Put the clamps on Cedric Benson
YES: Benson popped a few intermediate runs in the middle of the field, but the Niners stuffed him most of the day, particularly when they needed to on the game’s opening drive. With a first-and-goal from the 6-yard line, the Bengals gave the ball to Benson on the next two plays, and he was stuffed for a two-yard loss on second down that forced Cincinnati to eventually settle for a field goal. The NFL’s ninth-leading rusher entering the game, Benson was limited to 64 yards on 17 carries and never was a factor in Cincinnati assuming control of the game as the Bengals finished with only five rushing first downs and possessed the football for just 24 minutes, 40 seconds.
Get Frank Gore and the ground game going
NO: The ground game came through for the Niners on the game’s only touchdown drive, but it wasn’t Gore handling the ball when it happened. Gore once again found no room to run, finishing with just 42 yards on 17 carries, and his 2.5 average was bolstered by a 12-yard gain. Gore averaged 2.7 yards or fewer for the third consecutive game to start the season, and his uncharacteristic fumble deep in San Francisco territory in the fourth quarter led to a go-ahead field goal for the Bengals – a turnover that could have been much more damaging had the Niners not held Cincinnati to a field goal and then rallied at the finish. After Andy Lee’s 18-yard run backward into the end zone for a safety in the final seconds, the Niners averaged 1.7 yards per carry on the ground.
Michael Crabtree steps up and picks up passing game
NO: Crabtree started at split end and played most of the game after missing last week’s loss with a sore foot, and he made a nice sideline catch to convert on third-and-6 in the second quarter. But Crabtree had a key drop when Alex Smith put the ball right on his hands over the middle on third-and-7, thwarting a drive near midfield with the Niners on the move after taking the second half kickoff. In short, Crabtree was a nonfactor, finishing with three receptions for 24 yards on the six passes that were thrown his way.
Get Vernon Davis centrally involved in passing game
YES: If the 49ers are going to have success on offense and with their passing game in particular, Davis has to be the team’s primary target, and the Niners have to go to him repeatedly. And he was and they did Sunday, when the 49ers threw towards Davis nine times, and he came through in a big way with game-high totals of eight receptions for 114 yards, including a big 39-yard catch that set up San Francisco’s first points in the third quarter, and a 20-yarder late in the fourth quarter that set up the game’s only touchdown on the next play.
Pressure Andy Dalton and force him into mistakes
YES: Dalton was a cool customer on the game’s opening drive, completing his first five passes to drive the Bengals 76 yards down the field for a field goal. But the 49ers consistently got closer to him as the game progressed, and Dalton did little the rest of the game after Ahmad Brooks put a big hit on him for San Francisco’s only sack midway through the second quarter. Dalton had a passer rating of 109 on the opening drive – then a passer rating of 23.9 the rest of the game after that drive. Dalton got the ball out quick but misfired often when pressured, and his two interceptions on Cincinnati’s final two drives effectively decided the outcome.
Expose Nate Clements in coverage
NO: The 49ers rarely tested the corners of the field with anything deep, and they didn’t go after Clements despite his lack of speed and their receivers’ knowledge of his style and technique. Crabtree beat Clements on a short sideline route for a first down, but Clements held up well in coverage, knocked down a pass and had a big hit on Alex Smith when the quarterback attempted to turn the corner on an ill-advised run.
Don’t get beat by A.J. Green
YES: After catching 10 passes for 124 yards last week at Denver, Green could not shake free of San Francisco defensive backs and was a virtual nonfactor with four receptions for just 29 yards, with three of those coming underneath coverage for a combined 11 yards.
Finish at the finish
YES: Talk about complete turnarounds from a week ago. The 49ers allowed Dallas to rally from a 10-point deficit in the final 11 minutes to win in overtime last week, playing not to lose. This time, the 49ers played to win, assembling a signature 10-play, 72-yard touchdown drive to take their first lead late in the fourth quarter, then closing it out with two late interceptions and a Jim Harbaugh coaching decision that worked. If San Francisco could have finished half this well last week against the Cowboys, the 49ers would be 3-0 heading into next week’s game at Philadelphia, which probably will be playing without quarterback Michael Vick, who broke his right hand Sunday.