Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR color commentator Gary Plummer previews the 49ers opponents every week of the 2009 season on 49ers.com. For this week's "Points of the Game" column, Plummer breaks down the 49ers Week 17 opponent – the St. Louis Rams.**
First off, I want to congratulate Joe Staley, Vernon Davis and Andy Lee for making the Pro Bowl. But to me, it's always been a team award. That's why coaches and players are so happy for teammates that go.
Without Alex Smith throwing most of the touchdowns to Davis, without the offensive line blocking, giving Smith enough time to throw those touchdowns, Davis isn't able to catch 12 touchdown passes.
With Lee, it's a little bit more of an individual honor because he's a punter. But one of the areas he's leading the league in is net punting. That means he has 10 guys to thanks, first and foremost his long snapper Brian Jennings. That operation between the two is extremely smooth and it is what enables him to never have to worry.
There are some guys who have to worry about where the snap is going to be, but Jennings has perfect location. A lot of people don't understand how incredible that is, to be so accurate when the ball goes down the field 15 yards and has to be in the best possible position for the punter. Again, it's not an individual award.
With Willis, it's the same thing. He owes a lot of thanks to Aubrayo Franklin, Justin Smith, and Isaac Sopoaga. Without them doing what they do on every down on the defensive line, he's still going to make a ton of tackles, but he might not be as effective. Willis leads the team in tackles, tackles-for-loss and almost every category because he's free to run and make plays.
He's in the perfect system to thrive. And believe me he has, that's why he's always in the top of the league in tackles.
I thought Franklin absolutely deserved to go to the Pro Bowl, but I wasn't surprised he didn't make it. When you look at the Pro Bowl, it's basically a popularity contest. Unfortunately, it's not just with the fan vote, it involves the players.
The players don't see all the games.
They go with the popular guy, the name guy from the last couple of years, and when you look at Pro Bowl rosters a lot of the same guys go from year-to-year because of reputation.
The 49ers have one final performance to put in to close out this season. They should be striving to put on a perfect performance against the St. Louis Rams. You're always striving to put on a perfect performance.
While that might not happen, you're still striving to get as close to perfection as you can get. This is a St. Louis team in which they should be able to put together a quality performance. The 49ers dominated defensively against the Detroit Lions last week and offensively they did not match that dominance that the defense displayed.
This week they need to put together all three phases, and have great execution in all phases. They can't just dominate in special teams or defense, and that's what it's been for the most part this season. Occasionally the offense and special teams have had their moments, but never really all three phases performing at their best at the same time. That's the most important thing for the 49ers to accomplish against the Rams.
It starts with Smith, who has definitely played better under center this season, throwing a career-high 17 touchdown passes. Keep in mind, he was the backup for the first five-and-a-half games of the season and has one more game to go.
He's been more decisive. He's shown glimpses of the guy the 49ers envisioned when they drafted him in 2005. That being, the ability to make all the throws, the ability to get rid of the ball quickly, and the leadership he's shown this season.
Those are all areas he improved on this year.
Likewise, outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks has grown a lot this year. You can't coach athleticism, and Brooks has it. He's got speed, strength, size, quickness and that's the perfect position for him. Credit the front office for a great pickup. Then you have to credit the coaches for finding a position for him, he'd never played that position before. He could very well end up leading the team in sacks this year. If he's able to keep the team-lead, he'll be one of a select few to finish a single-season with the most sacks on the 49ers. That's pretty cool.
All of the turnovers the defense has created as of late are directly related to the quarterback pressure. That has allowed the secondary to become more of a ball-hawking group. They've had an awful lot of big plays of late. The amazing part has not just been the interceptions, but the number of caused fumbles is tremendous.
No other team has forced more fumbles than the 49ers.
The big-hitting of players like Dashon Goldson, and Michael Lewis that set the tone for the secondary. Those guys inspire the group to fly around to the football and that's another reason they've become a ball-hawking secondary.
I look forward to seeing if the 49ers can put together that all-around performance I spoke of earlier. It will be important in building for the future. The 49ers can finish 8-8 for the first time since 2002 and they have two first-round draft picks. That's not bad offseason momentum, they have to beat St. Louis first.