Article Title: Effort makes a difference.
Unquestionably one of the best victories of the 2008 NFL season for the San Francisco 49ers in their 10-3 defensive stand against a potential playoff contender in the Buffalo Bills while on the road all the way out on the east coast. Mike Singletary gave credit to both sides of the line in that effort manifested itself within this game like he had never seen before.
The San Francisco 49ers in stark contrast to last weeks loss against the Dallas Cowboys proved worthy of finishing this game with a tight score being carefully protected by an inspired performance from our defensive front and secondary. Execution was certainly a factor as it was observed and congratulated by both the fans and the coaching staff alike.
First my hat goes off to the team’s realization that Frank Gore is the centerpiece of this offense despite the fact that this day wasn’t at all his best performance. The effort by the coaching staff especially offensive coordinator Mike Martz to stick with running the ball was a pleasant surprise.
Frank carried the ball with authority 24 times for just a total of 66 yards averaging only 2.8 yards per carry, but his effort provided a successful passing game that included his touches on three passes for 23 total yards. Isaac Bruce was the beneficiary of the 12-yard touchdown pass from Shaun Hill on the very first offensive drive that proved to be the only touchdown of the game. Bruce had a terrific day with five receptions for 67 total yards.
What were the determining factors in establishing this victory was the bend but do not break policy of the 49er defense. Throughout the entire game the Buffalo Bills were able to make 18 total first downs and 7-out-of-15 third down conversions culminating with 350 net yards of offense. 156 rushing yards with 134 by Marshawn Lynch alone and an 8.4-yard average per carry signaled that our defense was in for a very long day.
However the 49er defense always seemed to tighten up as the red zone was unveiled each and every time the Bills came within range. Inspired play by two former teammates of the Buffalo Bills in Takeo Spikes and Nate Clements provided a needed catalyst for our eventual victory in a contest that had time of possession within one darn minute of each other.
Wanting to correct their flaws from a week ago against the Dallas Cowboys the 49er secondary proved to be in “lockdown fashion,” as it effectively held the Buffalo Bill offense to just one field goal and 205 total yards of passing yardage. You could see the adjustments being made pertaining to the defensive scheme as each player executed their assignments.
Those that stood out included Patrick Willis with 10 total tackles, Justin Smith, Parys Haralson and Roderick Green all contributed with pressure and sacks. I was particularly pleased with the way the secondary locked-up Lee Evans and Josh Reed Buffalo’s two leading receivers and denied them both from scoring within the red zone.
Effort in fact really makes a difference as Mike Singletary said in his last post-game news conference in relating the victory and what were the keys to its success. Each and every game like he has said and continues to say has seen bits and pieces of something positive that we can bring back and work even harder on. Rather it is a loss and or victory he analyzes the positives that exist within each contest and makes the adjustments accordingly.
Mike has gone on to say that he is not at all worried about his tenure as interim head coach and is not looking at each game as being his pink slip to leave the 49ers right after the regular season has concluded for the 49ers. With just four games left he is focused on just one game at a time and one opponent’s team colors one at a time. Next up the New York Jets and Brett Favre, a tall order to play against a division leading team seething with success in that they want to win in order to solidify their hold on their division.
In my opinion variations have occurred on both sides of the ball between offense and the defense. Mike Martz has learned sometimes the hard way like the post Arizona Game and Dallas game of what to do and not to do once within the red zone. He has reluctantly yielded to Singletary in focusing on running the ball more and Shaun Hill is minimizing his mistakes.
If there is still an opportunity it is for the offensive line to be consistent in its blocking assignments and its ability to provide Shaun Hill key seconds to scan the horizon and deliver the ball safely down the field. Greg Manusky is altering his schemes between the 4-3 and 3-4 defense and is now starting to get pressure from a pass rush that has been unidentifiable earlier this season. Right now looking forward Manusky can now rightfully hang his hat on what he is finding from Haralson, Smith, Lawson and Green in getting into the faces of the opposition.
As far as the defensive opportunities it is to wrap-up and tackle better and stop the running game dead in its tracks. Right now the defensive front is having difficulties penetrating the peripherals of the offensive line to generate immediate pressure, offensive linemen are moving the ball on the ground with pulling and side-stepping schemes that are providing ample running lanes as showcased by Marshawn Lynch this past Sunday.
Mike Singletary wants the war in the trenches to be smash mouth and ultra-physical. It isn’t happening on a consistent basis with what we have for personnel on our offensive line with the right side being the weakest side. I feel Adam Snyder in at right tackle is one of our weak links and rookie right guard Chilo Rachal is learning quickly on the fly having taken over Tony Wragge’s starting position. Certainly David Baas on the left side is probably one of the more physical offensive linemen we have outside of Eric Heitmann who I feel has no where near the smash-mouth intensity Jeremy Newberry once had.
Are we really missing Arnaz Battle? I am starting to believe that both Bryant Johnson and Jason Hill are far better replacement parts for him than expected. Both are proving to be worthy compliments to lead wide receiver Isaac Bruce who has been his old outstanding self in the realm of Jerry Rice where age just doesn’t seem to matter.
With just four games left there is a lot we would like to see further on down the road. The inclusion of more two tight end sets for me in Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis to start would be ideal as both are champion style race horses that can really break open a game if provided more opportunities.
Another positive of this particular game was the bad weather conditions as we dealt with both the cold and the rain. Special teams played a major role in this close nit score and led us to victory with Joe Nedney’s 50-yard field goal and punter Andy Lee’s six punts that averaged 47.3 yards.
No interceptions in this game but we did have four total fumbles of which we lost just one. A big step in toning down the penalty bug having just four for a loss of 35 total yards, discipline and execution amid these types of weather conditions and in a hostile road environment are a testament to the team as a whole in establishing marked improvement.
With the division in Arizona’s hands now all we can do now is establish a winning identity that will carry over from this year into next. Hopefully we can do that under Mike Singletary’s guidance as I believe that he is the right choice not only for the remainder of this term but several others to come.
We need a leader that leads with conviction and by example. Mike has now established an identity on this team and is cultivating it daily as we speak. With an infusion of new talent via the draft and again through free agency, imagine what the possibilities will be awaiting next year. Lord knows we are ready for that.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.