The 49ers defeated the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 on Sunday. Here are the grades for the defense and special teams:
Defensive Line: B+
The first half was not pretty as the Falcons were both running the ball well and pressure wasn't coming to Matt Ryan. Ray McDonald in particular did good at eating up the blocks, but not compared to how Justin Smith did on the other side. In the second half, we saw the 49ers stop the run, with the Falcons only averaging 3.5 yards per carry when the game was over. Sopoaga also recorded the team's only sack of the game.
Tony Gonzalez was beating the Patrick Willis in one-on-one coverage for most of the game. However, Willis was good in terms of tackling and stopping the run. Ahmad Brooks failed to record a tackle, but knocked away two important passes on third downs. He was solid in coverage. Aldon Smith had pressure in the second half and was rewarded with a fumble recovery when Matt Ryan botched the snap. NaVorro Bowman will be remembered most for his game-saving breakup on fourth down.
This was a game of two halves for the secondary. In the first half, Tarell Brown and Dashon Goldson struggled in coverage and allowed Julio Jones to have 100 yards in the first quarter alone. In Brown's defense, he had perfect coverage on Jones when he scored his second touchdown. In the second half, the defense adjusted its coverage and held Roddy White to only 10 yards at the end. Carlos Rogers had a tremendous game and knocked away a deep ball when thrown to. Chris Culliver recorded an interception and also broke up a deep pass intended for White. Brown also redeemed himself preventing a deep pass intended for Jones. Donte Whitner prevented any underneath plays and was able to pounce on the receivers. If it weren't for the poor first half, this grade would've been an "A" easily.
Special Teams: B+
The biggest error was when David Akers hit the post on a 38-yard field goal attempt. That placekicker position is still unreliable with that miss. LaMichael James averaged 21.3 yards on kick returns and almost fumbled the ball away, but the ground caused the loose ball. Andy Lee preserved the game when he got off the punt at the end of the game, preventing any possible miracle. He averaged 50 yards on three punts for the game which included a 62-yard punt. Ted Ginn did his job when he returned a short punt for 20 yards to the Atlanta 38-yard line to set up the go-ahead touchdown. Had Akers made his field goal, this grade would've been an "A."
Several teams could've panicked when they were down 17-0 and giving up several plays for the game. Not Vic Fangio though, as he made minor adjustments that ended up being huge for the rest of the game. In the first half, it was a vanilla coverage defense with little pass rushing and mostly nickel defense in coverage. In the second half, he called some blitzes when needed but still focused on covering both Julio Jones and Roddy White. The outside coverage help for the CBs is what made the difference in this game as Matt Ryan couldn't find his targets as much throughout the second half. While an "A+" usually represents a perfect game, the defense wasn't perfect, but the adjustments after the first quarter were.