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Jim Harbaugh Reflects on 49ers Win

Posted Sep 10, 2012

With a 30-22 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Jim Harbaugh joined six other active NFL coaches with back-to-back season-opening wins to begin their head coaching careers.

“It’s good to be back, back here in Santa Clara,” the 49ers coach said on Monday, a day removed from ending an eight-game 49ers losing streak to the Packers. “It was a good trip home. Again, just really excited about how our guys played and fought.”

The 49ers coach began his Monday briefing my listing a number of standouts in San Francisco’s challenging road win. Harbaugh began with his defensive front, a three-man unit who played the game “gap challenged” against a pass-heavy Packers attack.

Harbaugh proceeded to highlight the performances of his pass-rushers (Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks), his special teams coverage units (cornerback Tramaine Brock’s two special teams tackles), his unselfish linebacker (Patrick Willis) and several members of his offense.

But before diving into the efforts of Alex Smith, Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Alex Boone and others, Harbaugh wanted to stress the defense’s strong showing on the last Packers possession.

“Ahmad gave us a big sack and played really well down the stretch,” Harbaugh said.

Brooks said it felt good to pin Green Bay back for a long fourth-down conversion at midfield, a play which was broken up down the visitor’s sideline by second-year cornerback Chris Culliver.

“The sack put them further back than where they wanted to be,” said Brooks, who dropped Aaron Rodgers for his 21st career sack. “They wanted to get a first down to get a touchdown, that play was huge for us.”

Pass-rush was important in this game, but so was the sure tackling of the 49ers defensive backs.

“Defensive backs, wooo,” began Brooks, “they played a great game. They did everything we asked them to do; I don’t think they could have done anything better.”

Even linebackers displayed excellent coverage skills. NaVorro Bowman recorded the game’s only takeaway, a key interception over the middle on an errant Rodgers throw.

The 49ers rarely used a base defense on Sunday. Instead Vic Fangio’s defensive unit utilized a dime defense with four defensive backs and Bowman, the third-year linebacker, left to patrol the middle of the field.

Willis was also utilized in the dime linebacker role, but did most of his damage in nickel and base sets.

“I’m capable of playing the linebacker position when we do go to dime,” Willis said in a radio interview with 95.7 The Game on Monday, “but it’s primarily Bo’s position in the nickel and dime.”

The Packers didn’t think much about running the ball when Bowman, Willis, or any 49ers defender was in the game for that matter. Green Bay was out-rushed 186 to 45 by a balanced San Francisco offense.

“The biggest thing was to keep everything in front of us,” stressed cornerback Tarell Brown, who broke up one of the few deep passes attempted by Rodgers. “We knew they really didn’t want to run the ball on us because we have an amazing D-line and amazing linebackers. The object was for them to go five-wide, throw the ball around and make it more of a playground football game.

“Our biggest thing was to keep everything in front of us and make the plays that came to us.”

Thanks to his team’s hard-work, Harbaugh improved to 7-2 in his first nine road games as a head coach.

Harbaugh reiterated his appreciation for Moss, Crabtree and others on the offense. He also raved about Crabtree’s 7-catch, 76-yard performance that saw the fourth-year wideout catch four passes for first downs.

“Michael Crabtree had some, just terrific catches,” Harbaugh said. “He is just a great example for young receivers. Hand-catching the football, good as you’ll ever see. And in traffic he had some physical runs.”

The team’s leading wideout wasn’t the only one demonstrating offensive physicality to Harbaugh’s liking.

Converted tackle Alex Boone made his first start at right guard and left a positive impression on his head coach.

“He was outstanding I thought. Just love Alex Boone, love him, love him,” Harbaugh said. “Love being around him, love the way he competes. Love the mentality that he brings, the attitude that he brings to our team. I thought he did a heck of a job. And I think he’s going to get better and better as well.”

Another player who continues to improve, yearly and weekly is 37-year-old All-Pro, Pro Bowl kicker David Akers. The 14-year veteran kicked the longest and straightest kick Harbaugh has ever seen when his 63-yard kick tied the NFL’s longest kick record.

“There was no variance left to right on that kick,” Harbaugh said, “And I think that was the difference, I really do. The trueness, the straightness of that kick is what made the difference.”

Even with a hard-fought road victory under their belts to start the 2012 season, there will still be things to improve.

The 49ers face an undefeated Detroit Lions (1-0) team at the team’s home opener at Candlestick Park.

Perhaps, Vernon Davis might have time to brush up his end zone celebrations. A failed dunk attempt on his 4-yard touchdown grab prompted laughs from teammates on the plane ride home from Green Bay. It also received some commentary from Willis on the radio.

“I’m sure next time he’ll know how to finish it,” Willis said with a laugh.

As for the 49ers, themselves, finishing another game against a talented team is certainly their biggest focus for this coming Sunday.

“Everybody knows Calvin Johnson is their bell cow,” Willis said of a Lions team which was defeated by the 49ers on the road last season. “He’s a guy who can stretch the field and make big plays for them.”

Willis said the 49ers will aim to make the Lions one-dimensional like they did to the Packers.

“We have a good week ahead of us to prepare for them and we’ll see on Sunday.”

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