Continuing the theme of poorly played Thursday night games, this one was 3-0 more than halfway into the second quarter, as the Rams scored points (on a field goal that hit the uprights) in the first quarter for their first time in 10 games. Of course, they wouldn’t score again until late in the fourth quarter, thanks to a short field following a fumble. The teams combined for nearly as many penalty yards (67) as they did total yards (89) in the first quarter, as San Francisco somehow won by 24 points (during the first 35-11 final score in NFL history) while having 11 drives of 12 yards or less.
Especially since Daryl Richardson played only one snap last game and turning around during a short week, Isaiah Pead was a surprise inactive despite not being listed on the injury report (rookie Zac Stacy was also scratched). With Richardson apparently feeling healthy and facing a 49ers defense that entered having allowed the most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season (while missing Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith), the sophomore back suddenly looked like a much safer option with Benny Cunningham his only competition for touches (I moved Richardson up about 10 spots in my weekly RB rankings with the news). Unfortunately, it all led to just 12 carries for 16 rushing yards and just one catch for eight receiving yards. Richardson entered with an awful 3.3 YPC mark on the year, but before departing last week’s game, he averaged 88.0 yards from scrimmage over the first two games, and he was facing an SF front-seven that had ceded a league-high six rushing scores this year (after allowing a total of seven all of 2012). In other words, this was the second straight performance in which D-Rich destroyed his fantasy owners, as he was conspicuously absent in the second half, getting just one touch (which happened in the fourth quarter, so it’s hard to blame an injury here). It goes without saying, but Richardson needs to be benched until further notice.
Chris Givens was one of my favorite late round WR fliers this year, but I feel anything but good about that now. This Rams offense looks like a pretty big mess – remember, they were facing a 49ers defense that had allowed 24 or more points in eight of their last nine games (including the postseason) that was missing arguably their two best players on that side of the ball. There are a few issues to blame, and one is OC Brian Schottenheimer, who continues to prove he shouldn’t be employed. St. Louis used the eighth overall pick during this year’s draft on the explosive (if undersized) Tavon Austin, (who Mike Mayock humorously suggested should be given “20-25 touches” per game during Thursday night’s telecast), and while he's been anything but ignored (he’s seen 34 targets over four games), Austin has somehow averaged 6.2 yards-per-catch. 6.2! This from someone who ran a 4.34 40 at the combine, the second fastest among all players. So while coaching has been a problem (which also goes back to Jeff Fisher – what’s up with him punting on 4th-and-2 down 28-3 with 9:00 left in the fourth quarter?), the biggest blame should still fall on Sam Bradford.
Bradford missed a wide open Austin Pettis for a touchdown from 23 yards out in the first quarter and lucked out on numerous would-be interceptions dropped by Donte Whitner and NaVorro Bowman; the former somehow resulted in a first-down catch by Jared Cook (yes Cook owners, you should be worrying) while the latter would have been a pick-six (despite the drop, any rumblings of Bowman being a product of playing alongside Willis can safely be put to rest). Through 25% of the 2013 season, Bradford is on pace to throw 428 passes, which would be an NFL record. Unfortunately, his 4,372 passing yards and 28 TD passes would rank 49th and tie for 100th, respectively. Of course, that would still be plenty valuable in fantasy terms, but anyone this inefficient (Bradford’s current 6.0 YPA is tied for his career low, which is beyond worrisome considering the team helped the fourth-year QB this offseason by adding Austin, Cook and Jake Long to go with an emerging Givens). In other words, there’s not going to be much fantasy help in St. Louis this season.
After rushing for 142 yards over the first three games this season, Frank Gore ran for 153 Thursday, as the 30-year-old back is suddenly averaging his highest YPC (4.8) since 2009. His vision remains among the best in the game, although in a weird way, he lucked into his 34-yard TD run in the second quarter. Kendall Hunter appeared to easily pick up a first down on a screen that came on 2nd-and-10, but the booth decided it wasn’t worth reviewing (presumably because the following play was 3rd-and-1 opposed to a more important 4th-and-1). Gore’s ensuing run was ruled a first down but was then called for a review by the booth (rightfully so, as he was easily short), which resulted in a 4th-and-inches play that led to the Gore touchdown thanks to a stacked box by the Rams. So the initial poor luck from a Niners view (the times in which the booth decided to review plays) ultimately resulted in the team having a very fortunate outcome (although this did require Harbaugh being willing to go for it on fourth down).
Colin Kaepernick looked much better, but his fantasy day wasn’t great. Although Vernon Davis secured just two catches, at least one went for a score, and he seemingly came away without further aggravating his hammy, and the tight end now has 10 days to recover. You have to love the Phil Dawson 71-yard “free kick” FG attempt (which has to come after a fair catch), even if it came nowhere close to being successful. Apparently, 49ers teammates are calling Joe Staley “Rod Tidwell” right now, but his injury looked like no laughing matter at the time. The irreplaceable left tackle was screaming in pain during a meaningless running play with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter. A serious injury to Staley, who Pro Football Focus graded as the No. 1 left tackle last season, would have been devastating, as even the team that was BEHIND kneeled the ball after the ensuing punt. Although it could be argued it was a sign of good things to come, since the two obvious best teams in the NFL right now have their starting left tackles on the IR…Anquan Boldin has been boom-or-bust, but the veteran wideout is on pace to finish with 96 catches for 1,488 yards and eight touchdowns.