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The Washington Redskins, under Joe Gibbs, encircled the San Francisco 49ers like they were reenacting General George Custer's last stand inside FedEx Field. They performed a scalping on rookie quarterback, and first round draft pick, Alex Smith. They scored at will against a defense shot full of holes due to injuries, with a total of 457 yards of offense.
Six years ago, when Mike Nolan was the defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins under owner Daniel Snyder, Snyder criticized Mike Nolan's defense as being "too vanilla." He even went as far as depositing melted cartons of ice cream outside Mike Nolan's office because of his disdain for their performance. Instead of vanilla ice cream, it was a steady diet of Clinton Portis, who led the charge against the 49er defense by rushing for 101-yards (the most allowed this season by the 49ers), that left Mike Nolan in a sticky situation.
Throughout the entire game, the San Francisco 49er defense allowed 204 total rushing yards and 260 passing yards between quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey. Yet, when you consider that the 49er defense has played for so many extended amounts of time, thanks to our anemic offensive performance, it is no surprise that a day like this would come sooner rather than later.
Late in the second quarter of Sunday's game, Mark Brunell was poised on the 49er 32-yard line and lofted the ball to wide receiver Santana Moss. Moss hauled it in and kept it away from 49er cornerback Shawntae Spencer. Spencer looked to safety Mike Adams for assistance in on the play but never received it. In fact Spencer never even looked up to see where the ball was coming and Moss scored a touchdown from 32 yards out with relative ease. Mike Nolan admitted communication between Spencer and Adams as being one of the culprits to that play and the touchdown by Santana Moss. The Washington Redskins went up 28-7 on this play and never looked back. Santana Moss, the league's second leading wide receiver, went on to assist the Redskins to score over 50 points for the first time in six years.
The San Francisco 49er defense tended to over-pursue the Redskin offense on screens and misdirection plays which resulted in big gains for the Redskins throughout the course of the game.
"Those little screens, those throwbacks we have to be more disciplined than that," Nolan said. "We need to stay with our guy. That was disappointing. We have some new guys out there so be it. Everyone has new guys."
Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell completed 13-of-23 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns in three quarters. He remained unscathed for most of the game, with the 49ers only getting to him once (by linebacker Brandon Moore filling in for the injured Jeff Ulbrich and Saleem Rasheed).
Alex Smith was 8-for-16 and just 92 yards with a passer rating of 41.7%. He was intercepted once, fumbled three times (one in which he lost the ball), and was sacked five times. His performance mirrored that of his first appearance as the starter against the Indianapolis Colts. Some 49er fans, disgruntled with the lack of progress, are pointing fingers at the ownership and management of this team. This situation is being compared to the old Dennis Erickson regime, in which no improvements were forseeable from one week to the next. However, one has to remember that back then we didn't have a rookie quarterback.
What was different about this game for Alex Smith, in comparison to the pressure from the Indianapolis Colts front four, is that this Washington Redskin defense attacked him from all over the place. It brought a blitzing style of defense that made Smith's head reel... and reel often.
"We went from a defense that didn't throw a lot at you to a defense this week that has a lot of movement, a lot of disguise, bringing a lot of different pressures," Smith said. "I need to expect that. We need to learn to beat it."
Alex Smith did show one impressive drive as he came in on our third possession of the game. The key play happened on a third and six when Alex Smith connected with Brandon Lloyd, who was facing single coverage, on a 43-yard pass. Four plays later, running back Kevan Barlow broke through an arm tackle and, with nice blocking from fullback Chris Hetherington and tight end Billy Bajema, ran 17 yards into the end zone to score.
Until that moment, the San Francisco 49ers had gone nine total quarters without an offensive touchdown. In fact, you would rarely see the 49er offense out on the field at all. Instead, you would see the defense huffing and panting as they come off the field a few minutes and then have to turn right back around after yet another offensive disaster.
The San Francisco 49ers surrendered the most points in 25 years in the embarrassing 52-17 defeat. It left some players enraged and frustrated on the long plane ride back home to the Bay Area. "This is way down," 49ers fullback Fred Beasley said. "It's like we're six feet deep. You can throw the dirt over us right now, but we aren't going to let this happen because we still have games to play."
Look at the offensive line on this team. Is Alex Smith really to blame for the entire offensive performance? I certainly don't think so. I believe it starts right up front with the line that is supposed to provide adequate protection for him to throw. Left tackle Anthony Clement couldn't block his own grandmother let alone a Washington Redskin defensive unit that currently ranks as one of the best in the NFL. By allowing the fumbles and the sacks of quarterback Alex Smith time and time again, the coaching staff should get the message that we can't protect our most valuable investment out on the field. With the loss of Jonas Jennings and Patrick Estes from left tackle we are forced to play a man that lacks the athleticism or sound technique to get the job done. Anthony Clement is not the answer, and I propose that we start Adam Snyder in his place, or reshuffle the line to provide better protection schemes for Alex Smith.
The injuries to center Jeremy Newberry also seem to be taking their toll, as he was observed giving signals to the Washington Redskin defense with slight movements of his head when snapping the ball.
On top of all that, right tackle Kwame Harris also is not playing up to his full potential. Harris was a very high draft pick for us and was looked at as being the future at left tackle in place of the veteran Derrick Deese. Harris played right tackle in college, and was a strength at that position before we took him out of his element and inserted him in on the left. The coaches put him back on the in hopes of strengthening the line and the running game. This has proved ineffective as he still hasn't performed up to standards.
If there was ever a time to draft for need, it is now. We should continue to work on the offensive line until we can find some playmakers that will stay put in the path of fire and help create offensive plays. It goes without saying that the offensive line will win ball games by staying out on the field and providing rest for the defense. That hasn't happened for a long time now and is becoming a festering problem for the defense. Being patient is one thing, but to witness one depressing performance after another has got to do something to you psychologically after a while.
San Francisco 49er fans need something to hang their hat on as well. I still believe in Alex Smith and I think we did do the right thing in releasing Tim Rattay. Many think the team has thrown in the towel on this season, but I think it's just the opposite. I still think Mike Nolan has the team's best interests at heart. Alex Smith just needs to learn on the fly, and, for heavens sake, someone to provide him some protection.
Even running back Kevan Barlow, who was thought to have improved on his blocking abilities during a quarterback blitz, is not performing to satisfaction. It is hard to accept his performance, especially when you remember at how sharp Garrison Hearst was for so many years. If Kevan Barlow is ever going to be an elite running back, he has to learn how to stop an oncoming defensive lineman from reaching his quarterback.
Frank Gore is also making a campaign for more playing time after his fourth quarter, 72-yard romp down the sideline for a touchdown in the last two minutes of the game. He has proven himself on more than just one occasion and seems to be a lot more durable and determined when being tackled and in possession of the ball.
Frank Gore finished with 89 yards on nine carries and, after that rushing touchdown last Sunday, he's made a real case for more carries to come. He has a distinct way of breaking tackles and making defensive backs miss him. He also fights for every yard when someone is starting to wrap him up.
"I made my read and when I saw a crease, I hit it and I was gone," Gore said about his touchdown. "It felt good getting my first touchdown in the NFL. I hope I showed my coaches that if I am in the game, they can believe in me and that I am going to keep fighting, no matter if we are up or down."
Across the field, Gore looked at his former Miami Hurricane teammate, running back Clinton Portis, and they both met up right after the game to talk to one another. "He told me, 'I can't tell that you had two knee surgeries,'" Gore said. "And he told me the same thing he did when I was a freshman, and that is to keep fighting."
Again, my bottom line stance on this guy is get him more carries and more playing time. Let the running game be the competition it should be, and encourage Kevan Barlow to step-up his performance so that we can see a positive offensive surge that will take the edge off for us fans.
It is easy to say that at 1-5 we have no chance at anything this season, or for seasons to come. It is true. I will finally acknowledge that we won't win or even be second place in the division. But I will say that we are a team rebuilding and remodeling. We have a youth movement in our ranks that will take time to gel. We need a few more veteran types and strong athletes that will execute and encourage others to execute as well. Mike Nolan and his coaches will not give up... they will fight and stay in this for the long haul.
I am confident in that despite the losses and lumps we are taking now. We will be a better team tomorrow. If we can all stay faithful, believe in the future, and still cheer during the bright spots this season, our players will be eternally grateful.