Article Title: Sophistication at its best.
The Greatest Show On Turf suddenly was renamed officially the Greatest Show On Bill Walsh Field this past Sunday as the San Francisco 49ers handily defeated the Detroit Lions 31-13. San Francisco 49er offensive coordinator Mike Martz welcomed in his old team after being fired at the end of the 2007 season with warm gestures of goodwill towards his former offensive stars in silver and blue. Deep down inside you had to wonder how eager Martz was for this date and the planning he had exercised over and over in his mind for this contest.
The Detroit Lions management let Mike Martz go to become more diversified in their offense believing that their running game had faltered. Little did they know that Mike Martz simply was trying to overcome one deficit after another last year when the Lions were always playing catch-up in trying to put immediate points on the scoreboard. The running game became mute because of the dire situations they always found themselves in and Martz always plays to the strengths of his personnel.
From the very beginning as he was hired by Mike Nolan to take the reins of this offense, Martz made clear who was the centerpiece of his sophisticated offense at it’s very best, that being Frank Gore who had a spectacular afternoon with 27 carries for 130 total yards and a 4.8-yard average per carry. He had a riveting scamper for 33-total yards and a touchdown along with four receptions for 32-total yards.
He literally looked like a hot knife running through butter as the Detroit run defense was shredded yet again after giving up a league-high 441-yards rushing in their past two contests. Frank can make you miss with the ball held close in his arm and or to his chest within the framework of a reception. He is one of the most versatile attacking offensive weapons one can apply in any given game. He can even defend and block with the best of them picking up a blitz with precision and participating in a play based on deception. In this game you saw all of it from Frank Gore.
In the first quarter with the 49ers at the Lions 39-yard line following nice field position because of a sack on Detroit Lions quarterback Jon Kitna courtesy of defensive end Justin Smith for -12 yards forcing a punt from nearly their end zone. Frank Gore’s 33-yard burst with excellent blocking from second-year left tackle Joe Staley brought the ball to the Detroit six-yard line.
From there J.T. O’Sullivan found none other than Isaac Bruce for a spectacular touchdown that had Candlestick resounding with the word “BRUCCCE.” The first quarter revealed even more of the Mike Martz philosophy with an end around double reverse between Bryant Johnson to Arnaz Battle that netted 18 total yards placing the 49ers at the Lions 35-yard line. It was a well executed play that left 49er fans breathless including me as I sat mesmerized by the new offensive ingenuity being conducted by this brainy offensive genius.
With the dawning of the second quarter and J.T. O’Sullivan at the Detroit 28-yard line he finally hit tight end extraordinaire Vernon Davis after two incomplete passes earlier in which you squeezed your head in frustration. It goes without saying that the bottled up talent in Davis is for real, but not getting to observe that potential explosion he is so capable of drives you crazy. His one and only reception for 17 total yards brought the 49ers to the Lions 11-yard line.
From there Frank Gore again worked his magic with a four-yard run into the end zone for a touchdown to make it 14-0 San Francisco. A score we are not at all accustomed to when history indicates we have always been staring up rather than down so far within this new season. Not today. Today we would sail serenely on the well executed plays of error-free football as the 49ers had zero fumbles although the Frank Gore touchdown witnessed a circus-act juggling spree that ended with the ball finally being secured as his feet found the end zone.
The San Francisco 49er offensive momentum didn’t stop here within the second quarter as J.T. O’Sullivan played the role of a Mike Martz reunion of sorts with Kurt Warner and or Marc Bulger. He orchestrated a prolific offense by completing 16-of-23 passes for 189 total yards with but only one sack for a loss of one yard. He threw two touchdown passes and ended the game with a quarterback rating of 123.3. He was well diversified in getting the ball to all the weapons around him and took full advantage of the new and improved pass protection he was provided by the offensive line.
San Francisco 49er center Eric Heitmann had indicated following the Seattle game that it would be his personal mission to get the line back to its true form. He made it quite clear that in order for the team to be successful it all started with a renewed effort to secure the pocket for J.T. O’Sullivan and provide rushing lanes for Frank Gore. Today they did just that all day long and with no Jonas Jennings on the right side.
They did it with finesse at times and with gutsy determined domination of the Detroit Lions defensive line. Right tackle Barry Sims in my eyes seems to be a visual upgrade over the often injured and penalized Jonas Jennings. The entire line deserves recognition for their well-executed accomplishments in this game with my special emphasis on right guard Tony Wragge who I felt played ferociously as a former Home Depot associate.
Someone that I have also been talking a great deal about over the seasons has been tight end Delanie Walker. Here is a hybrid of an athlete that can line up as and end or as a wide receiver with anyone. Walker on occasion within his tenure as a 49er has outshined his primary counterpart in Vernon Davis and today was merely another indication of that.
With the 49ers driving from their 28-yard line, J.T. O’Sullivan found big yardage through the air to Bryant Johnson and rookie Josh Morgan setting them up at the Detroit 24-yard line where he hit Delanie Walker for a riveting touchdown that made the Candlestick faithful go ballistic for a 21-3 lead that would end the first half of this game.
Frank Gore’s direct snap from the line of scrimmage in this game was a bold statement as J.T. O’Sullivan lined up in wide receiver formation. No one but Martz would’ve done it better as the conservative brain trust that was the 49ers under Nolan has just been coerced by a democrat that leans far over to the left in this season-long campaign to take the division .
Within the third quarter there was mention that the 49ers had laid down and suddenly gone conservative by the sports analysts calling the game, the 49ers were reverting more to the running game and seemed to be satisfied with their lead. Yet towards the end of the third and right into the fourth quarter the 49ers drove down the field starting from their 23-yard line and stalled at the Detroit Lion one-yard line where the Lion defense suddenly made a defiant stand that forced us into a fourth down.
Joe Nedney and the kicking team went out and then were brought back in after Mike Nolan and his sideline coaches consulted with one another. Unbelievably the call was made to go for it on fourth down, disregarding the thought of an easy field goal.
Kick return specialist Allen Rossum came into the huddle and took a reverse handoff and dove into the corner of the end zone to make it 28-6 49ers. Again Candlestick went electric as this play was a risk that Nolan suddenly agreed to in order to instill momentum and confidence in his offense. The 49ers would later add a field goal to finalize the score at 31-13. The San Francisco 49ers now own a record of (2-1) and are in contention for first place with the Arizona Cardinals in the western division.
What I don’t want to overlook in this game is the incredible efficiency of our defense that made enormous contributions to getting our offense right back on to the field with a time of possession of 35:54 to 24:06 for the Detroit Lions. There were a multitude of players that need to be mentioned that were key elements for this victory.
First the 49er secondary which by the way in my opinion are second to none, in Nate Clements and Walt Harris, both of whom effectively shutdown the wide receiving duo of Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams. The Detroit Lions were held to 240 total yards of offense with 124-yards through the air.
Two interceptions in this game one by nickel cornerback Tarell Brown and defensive end Justin Smith. It was Brown’s first interception of his career in the third quarter. Smith’s interception came in the dying moments of the fourth quarter with just over two minutes left to play. Justin Smith is for the record in my opinion one of the best pure versatile defensive linemen in the entire NFL. He applied constant pressure and is always around where the ball is at. He has without a doubt filled Bryant Young’s large shoes.
Strong safety Michael Lewis plays like a rabid linebacker at the line of scrimmage and can weave and punch with the best of them. His ferocious tackle of Detroit Lion running back Rudi Johnson in the backfield for a five-yard loss was mind boggling.
Free safety Mark Roman continues to be all over the field with ball deflections and ball breaking plays like the long pass from Jon Kitna to Calvin Johnson in the first quarter. He wears the microphone on the defensive side of the 49ers and seems to have them organized and executing play after play.
And then you have pass rush specialist Roderick Green who is always coming off the edge and producing key plays that make a significant difference with the momentum of the game as he recorded two sacks himself in this one. Detroit Lion veteran quarterback Jon Kitna was sacked four times for a loss of 22 total yards and finished with a quarterback rating of 61.3. Teammate Parys Haralson notched the other sack but was called for a personal foul in this game as well.
Special teams played an important role as punter Andy Lee had a good day yet again. Joe Nedney missed yet another field goal attempt this one a 43-yarder that looked identical to the other one he missed. Concern over these misses has to be raised as we look forward to even tougher games that feature some of the best in New Orleans and New England where every single point will really count.
This was a game that we can hold our collective heads up high and be exalted that we have an offense that is in perfect balance with our defense. 370 total yards of offense along with three forced fumbles and two interceptions is something to hang your hat on. Keep in mind that the competition just gets tougher as we look ahead. I feel that we can match-up favorably now with anyone as long as we remain constant and consistent in everything we do. Lord knows now we have a quarterback that we will offer a long-term contract to once the season folds and the win column looks improved.
Still there is little to no mention of the San Francisco 49ers among the football gods that seem to know who is who and what is what in the NFL? Respect is still a word not pronounced on the lips of the many experts that sit around discussion tables and chat about the potential contenders and the heavyweights. But that’s alright. We’ll take the underdog role and run with it. The bone will taste that much better by starting from the where the heel is and working our way up.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.