Article Title: "We have a ways to go".
No one could ultimately predict what the 2009 San Francisco 49ers would do after suffering a star-studded shocking defeat in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the hands of “old-grey beard,” himself in Brett Favre 27-24 with but mere seconds remaining on the game clock. But from the visiting locker room to the plane ride back home and back into practice sessions, the message that was echoed throughout was not to dwell and mutter, but to move forward and play a full sixty minutes worth of football.
And did they do that back in Candlestick against the visiting St. Louis Rams? You bet they did in a 35-0 shutout of a team that is struggling to find a new identity from the Mike Martz era. The St. Louis Rams actually looked better then what the statistics will show on paper in this game as they hung neck and neck with us all the way through till the midst of the third quarter. With this victory the San Francisco 49ers are actually perched a top their division in the National Football Conference’s Western Division.
I want to start with the bad and the ugly first, even though it seems the score really speaks for itself, the reality is that our offense seems to be stuck in neutral before we can shift it back into drive based in part on offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye’s play calling and Swiss-Cheesed intuitions. It is very conceivable that the era of conservatism is overruling a sense of creativity that Jimmy has been lacking, with mindless runs of the ball and countless three-and –outs because the agenda is to manifest a running game at all costs.
The concept that we must establish a running game is an honorable and noble one. At the same time I believe we must be much better at “imposing our will on our opponents not only with the run but with the pass as well when there is a clear situation that a third-down conversion mandates a degree of calculated risk.” These situations occurred in all three prior games up and to this game against St. Louis. I am finally observing a tendency to lean on Shaun Hill a bit more to move those chains on third down with some of his experiences and abilities as the unedited leader of this offense.
On record before coming into Candlestick the St. Louis Rams were averaging six points a game on offense, thus being the worst in the league. Their defense was giving up an average of 27 points per game, but you couldn’t tell with their spirited play within almost three quarters of football. 49er fans are bored and utterly depressed sometimes so far into this new season of hope of running the ball despite one three and out after another.
Mike Singletary himself has conceded that he feels fortunate that they can generate points from other spectrums of the team, rather it be on defense and or even special teams. His optimism runs over as he flirts with the notion that his offense is working hard to get back on track and once it does all the speculation that exists right now, will be just what it was pure speculation. Mike believes that the offense will set itself up eventually for acquired success, through hard work, determination and a willingness to believe that execution can be obtained with all of the above.
With Frank Gore out, Glen Coffee became our feature back in this game and carried the ball 24 times for 74 total yards averaging 3.1-yards a carry. It was a hard 74 total yards and he played with a lot of heart and I commend his strong efforts. In all we mustered 96 total yards on the ground and 228-yards total as an offense. The offense was able to convert 4-of-13 third downs and won time of possession with 30:12 to 29:48 for the St. Louis Rams.
Outside of a mistakenly touched punt by the St. Louis Rams that ended up in the end zone with 49er rookie linebacker Scott McKillop falling on it for a touchdown to make it 7-0 49ers, our offense was utterly ineffective at best within the first half. Shaun Hill was literally running and trying to avoid a devastating hit for his very life. Pressure and penetration prevailed for almost three total quarters before the offensive line started to reverse that destructive trend as Hill was sacked four times for a loss of 20 total yards and countless productive drives. The entire offensive line is to be held accountable for the absolute abysmal pass protection that was provided on this Sunday, as Shaun could’ve sustained a dangerous injury that would’ve impacted the rest of our season.
Shaun Hill was able to put together a spirited offensive drive from the St. Louis Rams 48-yard line with a pass from their 13-yard line to Vernon Davis for the touchdown to make it 14-0 49ers. On the Rams ensuing possession at their 20-yard line Ram’s quarterback Kyle Boller threw an interception to none other than 49er linebacker Patrick Willis who brought it back to the house from 23-yards out to make it 21-0 49ers. It nearly raised the roof on Candlestick to see our opportunistic defense take advantage of a throw that Patrick read with his eyes and had learned unselfishly from his teammate in veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes who also had an impressive day defensively.
Simply put the 49er defense is one of the best in the league right now at this very moment not only based in part upon this game but in all four games played thus far into our season. Everyone knows that it is our defense that has set the kitchen table for our early winning season thus far. Plays like third-year defensive end Ray McDonald scoring his first touchdown of his career as he scooped up a fumble and sprinted 11-yards into the end zone for the 49ers final scoring of the St. Louis Rams defeat 35-0.
Inside this game Kyle Boller completed 13-of-24 pass attempts for 108 total yards and was sacked five times for a loss of 26 total yards. He was intercepted and fumbled with a quarterback rating of 48.6. 49er linebacker Patrick Willis was credited with 2.5 sacks, Takeo Spikes with one, Dashon Goldson with one and Manny Lawson with Patrick’s other half sack. There were so many positives in the defensive unit; Mike Singletary had trouble at Monday’s news press conference identifying those that were extraordinary.
He went on to say that he saw a defense that was utterly unselfish in everything it does, never pointing at each other where credit was due. Instead everyone works collectively together for the greater good in helping secure a victory by getting the offense back out on to the field. If points present themselves as opportunities while out there on the field, the defense does everything possible to take advantage of that as proven in all the games played thus far.
As far as our offense goes, I will say I enjoyed the bright spot in Shaun Hill finding wide receiver Josh Morgan in the end zone for an incredible 24-yard touchdown following an aggravating drop he previously should’ve had earlier in the game. The most important thing as far as a goal is to win our division. Mike Singletary indicated that it is at hand if we choose it to be, but that must not be the only goal. Moving forward he wants the 49ers to be one of the best teams inside the NFL. However “We are a ways away,” according to Mike.
Most pressing I believe is the offensive line and its ability to protect Shaun Hill. Hill is seemingly relegating himself to staying in or stepping up into the pocket, rather then bootlegging and or breaking away from the pocket like he did last year when named the starter by then interim head coach Mike Singletary. Each player on the line must commit to reinventing a more secure area for Hill to feel comfort in. It seems like the weak links change hands from game to game amongst these linemen, it has to be a unit that concedes its weaknesses by putting in the time at practice to adjust in understanding all of their underlying flaws.
49er nation and the entire Bay Area are excited from what they have seen and heard out of Santa Clara these days. Grace and integrity are present now along with a conviction to find success that has averted us on so many given occasions. Blessings from way up high are being bestowed upon us; we all should feel compelled to pray that the offense can establish its own identity via a line still disappointing those depending upon it the most.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.