Article Title: Same old stuff.
In Irving, Texas the 2006 San Francisco 49ers found themselves in a good old fashioned Texas Roadhouse barbecue of sorts, with a performance that brought back not to distant memories of the worst of 2005. Absolutely gut wrenching is what I have to say, when watching our defense wither away under the intense heat index of 100 degrees.
Certainly this performance can’t be blamed on the weather? And even worse the mandate of this game was to show instant improvement over the second exhibition loss we suffered at the hands of the Oakland Raiders. Something head coach Mike Nolan made very clear that pre-season games still do mean something, and that winning should still be the ultimate team goal.
Bright spots in this contest with the Dallas Cowboys were few and far between. We not only played flat, we didn’t seem to want to play at all in hindsight. The Dallas Cowboys minus Terrell Owens still managed to kick some dehydrated 49er butt in more ways then one.
Dallas Cowboy quarterback Drew Bledsoe went 12-for-17 for 200 yards with one touchdown and a quarterback rating of 129.5. He was never pressured and certainly never sacked. He had literally all day to step back and scan the horizon for potential tempting targets and connected with wide receiver Terry Glenn on one play for a 28 yard touchdown play and a 52 yard pass play later in the second quarter.
The San Francisco 49er defense allowed 300 passing yards and 189 rushing yards in this contest. They were squashed from the line of scrimmage on almost every play and every time through the air.
Never have I seen such uncharacteristic like tackling like I’d seen in this game. Everywhere you looked both running backs and wide receivers were getting away completely unscathed. It was a chapter right out of the previous yearbook of the 49ers of the past.
“We looked a little bit like we did last year, to be honest with you,” 49ers head coach Mike Nolan said. “Tonight, we were running around, but it just wouldn’t come out in our favor. I want to see signs that we’re better than we were a year ago, not the same.”
What was even more depressing was the very fact that the first string offense remained on the field right out and into the third quarter of this game to manufacture some sort of positive amusement for us fans.
Alex Smith had a less than exquisite performance completing 9-of-14 passes for 93 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also compiled a quarterback rating of 77.4 and his longest pass of the evening was for but 19 yards.
His one beaming moment although against the second-team defense of the Dallas Cowboys was his 15- yard touchdown pass to first round pick gem tight end Vernon Davis. Someone he has been connecting with on a regular basis throughout this year’s training camp along with big free agent acquisition Antonio Bryant.
In all the 49er defense surrendered a ton of first downs, even more yardage and an accumulation of two touchdowns and one field goal to lose 17-7. On third downs the Dallas Cowboys converted 7-of-13 for a 54% efficiency rating.
The 49er defense was on the field literally all evening and couldn’t find the right chemistry to turn back the onslaught unleashed by the Dallas Cowboys potent offense.
All you could visualize throughout this game was one missed tackle or a tackle that looked good to the human eye but like true magic wasn’t really even there. Fundamentals seemed missing and basic knowledge of where one should be on any particular play was questionable almost all the time.
“On defense, the tackling is what stands out as the most disturbing thing,” said Nolan. “We didn’t play flat. We often had a lot of guys around the ball. It was unfortunate, but when we were there, we have to make plays. Playmakers need to make plays. We just didn’t play well. That’s how it was overall. We will continue to work on the defensive side. We need to continue to get a pass rush.”
Continuing to get a pass rush has thus far been nonexistent. It is one notch in the overall defensive problem we now currently have. Losing veteran playmakers like Julian Peterson and Andrea Carter are starting to take effect with some sting. Rookie Manny Lawson can only develop so fast and Melvin Oliver especially so.
The long and anticipated wait for tight end Vernon Davis to emerge though was a wonderful sight as he caught the only score for the 49ers in this game. He has been turning heads and raising eyebrows on the sidelines of training camp with his superior athletic abilities and scoring touchdowns in the end zone for fun throughout camp.
“Vernon’s getting better as a route-runner and has a much better feel for the way we do things,” 49ers offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “There’s a lot of things he’s done in practice but he hasn’t had a chance to do it in games. Today, he got a chance to run one of those routes, he ran a heck of a route and made a good catch.”
What was a seemingly another heartbreaking moment was Vernon Davis running a route pattern down the middle of the field virtually wide open and Alex Smith couldn’t see him behind the Dallas Cowboy secondary. He threw the pass instead to Antonio Bryant, who was well covered down the left sideline. It was here that Dallas Cowboy cornerback Anthony Henry made the interception.
But as with all things in the NFL, Alex will get better with time and more repetitions. We cannot abandon what he has done thus far, and we still want to hang our hats on that first exhibition performance he had against the Chicago Bears.
“It’s something, where everyday we get better,” Smith said. “The more we work together, the more we talk, the better we’re going to be. The more I play with him, the more I’ll be able to read his body language. It’s coming.”
Offensively the San Francisco 49ers only generated 12 total first downs and 197 total net yards period. They stayed sidelined for the better part of the game on way too many occasions. They were only three-for-eight on third down conversions which prompted the 49er defense to gasp for air every time they had to come back out on to the playing field.
It got so bad at one point that veteran linebacker Derek Smith had to leave the game due to utter heat exhaustion. The horrendous heat was more than enough to scramble what little minds were left among the defensive playmakers that actually weren’t playmakers much at all.
You want to talk about domination? Look at the very first half of this football game and you’ll see utter domination that we can only dream about at this point in the season. The Dallas Cowboys took total control of the ball in the first half, eating up 20:56 of the clock by manufacturing four offensive drives that resulted in 17 consecutive points.
“It’s a sign we have a lot of work to do on the defensive side of the ball, no question,” Nolan said. “The statistics do a good job of evaluating a football team. They really do.”
“I’m not going to panic,” defensive end Bryant Young said. “I know we’re capable of going out there and doing a better job.”
When you look back and evaluate everything that soaked in that night, you could see that the secondary of the 49ers looked almost identical to that of the past. Meaning rewind the play clock back to 2005 and take a long look at what our secondary then was like.
An abysmal unit that ranked last in every statistical category imaginable in the NFL, which is something we definitely want to try and avoid this season in any way shape or form possible.
The great 28-yard touchdown pass from Dallas Cowboy quarterback Drew Bledsoe to Terry Glenn was a tragedy to watch as 49er cornerback Sammy Davis playing for the injured starter Shawntae Spencer fell down.
The sky-high 52-yard pass from Bledsoe to Terry Glenn again, that safety Tony Parrish was incapable of getting to in what seemed like all the time in the world as the ball hovered up overhead was a tragedy in all itself.
Can we blame Tony Parrish for not getting there in time on a newly healed ankle he was recovering from all during the off-season? Probably not in my opinion, but certainly one has to wonder rather that old injury has in fact notched his speed just enough like it was on display right there and at that very moment of time.
“It definitely reinforces the fact that we’ve got work to do,” linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said. “To eliminate mistakes and get better, we have to look at the film critically and work on our weaknesses.”
Although exhibition games are just that, Mike Nolan has made it clear that they really do mean something after all. They are real barometers to how this team will come together and function just as that a team.
Of all the depression that I have been writing about, the one bright spot was the touchdown scoring of first round draft pick Vernon Davis in this game. This is an athlete that can be compared to the late great Terrell Owens and he made that imitation known on game day this past weekend in Texas Stadium.
After spiking the ball in the end zone Davis spread his arms wide and arched his back in the end zone in remembrance of what Terrell Owens did not too long ago against his new home and team.
Davis has promised that the touchdown he scored against the Dallas Cowboys is one of many more to come. A proposition we all would like to hear and believe and yearn for it to be truth.
Truth be told and known I believe that it will happen. These exhibition games will help identify the focal points we need to concentrate on and fix. They will target the weak links and help us make the right choices and decisions we need to make before the regular season is right upon us.
The offensive line continues to shine in this game and the defensive line continues to slide. The variety of weapons at Alex Smith’s fingertips are many, but the only real progress one can make is making it on third down. The show will go on this week as we host the San Diego Chargers.
Being one of the 49er faithful has its advantages and disadvantages at times. But we all can’t deny the inevitable progress that Mike Nolan has instilled inside this team. Build this team and lead this team to a brighter horizon my friend, because I’ll always believe, as you should that our time is nearer now than it ever was before.