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This week, I actually had the privilege to attend the game between the 49ers and Coalition of Geriatric Overachievers so I was able to see first hand exactly where we were as a team. After the win, it was great being able to brag to all those in the black jerseys at Candlestick Park. Although the Niners did not win this game in the convincing fashion that they won their last pre-season game against Kansas City, there were still several highlights. Then again, some serious weaknesses were exposed as well.
- Winborn is a playmaker in the true sense of the word. In only his second game back from injury he led the team in tackles with six. It seemed like every play, rushing or passing, number 55 was there to break it up. He punished Tight Ends over the middle, chased down a speedy Justin Fargas, and harassed the quarterback. His hit on rookie Teyo Johnson viciously halted the Raiders drive before the end of the half. Last week, Winborn said that physically he was back, but that he wasn't back to 100% mentally. Understandable when coming back from an injury. Winborn said after the game, “I feel satisfied to an extent, but I have a long way to go.” If that's the case, opposing offenses should be afraid, they should be very afraid. Winborn will not only improve the 3rd down defense, but the entire defensive unit. It's good to have him back.
- On the topic of improvements, two things jumped out: the pass rush and Mike Rumph. Despite all the talk about the leagues most potent offenses, this was a defensive ballgame. Both of the first-unit offenses struggled; Gannon went 3-11 for 45 yards and Rattay went 4-11 for 33 yards. Part of the reason Gannon only completed three passes in almost a full half of work was the pass rush. Andre Carter is once again showing that he is going to be one of the elite defensive ends in the NFL. The Niners managed 4 sacks in the game, and many quarterback pressures. Three of the four sacks came from Linebackers on a blitz, only Ross Kolodziej managed a defensive line sack. If anything it proves one thing, the Niners will be more aggressive on the blitz and with players like Winborn and Peterson rushing off the edge our blitz may be something that nets us some pass rush.
When the Niners blitz, though, the defensive backs are often left in man coverage. Second year corner Mike Rumph proved that he may be able to hold his own. He made a nice interception while running step for step with Alvis Whitted, who participated in the 1996 Olympic track trials. Rumph's name was not called much during the game, just the way it should be for a cornerback on the rise.
- On the offensive side of the ball, Jamal Robertson's 4th down run to keep a crucial drive alive most likely cemented his roster spot. He shed two tacklers behind the line and plunged forward for the needed yardage. On the other side of the ball, Justin Fargas' running had me feeling like the game was slipping away in chunks of yardage gained on the ground. Every time he touched the ball I cringed because I thought he was going to break it open for a touchdown. The gaps on the defensive line were huge, and Fargas ran through them like a man possessed. He was running against back-ups so the possibility of the Niner defense stopping him is increased, but he is an explosive player nonetheless.
- The 49ers special teams units aren't so special. Kicker Jeff Chandler missed a 32-yard field goal, mid-range in the NFL. Both punters, LaFleur and Cundiff were horrible. LaFleur only averaged 39.5 yards on six punts. In a game that can be determined by field position, LaFleur definitely puts us at a disadvantage. Many thought that Chandler was an improvement over Cortez, but after yesterday's miss, the painful memories of last year's regular season overtime win flashed before my eyes. Granted the 49ers did win last season, but the coin could have fallen on another side and we may have lost that game because of the kicking. It doesn't seem to have changed this year.
One bright spot for special teams is the return man situation. Williams' return would be ideal, but with an injury as serious as his and his return constantly being pushed back, we need insurance. Arland Bruce III and Aaron Lockett look to be worthy replacements for Williams. Bruce returned the opening kickoff 58 yards before being hauled out of bounds by Janikowski. I'm not sure if it was a good angle by Janikowski, or the lack of breakaway speed from Bruce that contributed to the tackle, but it was still a spectacular return. Locket showed some nifty moves while returning a punt 28 yards in the second quarter. There are still two more pre-season games left and they will be good gauges of the return men as the Niners face New Orleans and San Diego. The Raiders were ranked last in the league in Kickoff coverage last year.
- Dorsey vs. Doman, Round Two: Doman looked as though he had this one early with his touchdown pass to Wilson. This time it was he who benefited from the short field provided by Peterson's forced fumble. It was Dorsey, however, the delivered the knockout punch with 2:19 left in the game when he delivered on a halfback screen pass to fullback Matt Stanley. Dorsey exhibited precision, calmness, and excellent decision-making on his first come-from-behind, game-winning drive. Even without that drive, Dorsey had a three passes that looked pretty. A 26-yard pass to Lloyd was called back because of a holding penalty, Battle was ruled out of bounds on another 13-yard pass from Dorsey, and Battle just dropped a pass that hit him in the hands from a scrambling Dorsey. The Niners may keep four quarterbacks because of Garcia's back injury, which contrary to what the organization is saying, will be with him all season. If they keep only three, and the decision had to be today, Dorsey would win that job.