San Jose Mercury

Finding options on offense
January 05, 2003
By Dennis Georgatos
Mercury News

With the season on the line, the 49ers are going back to basics and getting healthy.

Wide receiver Terrell Owens, left tackle Derrick Deese and right guard Ron Stone got time off to rest injuries but all are due back today against the New York Giants.

Their return makes the 49ers offense whole and gives the the team its best chance to get past the Giants, who enter the playoffs with an NFC-best four-game winning streak.

``We did the right thing by resting some of those guys when we needed to even though it might have been tempting . . . to have them in there,'' offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said. ``Now with them being fresh and their mindset right, we'll be able to cut it loose.''

That doesn't mean Jeff Garcia will be airing it out, though. If the passing game is to be successful, Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow must make headway on the ground.

``My personal belief has always been if you keep a balance, then the guy on the other side of the field has to say, `All right, what are they going to do? Run or pass?' And they have to call the defense accordingly,'' Knapp said.

That approach worked for a long touchdown pass to Tai Streets in the loss to St. Louis in the regular-season finale. It also should give pause to the Giants, who relied on a two-deep zone to try to thwart Terrell Owens in a narrow loss to the 49ers in the season opener.

``They said back then, `Let's take away T.O. Let's see what else they can do,' '' Knapp said. ``And that's what is going to help us in this game. We've shown we can run the ball and you can't just play a soft defense.''

Coach Steve Mariucci said he expects the Giants to roll their zone coverages in Owens' direction. To take advantage of that, the 49ers can pop loose on a run or get the ball to Tai Streets, J.J. Stokes or Eric Johnson.

The success of plays in those situations will depend largely on sound decision-making by Garcia.

``We've got to be able to do some other things,'' Mariucci said. ``If you can get the ball in there and complete it, great. But if the coverage is too tight you've got to find the single coverage and those guys have got to win, and that's how you complete passes out of a smart quarterback.''

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