Progress At Last
November 21, 2005 at 12:00 AM
Progress. Quite simply, it's what people expected out of the 49ers when John York and company hired Mike Nolan. Progress. Quite simply, it's a quality that has eluded the 49ers since their opening day victory. Eluded them, that is, until this Sunday's game against Seattle. No, the 49ers didn't win. And sometimes they certainly looked like a two win team; especially anytime they reached the dead - uhhh...I mean red zone. But other times, they looked like a team on the right track.
On paper, the Seahawks looked to have an advantage in almost every category. Coming into Sunday they had the NFL's number one ranked offense - including the NFL's leading rusher, Shaun Alexander. Oh, and by the way, Alexander had scored more rushing touchdowns (17) in 9 weeks than anyone else...ever. The Seahawks were also second in the league in sacks with 30. They were a team that had the best record in the NFC and were primed to take over their division.
The 49ers, on the other hand, were ranked dead last in almost every important statistical category. Their defense had been improving over the last several weeks, but offensive ineptitude made any defensive progress almost null. Entering Sunday's match there were 19 teams that averaged more RUSHING yards per game than the 49ers could muster through the air. Sunday's game had all the makings of a blowout waiting to happen.
Instead, it was as if the school of the blind miraculously regained their sight. The 49ers managed 336 yards of total offense, scored two touchdowns (when they hadn't been able to score one for 15 straight quarters) and won the time of possession battle. The crucial difference? The passing game finally decided to show up after getting lost on the way home from the Dallas game. The 226 yards gained Sunday was more that the three previous weeks combined.
It may seem like something minor, but the return of Arnaz Battle opened up opportunities for Lloyd, who had his best game since September. It allows the 49er to better utilize their 3 wide receiver sets; Johnny Morton is a much better 3rd receiver than he is a starter. With Battle back in the lineup, the 49ers were able to better employ many of the three wide receiver sets they found success with early in the season. The three most important passes completed, Lloyd's one-handed grab in the second quarter, the crucial pass interference call on 3rd and 25 before the half, and the team's first touchdown in the 4th quarter all came out of the three receiver set.
All of those passes are for naught, though, if the offensive line does not provide Dorsey with some protection. Adam Snyder provided some much needed stability to the left side of the line while replacing Anthony Clement. Snyder held Grant Wistrom sackless and provided much needed protection on the quarterback's blind side. Eventually, Snyder will be the answer at right tackle where he should be able to beat out the ever-inconsistent Kwame Harris by next season. With Bass at center and Jonas Jennings at left tackle, the foundation of the line seems set.
While the line improved Sunday, Dorsey never really had the luxury of a stable pocket with time to throw. He certainly did not have as much time as Matt Hasselbeck did. Hasselbeck was sacked once, Dorsey 4 times. But it was definitely more than 49ers quarterbacks were used to and enough to let the play develop.
Even with time, though, the game could not be as close as it was without the inspired play of Ken Dorsey. The biggest reason he was able to move the ball was his quick decision making. If he was going to throw it deep, he let it fly in only a few seconds. He didn't give the defense much time to get to him. When he did have to hold onto it, he was able to successfully check down to his second or third options. Granted he had some bonehead moments, like when he tried to flip the ball to Maurice Hicks early in the 4th quarter and almost had it picked off by Bryce Fisher. On the whole, though, Dorsey made the decisions he needed to keep it close, putting together a quarterback rating of 101.1, the highest by a Niner quarterback since week one.
Sure, a win would have been better. And it would have been even better if instead of "Dorsey" I was writing "Smith," and "Hicks" was replaced with "Gore." One game does not fix everything but if the 49ers can build off this game against arguably the best team in the NFC then they are definitely making progress. At the very least, after several weeks of aimless meandering, the 49ers seem to be getting the players they need in the right places. At this point in their rebuilding stage, it's exactly where the 49ers need to be.
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