NFC West: Falcons-49ers

49ers fans not forgotten during bye week

October, 18, 2009
Posted by's Mike Sando

So far this season, the 49ers have called pass plays 88.5 percent of the time when they put three wide receivers on the field.

They have run the ball 12 times in 78 plays with three wide receivers. Three of the 12 runs were quarterback scrambles. Three more were in third-down situations with at least 5 yards needed for a first down.

This makes the 49ers relatively predictable from three-receiver personnel (Seattle has run 70.6 percent of the time with three receivers, compared to 77.2 percent for Arizona and 68 percent for St. Louis).

Predictable is OK as long as the production is there.

However, the 49ers' three-receiver offense has produced one touchdown, two interceptions and eight sacks this season.

That is horrible.

It's easy to criticize. What's the solution?

The 49ers need to expand receiver Brandon Jones' role now that he is healthier. The 49ers need to work Michael Crabtree into the offense incrementally. After cuing up their 45-10 defeat to the Falcons again Saturday night -- what social life? -- it's also clear the 49ers need a better plan against five-man pressure.

Against the Falcons, the 49ers' version of a hot read consisted of quarterback Shaun Hill whizzing the ball past Vernon Davis' unsuspecting head while the tight end ran downfield without turning back to consider the fate of his soon-to-be-crunched teammate. These are hallmarks of a remedial pass offense.

Getting Frank Gore back will also help. I have to give the 49ers credit for not making excuses while Gore was away. They built their offense around him. Coordinator Jimmy Raye called Gore the most important player on the offense. Raye did not envision an expanded role for rookie Glen Coffee this season.

Yet, with Gore sidelined since early in the Week 3 game at Minnesota, the 49ers haven't made excuses.

I'll be heading to Houston for their Week 7 game against the Texans. In the meantime, I've made available for download a 49ers production report by personnel group and situation. Quarterback scrambles do not count as rushing attempts for my charting purposes. I also lumped in Wildcat personnel with regular personnel (two backs, one tight end) for the sake of expediency, given that there were only a couple such plays.
49ers Personnel Production Through Week 5
Carries Yards Per Carry Pass Attempts Yards Per Attempt TD
2RB-1TE 45 6.0 36 6.1 4
1RB-1TE 9 2.0 58 7.2 1
1RB-2TE 24 1.8 37 5.4 1
2RB-2TE 40 3.3 12 5.8 2
3TE 2 0.5 2 0.0 1
4WR 0 0.0 0 0.0 0
Totals 120 3.9 145 6.3 9

Posted by's Mike Sando

49ers coach Mike Singletary suggested the Falcons outcoached his team during Atlanta's 45-10 victory Sunday.

He suggested the Falcons effectively used their bye week to gain an advantage that showed itself during the game. He did not get into specifics. Singletary also reiterated that he thought the 49ers "will be a special team" and "this year will be a special year."

Singletary closed his Monday news conference this way: "As a staff, we did not do a good job preparing for a team in a bye week, but going forward, we will come back and we will get better and we will be a team for our teams to be proud of."

The 49ers face the Texans and Colts on the road following their bye.

Posted by's Mike Sando

49ers right guard Chilo Rachal getting beat was among the first things I noticed when taking a closer look at San Francisco's game against the Falcons.

I won't have to watch the rest of the game to know Rachal's starting spot could be in jeopardy.

Coach Mike Singletary said so during his news conference Monday. Opponents repeatedly beat Rachal quickly and knife into the backfield. Tony Wragge has started at guard in the past. Tony Pashos has played guard, although he's been at tackle for the 49ers. Stay tuned on that one.

Bly stops on a dime, changes direction

October, 12, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

49ers cornerback Dre' Bly went from defiant and totally remorseless regarding the showboating that precipitated his fumble Sunday to contrite. How contrite? Contrite enough to surrender himself to reporters during coach Mike Singletary's news conference Monday.

"Good afternoon," Bly said. "First, I want to come to you all publicly apologize for yesterday. My comments were totally inappropriate. I apologize to coach. I am not a selfish guy. I didn't mean to embarrass him, if I did embarrass my team, embarrass the ownership, embarrass the fans. I'm a prideful guy. I like to have fun. It was totally inappropriate. I got caught up in the moment. It was wrong."

Singletary and Bly both said Bly came to Singletary and initiated the apology.

"We are building something here, something that will be special, and it is going to be a process," Singletary said. "Yesterday, as a 49er, that is just something we won't do. I think now he understands that. ... For him to go forward and to acknowledge that without me having to ask him to do that, I appreciate that from him. That's who I was hoping he was when he came here and it was good to hear."

Silver linings: 49ers vs. Falcons

October, 12, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

The facts: The 49ers fell to 3-2 with a 45-10 home defeat to the Falcons in Week 5.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • Mike Singletary knew immediately he had let his emotions get the best of him while jawing with Falcons guard Harvey Dahl. Singletary admitted his error immediately following the game.
  • Josh Morgan's 61-yard reception gave him a 19.5-yard average in each of his last two games.
  • After falling behind 14-0, the 49ers answered with a 78-yard touchdown drive. They added a nine-play drive to a field goal in cutting the deficit to 14-10. No one could have known the game would get so out of hand from there.
  • The 49ers have two weeks to get Michael Crabtree ready for his NFL debut.
Looking ahead: The 49ers visit the Texans in Week 7 after a bye.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' lopsided defeat to the Falcons exposed their shortcomings and their head coach's shortcomings in particular. The 49ers suffered from poor game management. The rah-rah stuff has its limitations as well. Calling timeouts to gather players and rally them loses its effect the more it's done, particularly once it does not work. Ratto: "The 49ers are better than the rest of the NFC West, but they are still capable of comprehensive nest-foulings like this. Played 100 times, Falcons-49ers would end up an Atlanta win a good 70 percent of the time, maybe more. We mention this because Singletary didn't cost the team a victory by having this 1983 flashback. We mention it only because, like his team, he just went through what the social scientists call a 'growth opportunity,' and what stern parents used to call 'a good reason to use the belt.'" The 49ers are indeed 3-0 against the NFC West. I'm not sure it's a given they're the best team in the division, however.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says Singletary is the best thing to happen to the 49ers in 10 years, but not perfect. Kawakami: "I have a feeling we're going to see Singletary square up on an opponent more than occasionally. Sometimes it will inspire his players; sometimes, like Sunday, it will just look like he's spinning out of control. He is never going to be on an even keel. Neither will the 49ers." Their quarterback needs to be on an even keel most of the time. Shaun Hill wasn't Sunday.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Singletary's behavior was symptomatic of "losing behavior" by a coach. Singletary admitted to mismanagement when he failed to save a timeout, preventing him from challenging a call. Worse, the timeout he used in an attempt to rally the team precipitated a 31-yard Falcons touchdown pass. Cohn: "Praise Singletary for his taking the blame. He seems like a man of quality. That doesn’t absolve him from how he coached. He likes the role of orator but sometimes he needs to back off. He sure needed to back off against Atlanta."

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says Michael Lewis' third concussion since August is a troubling development for the 49ers. Crumpacker: "The NFL is starting to take the issue of concussions seriously after years of seemingly being content to have others laugh it off as a man 'getting his bell rung.' It's a man getting his brain rattled inside his cranium, is what it is." Lewis is 29 years old. He should have a few more seasons left to play, but repeated concussions could threaten his career.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers cornerback Dre Bly was unapologetic after showboating might have contributed to a fumble. Bly: "Like I say, I'm going to be me. That's who I've been my whole life. That's who I was in college. I have fun. Dre's gonna be Dre."

Also from Barrows: The 49ers' limitations on offense start up front. Barrows: "There are a lot of reasons the 49ers were walloped -- and I mean totally eviscerated -- by the Falcons on Sunday. Stupidity and hubris are two of them. Turnovers, penalties, poor tackling and puzzling timeouts are others. But all those things are aberrations. The 49ers are usually a disciplined team with a very good defense. They are not the awful team the final score suggests. But they are not a very good team, either, and here's why: They have rested the entire success of their offense -- and by extension the team -- on the offensive line, and the offensive line is bad. It's like deciding to become a professional singer when you have a lousy voice. There's only so far you can go." The 49ers' conservative approach offensively does reflect feelings about their line, not just about Hill.

Sorting through NFC West injuries

October, 12, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

PHOENIX -- NFC West teams are now 3-8 outside the division after going 2-2 in Week 5. Some of the worst losses resulted from injuries. Four to watch:
  • Michael Lewis, 49ers. The veteran strong safety was playing at a high level this season. The concussion he suffered against the Falcons was his third in the last two months. The 49ers have a bye in Week 6, but it's unclear how quickly Lewis will recover. This could be serious. The 49ers would miss Lewis' physical presence.
  • Brandon Frye, Seahawks. Seattle was down to its fourth-string left tackle after Frye suffered a stinger early in the game Sunday. Frye's replacement, Kyle Williams, suffered a sprained knee and had to keep playing because the Seahawks had nobody else. Starter Walter Jones remains out. Seattle needs to somehow get through Week 6 and into its bye before reassessing the position.
  • Gary Gibson, Rams. The starting defensive tackle suffered a broken foot and ankle against the Vikings. He's done for the season. The Rams have bigger worries, but Gibson was exceeding expectations, I thought.
  • Stephen Spach, Cardinals. The veteran tight end suffered an ankle injury and did not return. Arizona used snapper Mike Leach as an extra tight end while running out the clock. Fortunately for the Cardinals, projected starting tight end Ben Patrick returns from a four-game suspension in Week 6.

Wrap-up: Falcons 45, 49ers 10

October, 11, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

No one could fault the 49ers for losing that heart breaker to Brett Favre and the Vikings in Week 3.

This defeat -- at home against a Falcons team that hadn't shown much to this point -- could prove more costly.

The 49ers, so close to a 4-0 start, find themselves 3-2 with road games against the Texans and Colts waiting on the other side of a Week 6 bye.

Their grip on the NFC West lead appears considerably more tenuous after the Cardinals and Seahawks won Sunday.

For the first time this season, the 49ers failed to come anywhere close to realizing their potential in multiple areas. They were sloppy with the football, committing frequent turnovers. They were sloppy in pass coverage, allowing Falcons receiver Roddy White to enjoy a career day at the expense of their proud defense.

The 49ers also did not get the breaks this time, as when Shaun Hill's tipped pass floated directly to a Falcons defender, setting the tone ominously for the 49ers. Hill struggled when the 49ers fell behind and needed their quarterback to bail them out. That had to come as no surprise to the 49ers, who have protected Hill with a sometimes overly conservative offense.

This outcome demonstrated emphatically that the 49ers cannot always count on their defense and special teams to score touchdowns against good teams. The 49ers are going to have to grind it out and they'll need to play much more efficiently than they did Sunday.

The 49ers are a mentally tough team. They should weather this defeat.

But they are also a limited team offensively, as expected, and that will sometimes cost them.

Hasselbeck making statement in Seattle

October, 11, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

Bet you're feeling great about starting Matt Hasselbeck in your fantasy league.

Wait, you didn't start him? Me neither.

Four touchdown passes against the Jaguars answer any questions about Hasselbeck's fitness after a broken rib sidelined him.

The division race is looking a little different than it did a few hours ago. The 49ers are getting pounded and the Cardinals' lead has shrunk to 21-14, with the Texans in possession at the 11:14 mark of the fourth quarter.

The locals booed here at University of Phoenix Stadium after Kurt Warner threw incomplete on third down a few minutes ago.

Posted by's Mike Sando

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Matt Hasselbeck and Kurt Warner are showing what Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks can do against bad defenses.

Hasselbeck has two long touchdown passes in staking the Seahawks to a cathartic 20-0 first-half lead against the Jaguars. You remember the Jaguars, right? Kurt Warner set an NFL record for completion percentage against them not long ago. Now it is Hasselbeck's turn.

Warner, meanwhile, has completed 20 of 23 passes against the Texans, twice finding Larry Fitzgerald for touchdown passes. The score is 21-0 at halftime and it could get worse if Warner keeps having so much time. Warner has completed 44 of 49 passes against AFC South teams this season (minus those pesky Colts, of course, but they're in another class). Take that, Paul Kuharsky.

The 49ers, meanwhile, are finding out what coaches mean when they say turnovers tend to even out. They do not always even out, of course, and the 49ers should continue to fare well over the long haul in that category because of their conservative style. But turnovers have proven to be the main reason for their 28-10 deficit against the Falcons.

San Francisco's last-second defeat to the Vikings is costing them now. A loss to the Falcons would leave them at 3-2. The Cardinals appear on their way to 2-2. Even the Seahawks could be within striking distance at 2-3.

As we discussed during the week, it's a long season and far too early to jump to any conclusions about which team will prevail in the end.

Quick thoughts on NFC West late games

October, 11, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Cardinals are protecting Kurt Warner well enough for Arizona to eventually pull away from the Texans.

Larry Fitzgerald's touchdown reception moments ago gave Arizona a 14-0 lead. Warner stood back there seemingly forever before throwing.

Other thoughts on NFC West games so far:
  • 49ers cornerback Nate Clements can cover Fitzgerald, but that appeared to be his coverage when Roddy White broke free for a 90-yard touchdown reception. Atlanta has a 28-10 lead and it's looking like the NFC West race could tighten up. Make that a 35-10 lead. White has six catches for 185 yards in the first half.
  • Fans cannot complain about 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye being too conservative. Raye has made some gutsy calls in this game, including a pass to Vernon Davis on play-action in a fourth-and-inches situation.
  • Turnovers can be difficult to predict. The 49ers have won by the turnover this season, but they are losing by it Sunday. Turnovers are an unreliable friend.
  • Matt Hasselbeck hasn't been spectacular for the Seahawks, but he appears to be functioning pretty much as usual for a quarterback shaking off the rust. He has even scrambled a few times and absorbed a tackle at least once. The Seattle lead is only 6-0, but Hasselbeck could be in position for a better second half.
  • The Rams have not suffered any turnovers in the red zone since their game ended.

More in a bit.

Five things to watch in NFC West

October, 11, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Five things I'll be watching for from NFC West teams in Week 5:
  • More carries for Beanie Wells. The receivers are getting the attention heading into the Texans-Cardinals game, but Wells' running is a key for Arizona this season. He has looked very good as a runner in limited work this season. Let's see what happens when he gets more touches.
  • The Rams actually finishing a drive. Two turnovers deep in Vikings territory have short-circuited an otherwise respectable showing so far.
  • Matt Hasselbeck finishing a game. That means no more gutsy quarterback keepers up the middle in the red zone.
  • The 49ers' receivers stepping up. Josh Morgan caught a touchdown pass against the Rams, but the 49ers' receivers aren't getting enough chances to get into a rhythm. The 49ers have figured out how to get the ball to tight end Vernon Davis. They need to get the receivers involved next.
  • At least one NFC West team winning. All four lost in Week 3. NFC West teams are 1-6 outside the division. Can one of these teams win a game outside the family?

Posted by's Mike Sando

NFC West teams went 0-4 the last time they played four games outside the division on the same Sunday.

What's going to happen in Week 5? Glory awaits those in the know.

Simply use the comments section of this blog entry to predict winners and final scores of games featuring at least one NFC West team in Week 5. Correct predictions earn bearers a spot on the Wall of Fame and NFC West blog immortality. The games:
  • Falcons at 49ers
  • Jaguars at Seahawks
  • Vikings at Rams
  • Texans at Cardinals
The fine print: Those submitting predictions for "You called it" must pick the winner correctly for their scores to be considered. Scoring is easy to calculate. The difference between a 20-17 prediction and a 31-14 outcome would be 14 points. We would calculate this by adding the difference between 20 and 31 to the difference between 17 and 14.

The Wall of Fame presently features:

(Read full post)

Thoughts on the Falcons-49ers matchup

October, 9, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

I like the 49ers' chances against the Falcons better after watching Atlanta's most recent game, a defeat at New England in Week 3.

Patriots left tackle Matt Light handled Falcons pass-rusher John Abraham quite well. This will be a good test for 49ers left tackle Joe Staley. Staley held up well against the Vikings' Jared Allen after allowing a sack on the first play of the game (of all the times for Jimmy Raye to come out passing, but that is for another discussion).

The Patriots were not very sharp offensively in that game, scoring one touchdown in five red zone trips, but they were still much more productive than the 49ers have been most of the time. Fred Taylor rushed for 105 yards. I'm hesitant to suggest the 49ers will have similar success running the ball against the Falcons. Atlanta had to worry about Tom Brady and Randy Moss. But in watching the Patriots rush 39 times for 168 yards, including some runs from heavier personnel groups similar to the ones San Francisco favors, the 49ers should have some chances.

The 49ers' struggles on the offensive line (both guard spots) against the Rams in Week 4 seemed troubling despite the lopsided outcome. The Falcons' defensive line isn't the same, however, after losing rookie Peria Jerry to a season-ending injury. Atlanta's defensive line hasn't played well overall. Linebacker Mike Peterson did appear quite active against the Patriots, slashing into the backfield a few times. New England did manage to get a tight end matched against a cornerback. The 49ers would take that with Vernon Davis.

The 49ers' defense should fare well against the Falcons' offense based on what I saw from Atlanta in Week 3. The 49ers have not allowed a rushing touchdown this season. Michael Turner is averaging only 3.5 yards per attempt for the Falcons. San Francisco is allowing 1.5 yards per carry outside the numbers, second only to the Ravens (1.4).

On the air: 49ers in Week 5

October, 6, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

Fox is sending its second-ranked NFL crew to Candlestick Park for the 49ers' game against the Falcons in Week 5. Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa will be working a 49ers game for the first time since Week 2 last season (at Seattle). Kickoff is at 1:05 p.m. PT.
Week Team Opp. Network Crew Crew Rank
1 SF ARI Fox Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Nischelle Turner
5 of 7
2 SF SEA Fox Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick
4 of 7
3 SF MIN Fox Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan
5 of 7
4 SF STL Fox Ron Pitts, John Lynch, Nischelle Turner
6 of 7
5 SF ATL Fox Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
2 of 7

CBS has eight crews. Fox has seven. The networks rank their crews, with higher-ranked ones drawing more attractive assignments such as Super Bowls, playoff games and marquee matchups.

Also: 49ers in 2008.