I wrote this article after the third preseason game of 2009 detailing who the 49ers were as a team. My reactions to their play in the preseason led me to make some statements about the team as well as identify some areas that appeared to need improvement. I thought I would follow up every few weeks with some impressions about the team, especially considering that they have surprised me along the way.
I know it’s only Week 3 in the NFL and we still don’t really know most team’s true identities…and if we claim to we’re either going to be wrong…or lucky.
That being said, I’ll do my best to give some impressions of what we’ve shown thus far and also try to discern which areas constitute our identity and which are more situational inconsistencies. Here we go.
Well I had sworn that we would own every team on the ground this year…or at least, I figured, we wouldn’t get shut down at all this season. Well Week 1 proved me wrong on that front…and Week 2 made me look like a genius. Obviously some where in the middle is the apparent reality of the running game.
We are a running team. I have no doubt about that. I also don’t think that’s going to change by season’s end. The Arizona game was just downright weird.
First of all, we didn’t run block well at all. Even against eight and nine men fronts you have to be able to find a way to get to the second level and expose the lack of defensive depth beyond the line of scrimmage. 1.8 yards per carry can’t happen again, ever.
Secondly, the play calling was a little suspect. I’m not sure if we were trying to convince the Cardinals that we would run the ball no matter what, so they’d be dumbfounded when we threw it? Either way, I’d prefer not to have to win the game on Shaun Hill’s arm late in the fourth quarter.
Where was the screen game? That’s a run-blitz-beater!
And where was Glen Coffee? If we’re going to bash the ball into the teeth of the defense thirty times a game, let’s share the load so we don’t kill Frank Gore!
Well we recovered nicely in Seattle, displaying that it can be done…beating a stacked line of scrimmage that is.
Sure our yards all came on two big plays mostly…but that’s because we exposed the weakness in a stacked box. There is little to no help beyond five yards past the line of scrimmage. Gore beat the guys he had to and good night.
As I said, the reality of where the running game is at this point lies in the middle somewhere. We have the ability to beat run defenses and if we continue to prove that, we will see more varied fronts, allowing us to hopefully grind out four to five yards per carry and control the clock.
If the home-run touchdown play from Gore can open up the defense…maybe we wont have to prove as much in the passing game. That’s significant because I’m pretty sure our pass offense is a slow work in progress.
Shaun Hill has done everything asked of him thus far. People complain about him all the time. He has a noodle arm. He can’t make deep throws. He has no mustard on the ball. Blah blah blah.
He doesn’t lose games.
Hill hasn’t thrown an interception yet. We’ve had only one turnover through two games. Our differential is +2, which ties us for fourth in the league. We all know the truth in the statement: Whoever wins the turnover battle usually wins the game.
Still, there are plenty of areas we could improve upon that wouldn’t necessarily constitute having a “high flying” passing attack.
Hill has been sacked 8 times, second only to Aaron Rodgers 10 sacks. Every sack is a potential for a forced fumble, and every near sack is the possibility of a bad throw leading to a pick.
Add to that Hill has only thrown for 353 yards, which places him 28th in the NFL. This I’m not as worried about though as I think that with confidence, practice with the receivers, and continued success of the run game…the passing game will open up some.
So to summarize the passing game: It’s not losing us games, it’s not winning us games, per se. Sure we had the drive in the fourth quarter in Arizona…but as I said, I don’t think anyone wants to rely on that consistently. Let’s keep running the ball and let the passing game come.
I joined the fray in busting on the defense for lack of pass rush this preseason. The hope from all of us was that we were just in “vanilla” (still hate that word) mode for the exhibition and once we started stunting and blitzing we’d show more pressure on the quarterback.
Well, we’re still being called vanilla on defense, spending a lot of time in our base package. However, for whatever reason, the pass rush has shown up.
Thankfully thus far we have really played as a team. Against Arizona the defense played as good as you could ask a unit to play, period. Kurt Warner was on his back more times than a…well, you get the picture.
In Week 2 the pass rush wasn’t nearly as vicious, registering only one sack. The offense definitely stepped up with two huge touchdown runs by Frank Gore to put the game out of reach.
In both games though, the run defense has been smothering. San Francisco ranks 3rd in the league, allowing only 106 yards rushing through two games. What’s more, we haven’t given up a single rushing touchdown either.
Our takeaways are another bright spot. Three interceptions are tied for third in the league thus far, though NFL-wide comparisons are somewhat irrelevant this early in the season.
Thus far I would conclude that we have improved upon who I “thought we were” in the preseason.
Our running game overall has lived up to expectations…though we really need to be consistent here. The offensive line needs to be accountable and continue to improve and execute.
The passing game is doing what we thought it would do…not losing us games, but not being flashy by any means. We will need it to come along and have it’s moments at some point down the road in order to win the tough games.
Our defense is shaping up to be one of the best in the NFL if we can continue on the path we’re on. I think this is the most consistent part of the team thus far. We haven’t gotten lucky, had fortunate bounces of the ball, etc. We have whipped our man on nearly every play and won the matchups, thus leading to outstanding team defense. The fundamentals emphasized by the coaching staff in training camp and beyond have obviously paid off.
All in all I dont think we fall into the same categories as some teams do at this point in the season. Often times when looking at a 2-0 team there is uncertainty about whether or not it really proves they are a good team or not. In our case though, I think we’ve played good sound fundamental football. I look for us to continue to play well, even in losing efforts, and establish our identity to the world.