that last night Kaepernick was making only his 14th career start, meaning he hasn’t even played a full season yet. Greatness is, um, great, but we should also accept and embrace what we saw over the past two weeks, which was learning.

He’s still doing that, and Kaepernick had drifted away from his ultimate role in this 49ers offense which remains rooted on the ground. He can and does make significant plays with both his arms and legs, and we saw that last night when he connected on key throws with Anquan Boldin (who had 90 receiving yards and a touchdown, including a 42 yarder), and Vernon Davis.

But often Kaepernick’s function is to be the tasty side dish complementing Frank Gore, and not always the main course. That’s what unfolded last night, and Gore’s dish was quite delicious. By halftime Gore already had four runs of 18 yards or more for 107 rushing yards in total, and he then finished with 153 yards overall, highlighted by runs for 27 and 34 yards. Prior to Thursday’s game, Gore only had 180 rushing yards over the first three weeks.

It was a standard 49ers win in both the execution and defense of the run game. Between Gore, Kendall Hunter, and Anthony Dixon, three of San Fran’s five touchdowns were scored on the ground. Then on the other side the absence of Patrick Willis meant little, as Navarro Bowman et al crunched a Rams rush attack that really isn’t an attack at all. Final score on the ground: Niners 219 yards, Rams 18.

While we can all nod and say that, yes, the Niners defense isn’t enjoyable to play against even sans Willis and Aldon Smith, owning and starting any piece of the Rams offense right now in a fantasy league isn’t advisable. Sam Bradford did more sailing than throwing, connection on just 46.3 percent of his passes. The result was crushing depression, with Austin Pettis’ 59 receiving yards leading all Rams pass catchers. The leader of the darkness was Tavon Austin, who was the subject of much infatuation back in August during drafts. His final line? Six yards on two catches. Through a quarter of the season, Austin is now averaging 6.2 yards per catch.

Thursday was the return of the 49ers we know well, and the Rams we know all too well (now outscored 65-16 in the first two quarters of games) remained.

More notes, stray thoughts, and other such randomness

Your move, Matt Cassel

In a move that’s only mildly surprising, the Vikings announced this morning from jolly ol’ London that Christian Ponder’s rib boo boo will keep him out of their Week 4 game against Pittsburgh, giving Matt Cassel his first start wearing purple. In past starts elsewhere he’s been several shades of purple at the end of games, but he’s never been wearing purple to start a game.

The Steelers may be struggling offensively — especially when they try to run the ball — but although their defense is reaching well-aged scotch status, it’s still pretty good. LaMarr Woodley remains a scary individual, as does Troy Polamalu both in coverage and when he comes on a blitz, and Ike Taylor has held Brandon Marshall and A.J. Green to a combined 93 receiving yards. So here’s the likely ending for Cassel Sunday: bad things.

Too often when a quarterback is struggling the fanbase or just football fanatics in general yell for the hook, and entirely ignore that the guy behind him is a mere replacement level option (hence why he’s a replacement). Like Brandon Weeden’s injury in Cleveland, Ponder’s rib problem allows Minnesota to see what they have in their second stringer, and ultimately they’ll be reminded that Cassel is a sufficient backup and spot starter, but little more. This is a quarterback who was known as the proverbial game manager and caretaker during his less disastrous years, yet in 2012 before he was eventually replaced by Brady Quinn (!!!) in Kansas City, Cassel threw far more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (6) while completing only 58.1 percent of his passes.

The Vikings will need to improve at quarterback, a statement that’s become so obvious I’m insulting you by writing it here. But unlike the Bucs, the future isn’t on their roster right now. That guy is a yet unnamed arm who will be drafted next spring.

Hi I’m Marc Trestman, but you can call me the narrative assassin

There’s hope for you yet, David Wilson

Those who spent an early-round pick on David Wilson in fantasy drafts have been repeatedly purchasing new computers because smashing things just feels so right. His fumbling problem returned huge time back in Week 1 when he turfed two balls on just seven carries, and then although he’s corrected that problem since, the result has been a tentative runner who’s afraid to do…well, anything. Over the past two weeks he has just 56 yards on 18 carries, and overall he’s averaging 3.0 yards per carry. Yowzers.

But there’s hope yet, friends, and it can be found in this detailed game tape study by Andrew Kulha over at Arrowhead Addict. You see, in addition to the fumbling problem that’s likely still lingering in his mind, Wilson remains an inexperienced runner whose field vision is developing. Hence the holes and open green grass he simply doesn’t see.

Here’s one example Kulha highlighted from Week 1:

wilson run

Do you see that room to the outside, the best opportunity for Wilson to gain maximum yardage with his fullback leading the way? He didn’t. He cut back inside, where he was promptly stuffed.

But fear not, because there’s hope yet, and still reason to buy low. Kulha highlighted other examples over the following two weeks in which Wilson properly identified a hole before bursting through it, and then running with a low pad level though contact to gain extra yards.

He knows the right form, and he has the field vision to succeed. This may be a matter of a young running back learning, and doing so by adapting after mistakes.

The sweet musical stylings of Sweet Pea

By now you’re familiar with Sweet Pea, the stripper who reportedly went all Louisville slugger on injured ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones earlier this week with a champagne bottle during Bryant McKinnie’s birthday bonanza.

Both McKinnie and Jones went into full denial mode yesterday, because of course they did. But that didn’t stop their teammates from doing some thoroughly researched heckling at practice by blasting this classic tune:

Well played.