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Don't let his 63% completion percentage fool you. For the second week in a row, quarterback Trent Dilfer looked atrocious. While the 49ers offense was unimpressive with Alex Smith leading the helm during the team's first two games, it was at least doing enough to win.
It is sad to say this, but when the Baltimore Ravens kicked their third field of the game in the third quarter and put themselves up 9-0, the game felt out of reach. After all, this team has failed to do anything offensively during the last two games. How was this suddenly going to change and allow the 49ers to score twice to take the lead? This nine point lead was all the Ravens needed to seal the fate of the falling 49ers who have now dropped into third place in the NFC West with their 2-3 record behind Arizona and Seattle.
During the first half of the game, Dilfer attempted six passes. He completed only two of those passes for 8 yards. Six of the team's ten drives today resulted in a three-and-out. On a good note, punter Andy Lee looked fantastic. Fans got to see him seven times during the game as he kicked the ball inside the 20-yard line three times, including once to the 1-yard line and once to the 2-yard line. Yes, one of the team's most entertaining players to watch during this matchup was our punter.
But it was not all bad for the offense. There were two plays where the team looked like the 49ers of old. Sadly, that was all the excitement that this offense could muster against the Ravens. Since I spent last week looking at the bad plays by the offense, let's take a look at these two plays since they are probably the only positives you can take from this game.
With 6:44 left in the 3rd quarter, the Ravens, being the aggressive defense that they are, looked like they were about to rush eight players. Instead, only six went after the quarterback while the other two dropped back into coverage. Of these six, none were defensive lineman. This left Joe Staley to block linebacker Ray Lewis, Justin Smiley to block linebacker Antwan Barnes, Eric Heitmann to block linebacker Bart Scott, who stumbled, and Larry Allen to block linebacker Jarret Johnson. The mix up occurred on the left side of the offensive line. Maurice Hicks went to the outside to block linebacker Terrell Suggs instead of leaving Suggs to Adam Snyder, who was filling in for Jonas Jennings. This mix up gave defensive back Gerome Sapp a shot at Dilfer. Snyder could have turned back inside after seeing Hicks and tried to block Sapp, but he probably would have only gotten a piece of him as Sapp was already flying in at full speed. On a side note, Antwan Barnes had beaten Justin Smiley on the play, but it really did not matter since Sapp had already gotten to Dilfer. What could have been another horrible situation for the offense in this game turned into a blessing for Dilfer, who tossed the ball up while being hit by Sapp and sent it in the direction of wide receivers Bryan Gilmore, who re-signed with the team this week, and Arnaz Battle. Both ran go routes to the outside with single coverage. The ball was thrown just far enough to be out of reach of cornerbacks Derrick Martin and Corey Ivy. Both Battle, who adjusted his rout, and Gilmore had a shot at the ball. Luckily, it was in the right spot for Gilmore to allow him to haul it in. There was even an illegal contact penalty on Martin, which was obviously declined as the play resulted in a 42 yard reception.
On the very next play, wide receiver Arnaz Battle lined up on the right side against cornerback Chris McAlister and beat him to the endzone despite help from linebacker Bart Scott. Rookie Joe Staley got beat on the play but it did not matter since Dilfer was able to get the ball out of his hands quickly and hit his deep target in the endzone.
So on one play, Dilfer got lucky. On the other play, Dilfer actually looked like the quarterback that the 49ers need while Alex Smith is out with a shoulder injury. While these two plays actually got the fans' hopes up, if you throw these plays out, Dilfer would have only passed for 61 yards in the game.
On a good note, the offensive line seemed to be a little more aggressive in this game during pass protection. They made their mistakes, but not nearly as many as last week against the Seattle Seahawks. They seemed to hold the pocket together well for Dilfer. At least, they did that for a second or two longer on each play compared to last week. They were probably well rested since the offense was not out on the field too long due to their inability to move the ball. The Ravens won the time of possession battle, owning the ball for 38 minutes in this matchup.
Considering that the Ravens defense has been very successful against the run this season, it was not surprising to see running back Frank Gore held to under 100 yards. However, he did have some mixed success. Out of his 16 carries in the game, half were for 4 yards or more. His longest was for 10 yards. Despite some miscues by players like tight end Delanie Walker, the run blocking was not as bad as it appeared on most plays. Gore seemed to be more effective when running behind blocking offensive lineman like Larry Allen and Justin Smiley. However, you could also see some bad decisions on the part of Gore. For instance, there was one play where he decided to run up the middle as the play was designed instead of cutting to the outside where the blocking that was set up by Walker and Battle could have given him a huge gain. The same thing happened later in the game when the 49ers were backed up deep near the beginning of the 2nd quarter. A cut to his left, outside of fullback Moran Norris, would have given the Gore a huge gain. Instead, he stays inside and is eventually tackled by linebacker Jarret Johnson. Luckily for Gore, he broke a run for 10 yards on the very next play. Gore seems to be running straight into the pile rather than taking any possible exits to daylight that may develop in front of him. This is different from the Gore we were used to seeing last season.
While the offensive line held its ground fairly well in this game and despite the two plays just mentioned, there were not a lot of holes for Gore to run through. That, in combination with Dilfer's inability to get the passing game going, spelled the end for the 49ers offense.
A few more offensive line miscues
Guard Adam Snyder had a few miscues including a couple of plays where he got beat badly. One of those plays allowed Terrell Suggs to hit Arnaz Battle while he was trying to run his route.
Joe Staley got tripped up on a running play in the 3rd quarter allowing him to get beat by Jarret Johnson who wrapped up Gore in the backfield.
Near the end of the 3rd quarter, Justin Smiley moved to block the wrong player and allowed nose tackle Kelly Gregg a shot at Dilfer. Gore was back there to block but you can't really blame him for that one. He had his eyes on Jarret Johnson in case he rushed the quarterback. By the time he saw Gregg, there was nothing he could do. Besides, Gregg is listed at 310 pounds. There probably was not much Gore could do to stop him.
Aggressiveness at the wrong time
A failed "trick play" came on 3rd-and-2 late in the 3rd quarter when Heitmann snapped the ball directly to Frank Gore, who handed it off to Bryan Gilmore on the reverse. Only one Ravens defender fell for that as the others pursued Gilmore and tackled him 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Aggressiveness on offense is good and would be a blessing to see from the 49ers, but was this really the time to do this? The offense only had two yards to go. If you were ever going to display your trust in Gore to get the job done, this was the time.
Late in the 4th quarter, the 49ers found themselves on the Baltimore 36-yard line facing a 2nd-and-9 situation. Instead of running the ball to try and set up a shorter game winning field goal, Dilfer drops back and passes the ball to a well covered Moran Norris. Norris would drop the ball and the 49ers would get nothing out of the play. Even if he had caught it, he would have probably lost almost a yard. On the next play, Gore ran it up the middle for a gain of two yards, setting up a 52 yard field goal attempt for Joe Nedney. That attempt would fly wide right.
Get well soon Alex
Alex Smith is more hopeful than ever that he will be back for the team's game against the Giants in New York following their upcoming bye week. Hopefully the team's offensive line problems are patched up prior to his return whether it be for that game or a later one. If not, Smith will not last long.
Fans' hopes come crashing down
Fans who think that the 49ers can quickly recover from their third straight loss and somehow go on a run to make the playoffs may want to rethink their expectations for this team. Even when Alex Smith was at the helm, the team barely won their first two games and were embarrassed by Pittsburgh. There is no guarantee that Smith will return for the game against the Giants and when he does return, it may take him some time to get back into the rhythm of things, not that the offense had much rhythm to begin with. The defense will keep them in games, but will the offense finally perform well enough to win them? It is time for fans to lower their expectations for the season and realize that, at least for now, this is a bad 49ers team. With every loss, New England fans cheer. After all, they own our 1st round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. The 49ers own the Colts' pick, so fans won't even have a high pick to comfort them come April.