49ers Figure It Out Too Late
September 15, 2004 at 12:00 AM
By Brett Pahler
Offense: What's to Like? As expected, it took Rattay some time to get settled. Upon returning in the fourth quarter, he made quick reads to avoid the blitz and threw the ball accurately. Had Aaron Walker held on for a would-be touchdown that hit him in the hands, Rattay would have engineered 21 fourth quarter points in a span of ten minutes. Despite the interception that followed, the 49ers still would have tied the game in the final seconds on a two point conversion had an Atlanta lineman not blindly stuck out his hand on a pass intended for a wide open Brandon Lloyd....Cedrick Wilson, 7 catches for 94 yards, held on for some clutch grabs at critical moments, and outshined his former Tennessee teammate Peerless Price. Eric Johnson, 8 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown, will receive Pro Bowl consideration if he keeps this up. Even Rashaun Woods got himself wide open on a goal line play, but was overthrown....The offense held the ball for 21 minutes in the second half, despite a below average rushing attack. Erickson generally called good plays, as even when the 49ers misfired the opportunity was there. If the receivers can do a better job of breaking off their routes during blitzes the 49ers offense should roll.
What's Not to Like? The rushing attack went nowhere during the first three quarters. The absence of Fred Beasley and the rust of Jason Isom, who missed most of the preseason, may have been a factor. Barlow also looked tentative after fumbling on his first carry....The offensive line allowed three sacks, with Kwame Harris getting overpowered and shoved aside on the last one. Perhaps this can be attributed to Harris' unfamiliarity with the left tackle position, as he played right tackle in college. The sooner Justin Smiley can step in and replace Kyle Kosier, who also allowed a sack, the better. Scott Gragg was not as dominant as in years past. With two quarterbacks leaving the game due to injuries, this area requires immediate attention....The 49ers figure to have a decent vertical passing game, but the run after the catch threat is missing. Cedrick Wilson was beginning to show some elusiveness at the end of last season, but Brandon Lloyd generally does not run away from defenders or break tackles. Would like to see Arnaz Battle used more in the short to intermediate passing game for expressly this purpose....Rattay proved during the second half that he has a good grasp of the offense, and can pick apart defenses, even when blitzed, so long as he has a reasonable expectation of what the defense might do. It is when the defense takes an exceptional, unexpected risk, such as leaving one man open in order to jump another route, that Rattay throws interceptions.
Defense: What's to Like? For much of the game, the 49ers defense looked like the defense of old, holding the Falcons to 40 yards in the second half, and a mere 227 for the game. Julian Peterson—credited with two sacks, a forced fumble, and a pass batted down—seemed to be there every time Vick turned around. Jamie Winborn, who played like a heat-seeking missile, forced a fumble on the opening drive, and was in the right spot every time Vick tried to scramble. After some inconsistency early on, the 49ers stopped the Atlanta rushing attack, holding them to 3.4 yards per carry....With Rumph out, Shawntae Spencer and Jimmy Williams held up extremely well in pass-coverage. Spencer made a nice play in the second half, recognizing a run, darting into the backfield, and forcing Warrick Dunn to cut back into the teeth of the defense. He and Ahmed Plummer each almost had interceptions, while limiting the Falcons' receivers to 78 total yards on five catches....Anthony Adams and Bryant Young were surprisingly productive, with Adams deflecting the pass on Ulbrich's interception. Andre Carter did not register a sack, but put constant pressure on Vick throughout the afternoon. To be sure, the line was not dominant, but the return of Brandon Whiting, Andrew Williams, and eventually Isaac Sopoaga should strengthen it immeasurably....The Falcons converted only 1 of 11 third downs, and Vick went 2-9 for 18 yards after halftime.
What's Not to Like? Atlanta scored touchdowns on all three of its red zone possessions. Needless to say, holding them to a field goal on one of those trips would have won the game. Poor tackling contributed to two of the touchdowns. The 49ers' linebackers certainly have the athleticism to cover the tight end, but did not do so in this game, enabling Alge Crumpler to catch six passes for 82 yards. At one point in the first half, Vick was 11-13 for 145, and looked to be having his way. Only so much can be attributed to rust and unfamiliarity with schemes.
Summary: Accumulating 359 yards in total offense is not a bad afternoon for an offense that lost seven starters from a year ago, played without its star fullback, could not run the ball for three quarters, and played half the game without its starting quarterback. Hats off to Tim Rattay who almost pulled off a remarkable comeback despite an injury that threatens to keep him out of next week's game. It's difficult to tell whether we played the Atlanta team that struggled in every facet of the game last season or the one that soundly defeated Green Bay in the playoffs the year before. Our defense showed flashes of greatness, and comes away from week one with the third ranked defense in the league. That ranking will not hold, but Willy Robinson appeared to take advantage of the unit's potential that Jim Mora Jr. had left largely untapped. The 49ers outperformed the Falcons in virtually every statistical category, and looked like the better team for much of the afternoon. They just weren't good enough to overcome their own miscues.
Next Week: New Orleans: The 49ers own the better defense, and probably the better offense. The Saints are weak in the middle of their defensive line, and that weakness extends to the linebackers and secondary. The Saints' defense was on the field for 33½ minutes against the Seahawks, while the 49ers' defense was only on the field for 26½. The Saints looked completely out of sorts on offense and left the field demoralized, while the 49ers should carry the youthful promise of their comeback into this game. If the defense can pressure Aaron Brooks into early mistakes, and Kevan Barlow can get on track, the 49ers have a good shot..... Nevertheless, the Saints, who have crumbled under the emotional guidance of Jim Haslett each of the last three seasons, will be tough to beat at home. Deuce McAlister is the type of physical, north-south runner that the 49ers have historically struggled to stop on the road. Dorsey, who will probably start, looked great on his first drive, but struggled after halftime. The 49ers have the talent to win, but it is unlikely that Dorsey will produce a victory on the road in a hostile dome in his first career start. Unless Jim Haslett's team quits on him about six weeks earlier than usual, the Saints should be just good enough to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
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