For all of you who were ready to toss defensive coordinator Jim More Jr. into the bay after the 49ers defense struggled in the first half of the year, I have this to say:

Shame on you.

For the third straight game, the defense put together a quality effort. For the second time in two games, they recorded a shutout. For the second straight game, the 49ers pass rush, left for dead the whole year, was standout. The Dolphins line, which had yielded 13 sacks all year, allowed six to the 49ers on Sunday.

The reality is that the 49ers defense contained only four starters who were with the team in 1999. The past two years, they have been developing two new corners, two new defensive ends, and, most crucially, all their linebackers. That includes Derek Smith who, while a veteran, is new to the defense this year. With all that youth, it’s very difficult to get fancy with coverage schemes and blitzes.

With the burgeoning confidence and experience of these players, however, Mora has been able to get a little fancier. Starting with the Bills game (from what I could tell), the 49ers really started to blitz. This, combined with the play of Andre Carter, has elevated the play of the defense from what we saw vs. the Bears to what we saw vs. the Dolphins – a team with comparable offensive talent.

I cannot say enough about Andre Carter’s performance on Sunday. He displayed the dominating pressure, play-after-play, that we drafted him for. I never thought that I’d say it this soon, but Carter was dominant. He flat out ran around Dolphins’ linemen all day. Despite his modest ½-sack, 2-tackle line, I would estimate that Carter was responsible for a good five or six incompletions by Jay Fiedler.

The offense displayed a solid and consistent, if unspectacular, running game that controlled the clock and provided enough points to allow the defense to attack. Garrison Hearst made a few of his best runs of the year, and Kevan Barlow added some relief work that gave Hearst a boost, though I would like to see him run a little niftier.

The offense is still getting off to slow starts, and Jeff Garcia is really hurting. But if he can stay healthy, and the defense continues to play at the level we have seen the last few games, only the Rams will challenge us from here on out.

Offseason Needs
1. Pass Rusher
If Andre Carter continues the pass rush rampage he’s shown the past two games, and if Chike Okeafor plays the way he played against the Dolphins, then maybe I’ll drop this need down a few slots. But the pass rush has clearly been the defense’s biggest problem for most of this year. This player will almost certainly be a defensive end; though it’s not out of the question to get an oversized linebacker 'elephant’ type who would play on passing downs. Julian Peterson can also be a great rusher, but he’s so athletic that the 49ers need him in coverage on 75% of his snaps. Another DE would also give Engelberger some rest over the course of the year, and I think he’ll hold up better than he has the last two years. From what I can tell, Leonard Little of the Rams is the top free agent this year.

2. Wide Receiver
The 49ers offensive performance, as impressive as it was, would have been explosive with another wide receiver besides Terrell Owens who could make plays. JJ Stokes confirmed that he is a flat-out bust with his performance this year, and Tai Streets is very thin and does not seem to be progressing (it could be that his leg injury is hampering him more than expected). It’s time to either move Stokes back to #3 or cut him – and our losses. Considering the value you can get at this position in the late first round, the 49ers could use their top pick here.

3. Defensive Tackle
I’m tempted to move this need up. Consider the age of Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield. Consider that Young, who has always remained a warrior, showed his first signs of slowing down this year. Consider that the only real backup is Reggie McGrew. 'Nuff said. The 49ers need to replenish this position; nothing kills a defense more than bad tackles.

4. Offensive Line
There is a rumor that the 49ers highly covet Bears C Olin Kreutz, and that they consider him one of the top free agency priorities outside their own roster. They would then move Jeremy Newberry to guard, where they’re always wanted him. This would cover the loss of Ray Brown, who is going on 40 and will step down either at the end of this year or in 2002. However, the 49ers still would be dangerously thin at both guard and tackle. This should be the year the 49ers take a lineman – or two – on the first day.

5. Nickel Corner
With a better pass rush, this does not become a top priority. However, any team in the same division as the Rams had better have three corners they feel good about. The 49ers have two – Plummer and Webster – and then a whole lot of nothing. This could be a free agency move.

It’s not a nice thing to say, but hell with it: I am happy that Cardinals kicker Bill Gramatica blew his knee out Saturday celebrating a first quarter field goal. Can I say that? Both he and his brother, Tampa Bay kicker Martin Gramatica, celebrate every field goal like they just beat Italy for the World Cup. The result? Bill 'GOAL!’ Gramatica may have lost his team the game against the Giants and has now left them without a kicker. What a clown…As if there was any doubt about how far Carmen Policy has fallen, just read his comments from Sunday after the Brown’s fans embarrassing behavior during the closing minute of the Jaguars game. His response was despicable – just like his track record in the draft.