Muscling a Win Reveals Some Weaknesses
October 02, 2001
by Jeff Shaffer
The Niners muscled a win last night against a mediocre team. Giving the coaches the benefit of the doubt, this game plan could have been a strategic decision to: 1. Establish the running game as a legitimate threat to future teams, and 2. Build the team’s confidence that it could pound out a tough win. Without the benefit of the doubt, the team proved it could play unspectacular football to beat an unspectacular opponent. And this seems the problem of the Mariucci coached team – they play to the level of their opponents. After all, they left a Jets team clearly still learning their offensive and defensive systems in the game to the very end. Better teams would surely have taken better advantage.
Last night’s game revealed several weaknesses and an unexpected controversy.
#1. The Defense still looks flat
B. Big plays still allowed. Per above, the conservative defensive scheme is not working anyway, still allowing the opponent it’s big plays (particularly on broken plays) and 3rd down conversions. Streaking receivers are still getting behind the coverage. More disconcerting, the defensive backs seem particularly vulnerable to crossing patterns run between the linebackers and safeties. The Rams revealed this weakness effectively, and the Jets could have done the same except for some dropped balls.
C. Run stopping ability questionable. The runner regularly makes it through the D line and is brought down in the linebackers’ zone with the help of the defensive backs. The run defense must stiffen to make more stops in the trenches and attack backs bouncing outside to drop them before they can turn the corner or for a loss.
D. Personnel notes: The big play-making of Julian Peterson was noticeably absent, lets hope it was a symptom of his recovery and 1st game back. Andre Carter got his first sack and some good pressures, but it only came against the TE. He was still handled and kicked-out by the tackle. Plummer looked awesome on his big hit on the TE, and stayed with some plays to break up receptions, but receivers still get behind him.
#2 Offense lacks precision and
B. Garcia: Last season Garcia was mastering the offense, and did a great job. This was supposed to be the season Garcia got better reading defenses as well. But he looked confused (before and after the snap) on several critical plays – sacked on second play of the game, the collision with Beasely that nearly caused a lost fumble, flubbed audible requiring a timeout, and his sack at the goal line are just some examples. He looked lost at times. The second series of the second half was full of miscues. Admittedly, Steve Young had some series and games like that too. But Garcia also seems to give up on his downfield reads too quickly (see offensive line play notes below).
C. Offensive line play: This O Line is often touted for its pass protection – giving up so few sacks. But it is apparent the low sack numbers have more to do with Garcia’s nimbleness than their protection. The line rarely establishes a pocket for Garcia to throw from, more often creating a collapsing mass in front of Garcia that he needs to step away from to see downfield and throw. Good pass protection first creates a pocket, which gives the quarterback good passing lanes. As the pocket inevitably breaks down, it should do so predictably so the quarterback can escape smoothly while keeping his eyes down field. Garcia’s limited effectiveness in the passing game is clearly affected by the lack of a pocket. He is constantly on the look out for that surprise rusher emerging from or coming around the pile. He looks nervous and tentative and this affects his ability to stick with his down field reads.
#3 Running back: Not a weakness,
or even the controversy you’d expect.
B. The REAL controversy: Jackson verses Beasely. Terry Jackson is showing some real explosiveness running and catching the ball. Beasely is the starter due to experience and his blocking ability. At the beginning of last season he looked like he was developing into a real multiple threat guy running and catching the ball out of the backfield – remember his three touchdown game last season. But his running and catches started to produce only short gains. Terry Jackson is being worked into the game plan more for his playmaking ability. He made a great adjustment to Garcia’s scramble last week against the Rams that netted a touchdown. Last night, he came in on one series and made three consecutive excellent plays – 15 yard run; 8 yard catch and run in traffic; and a six yard run on a draw for a first down. On the other hand, Beasely didn’t do much running the ball – he had one first down catch on the last series, several short runs, and one run at the goal line that didn’t make it in. More importantly, it appeared he made several errors (although without knowing the details of the plays it is hard to say if they were in fact his errors) – it looked like one missed blitz pick-up, one running into the quarterback, and one false start penalty. I am assuming his blocking was still good, or excellent, since the running game was doing so well, but I didn’t make any special notes on that. But we may witness a change at fullback if Terry Jackson can prove he can block before we see a change a tailback. Plus, as a restricted free agent this year Beasely was only signed to a 1 year $1.3 contract before the season. He becomes a free agent after the season that may be too expensive to sign when there is a Terry Jackson in the wings, and possibly a converted Paul Smith behind that.
The Niners showed some really good things last night with improved defense and establishing the running game. But there is still plenty of room for improvement on both sides of the ball before this team can be a real threat to the better teams in the league. But if this team can take these three games and make the kind of progress they showed last year, by the mid-point of the season we may witness a real challenger emerging.
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