Article Title: Absolute Sitting Duck.
It was a flashback to 2007. It was a horror show for everyone and anyone associated with the San Francisco 49ers. Inside the Louisiana Superdome against the high-octane powered New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49er quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan was literally left to be sacrificed at the altar courtesy of the anemic offensive line that so far has allowed 19 total sacks in just four games. Like a sitting duck he was hurried, pressured and pulverized by the fanatic defensive front of the New Orleans Saints.
In the end we left New Orleans with our tails between our legs having suffered our second loss on the season by a score of 31-17. Sitting back at (.500) may not sound bad right now early in the 2008 NFL season but with a potential lineup of talented opposition still in the wings it is a situation we needed to continue momentum and failed miserably.
Mike Nolan made reference to the fact that it wasn’t any one segment on the team that was to blame. It wasn’t the offense or the defense or even special teams. Everyone must bear the accountability of this tragic loss. Riding on the confidence and invigorating momentum of defeating the Seattle Seahawks in overtime on the road and against Detroit back at home the 49ers experienced a true juggernaut in New Orleans that has legitimate playoff aspirations in the NFC.
In the beginning of the first quarter it looked like it was going to be legendary all over again for J.T. O’Sullivan as he drove the offense 63 total yards to take the first lead with 47-yard field goal by Joe Nedney. J.T. O’Sullivan suffered his first sack of six courtesy of New Orleans Saint defensive end Charles Grant who was literally unstoppable in plowing through and dropping our quarterback. A bad throw to Isaac Bruce being one of several caused us to kick the field goal.
The New Orleans Saints from their 29-yard line under quarterback Drew Brees made a concerted drive to our 42-yard line when a pass he threw intended for Lance Moore was intercepted by 49er linebacker Takeo Spikes who offered us a chance to get back on the field after a failed touchdown drive earlier on. But it was not meant to be as it was a quick three-and-out with the Saints in the driver’s seat from their 17-yard line but were forced to punt just into the second quarter.
Just one week ago there was real hope that the San Francisco 49er offensive line had finally found their real identity in providing pass protection for J.T. O’Sullivan even feeling good about veteran Barry Sims replacing the injured Jonas Jennings in at right tackle. However on this single drive alone O’Sullivan was sacked back-to-back with the later sack being on O’Sullivan from behind and his blind spot that accounted for the Saints to recover a J.T. O’Sullivan fumble at the 49ers 32-yard line.
Again J.T. O’Sullivan felt compelled to try and make a play while his offensive line yet again crumbled in and all around him. The right side of the line was explicitly exploited smashing the Tony Wragge and Barry Sims combination. It was thought that with the exit of Jonas Jennings that the right side would be more complete as it was against the Detroit Lions. Yet this part of the line literally lay down and created a super-highway that led directly to the inevitable destination of J.T. O’Sullivan.
It is inconceivable that we have so many instances where the line has failed to live up to its responsibility in keeping the chains moving. Here we have two offensive line coaches in George Warhop and Chris Foerster intentionally grouped together to find stability on this line and provide the insight and knowledge to maximize legitimate protections for J.T. O’Sullivan and in my opinion have failed pathetically with evidence of 19 total sacks on the season and six sacks on this game alone for a loss of 36 total yards and the utter destruction of many an offensive drive.
How long does this go on? Why aren’t heads rolling? Mike Nolan and Mike Martz have to realize the enormity of this ever present situation? We cannot afford to lose J.T. O’Sullivan to a potentially season-ending injury in anyway, shape or form and it has been one miracle after another that this hasn’t happened as of yet? If we don’t PROTECT, our season is doomed to failure once again.
San Francisco 49er center Eric Heitmann has indicated it is a major problem. He wants to try and fix it but he cannot do it alone. Again it has to be everyone that is on the line and working in synchronicity with one another. Yes it is a fact that J.T. O’Sullivan hangs on to the ball for far too long occasionally and that is something that Ted Tollner the quarterbacks coach must address with him and remedy. But again he does that to a certain extent because he is a gamer and is trying to find that right outlet.
At the same time J.T. O’Sullivan has to come to a realization that if he isn’t getting rid of the ball almost immediately with this type of relentless pressure than he is creating a potential turnover situation to happen and short-changing a would-be successful drive that could be sustained with just throwing the ball away towards the sidelines. That inner bell has to ring inside his head and tell him he must throw?
The fumble caused by a sack on J.T. O’Sullivan from behind gave New Orleans Saint Quarterback Drew Brees the ball at our 32-yard line and a five-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore to make it 7-3 Saints. A face mask penalty on San Francisco 49er nose tackle Ronald Fields for personal foul 15-yards added to our demise on this drive.
The New Orleans Saints would add to that score again with a defensive holding penalty on nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin and on the legs of Deuce McAllister with Brees finding Lance Moore for a 33-yard touchdown to make it 14-3 Saints. Our inability to manufacture a legitimate pass rush and get into Drew Brees face caused our secondary undo stress as they hadn’t allowed any team more than 200 total yards in passing, yet Drew Brees racked up 195-yards in the first half alone.
Big explosive passing plays like Drew Brees delivers would rain down on a secondary second-guessing where each other were. In all Drew Brees was 23-for-35 with 363 total yards three touchdowns and an 81-yard bomb to wide receiver Devery Henderson that burned free safety Mark Roman.
Drew Brees was never sacked once and ended the game with a quarterback rating of 116.7, while J.T. O’Sullivan ended the game going 18-for-36 for 257 total yards and one touchdown. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble to end with a quarterback rating of 59.6.
Joe Nedney added a field goal in the second quarter but Drew Brees would find yet another explosive touchdown to Robert Meachem for 47-yards that would up the score to 21-6 Saints. The New Orleans Saint secondary had a tough day against 49er wide receiver Arnaz Battle who looked exciting throughout the game with seven receptions for 120 total yards.
The New Orleans Saints running game was very effective at winning time of possession and allowing momentum to stay on their side due to the grinding efforts of Deuce McAllister with 20 carries for 73 total yards many times pushing the entire pile of players two to three more yards based on mere willpower.
The second half would continue to be murderous to J.T. O’Sullivan as pressure and sacks continued to intensify. We would add but just a field goal to make it 21-9 Saints. On our second possession in that quarter we had a distinct chance of getting right back into the game as we drove from our 21-yard line. Reaching the Saints 10-yard line J.T. O’Sullivan tried to find Bryant Johnson for the touchdown but was off on the timing route as it was intercepted and brought back to the New Orleans nine-yard line.
10-plays and 91 total yards later the New Orleans Saints allowed Deuce McAllister to pound the ball in from the 49er-one-yard line for a touchdown to make it 28-9 Saints, coupled with a penalty on 49er defensive end Ray McDonald.
Frank Gore was yet another bright spot in this game, not used nearly enough in my opinion with 16 carries for 82-yards with a 5.1-yard average. Another offensive mistake in my opinion was the non-use of a two tight end formation enough in Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, both explosive players on the short-to-intermediate throws after the catch. It would seem to me that this combination of talent is grossly underutilized as displayed by Vernon Davis’s emotion and frustration while coming near the sidelines after his only catch for 19-total yards. Walker added another catch for 21-total yards.
J.T. O’Sullivan drove the 49ers in the fourth quarter down to the New Orleans 16-yard line and threw to the end zone intended for Arnaz Battle and was intercepted by Tracy Porter. The Saints marched down the field again with an 81-yard bomb from Brees to Henderson that Nate Clements chased down from behind and tripped him up at the two-yard line. Strong safety Michael Lewis performed a marvelous goal line stand that caused a fumble by the Saints with Patrick Willis recovering the fumble.
This set-up the best drive of the game for San Francisco a 97-yard drive with J.T. O’Sullivan finding Isaac Bruce in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown and then a successful two-point conversion by Frank Gore to make it 28-17 Saints.
An unsuccessful onside kick by Joe Nedney later and the New Orleans Saints get the ball and add insult to injury by tacking on a field goal to make it 31-17 and a final on the game. Although we lost this game on all fronts first starting with the offensive lines we had a few defensive players worth mentioning despite the loss.
Strong safety Michael Lewis ended the day with 11 tackles and broke up two pass attempts along with a thrilling goal line stand that helped turn the Saints away from the end zone. Patrick Willis again was attacking everywhere with nine tackles of his own.
So far it is evident that the New Orleans Saints own us on any given Sunday. In order for us to change history, we must have everyone prepared to do their collective parts in order to do so. We collectively lost this game based on a number of scenarios. It is imperative that Mike Nolan take something from this loss and present it in a constructive format to better the team overall.
I believe it all starts up front with the offensive line. Our defense cannot be counted on to stay on the field as long as they were and stay productive. Our pass rush was ineffective in getting to Drew Brees and our inability to make third down conversions destroyed all of our offensive momentum. J.T. O’Sullivan may have had a rough game, but I felt he did a lot of encouraging things out there on the field and he does move this offense like no-one has since Jeff Garcia left town.
Preparing for New England isn’t any easier. Coming off a humiliating loss at home against the Miami Dolphins leaves them very hungry for redemption. Our focus should be the hunger for victory as well following this loss to the Saints. The 12th man at Candlestick is yet to make an appearance until we validate ourselves.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.