Manning Not Firing Straight
November 27, 2001 at 12:00 AM
I think Payton Manning’s performance on Sunday showed us what’s wrong with the Colts. It isn’t a matter of Manning not getting enough defensive support or help from the running game. The problem is Manning himself.
How else to explain his four interceptions? He wasn’t hurried. In fact, he had all day to throw and was almost never touched. It’s not the running game – the Colts proved effective at moving the ball on the ground. So what could it be? To me, Manning looks very uncertain and detached mentally. All four of his picks were really bad passes. Rashad Holman’s pick was luck, but the ball was still well below and behind the receiver – it bounced off his feet. Manning also badly overthrew three or four deep balls in the game. He just looks terribly out of sync and unsure right now.
We should give credit to the 49ers for playing a solid game offensively, and playing it relatively mistake-free (Jeff Garcia’s silly third quarter pick aside). The passing game and running game was working all day. Mariucci’s call for a running play on third down was a great call – Hearst’s 43-yard run ended the game, essentially. And let’s credit the defensive backs and the linebackers for some great effort in coverage. Ahmed Plummer’s reportedly suggested to Mora that the 49ers change their coverage late in the second quarter, and it led to five turnovers on the Colts’ next seven drives. The Colts’ running game was ineffective in the first half.
Things are not all rosy, however. Yes, points scored matter more than yards surrendered, but let’s think about the fact that the Colts turned the ball over five times and yet still held the ball for 38 minutes to the 49ers’ 21. The Colts stillgained 491 yards on offense and punted only 3 times. While slow early, the Colts running game gained 127 yards at 4.0 yards per carry featuring a guy named Dominic Rhodes, a rookie from Division II Midwestern Texas State. Ouch. Our pass rush could allow Kordell Stewert to throw for 300 yards.
Figuring that 49ers weak pass rush would give Manning all the time he wanted to throw, I felt that the 49ers offense would need to score at least 30. When the Colts had 21 with 10 minutes left in the third, I changed that to 40. Turns out I was right about the 40, but wrong about them needing it.
A win is a win, and at 8-2 we are poised for the playoffs. But with Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb, and Aaron Brooks still on the schedule, the 49ers secondary may have to pick off four passes a game to slow the opponents down. But it’s hard to rely on turnovers, especially when the 49ers had forced only 11 in their first nine games.
If the 49ers beat the Bills on Sunday, they should get ten wins this year (figuring they will defeat the Cowboys in December). Whether we sneak in at 10-6 or storm in at 14-2 will be up to how much the rest of the 49ers defense can contain the bleeding from our terrible pass rush.
Garrison Hearst is back to peak form, and nothing showed that more than his two touchdown runs. He made a big play out of a small running lane on the first score, and hit the hole like a rocket on the second. He was ten yards down the field before the linebackers could even turn around to tackle him…JJ Stokes has now had two effective games back-to-back, which is encouraging. It could be that Owen’s foot injuries are forcing the 49ers to get Stokes more involved. His failure to elude a tackler on his third down catch in the second quarter, however, was a prime example of Stokes’ inability to make a play. In order to get a first down, all he had to do was stop and allow the defender’s momentum to overrun the tackle – a pretty routine move that works most of the time. Not only did Stokes not do it, he didn’t even come close to pulling it off: the corner slammed right into Stokes and dropped him two yards shy of a first down, forcing a punt. The Colts’ Ken Dilger executed the same move perfectly on the Colts’ first drive of the third quarter. Dilger, mind you, is a tight end…The coverage suggested by Plummer, which called for man to man coverage by the corners, freed up Zack Bronson to play his favorite role: centerfield. Bronson had a pick and a fumble recovery.
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