After limiting the Dallas Cowboys efforts on the ground last week, yet allowing their opposition several explosive downfield passing plays, the 49ers would like nothing more than to put together a complete defensive performance this Sunday when they take on the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
"Being able to do that will really allow us the chance to win the game," said Takeo Spikes, a former linebacker of the Bills from 2003-2006. "They have good enough talent over there, so you're not going to stop the run every single time and you're not going to stop the pass every single time. But, we don't want to allow any big pass or running plays."
While Spikes and rest of the 49ers front seven kept Marion Barber under wraps, holding the bruising back to 59 yards on 19 carries last Sunday, the backend of the 49ers defensive unit struggled against Terrell Owens, allowing him 213 receiving yards.
While talk continues of what went wrong, cornerback Nate Clements, who was primarily guarding Owens, has taken the advice from one of his coaches and moved on.
"As my coach would say, 'Water off a duck, just rolls right off,'" Clements said. "I just have to get ready for this week and I'm anxious."
Clements' restless behavior is not only due to the results from the previous week, but also because he's facing his former team. Clements was the Bills first round pick in the 2001 National Football League Draft, and played there for six seasons.
Clements said he's looking forward to playing in the city where the foundation of his career started, as well as his return to the cold weather.
"I think I was kind of used to it," he said. "When it got colder and snow started to come, it was actually fun to me."
There will be no time for the 3-8 49ers to worry about inclement weather. The 6-5 Bills are in a tight battle for the playoffs and present plenty of tough matchups across the board for the 49ers defensive unit, including two former Bay Area products in second-year quarterback Trent Edwards (Stanford) and second-year running back Marshawn Lynch (California).
Many of the 49ers have been impressed with the athleticism that they've seen on film from the Bills quarterback.
"He's very athletic," cornerback Walt Harris said. "He's definitely one of those quarterbacks who can buy time. He understands their offense, and obviously having a running game makes his job a lot easier. He's getting the ball to the guys who are open."
Lynch also has the respect of the 49ers defense because of his hard running style, which is very similar to the running back they faced last week in Barber.
Pro Bowl linebacker Joe Staley said he gained a whole new level of admiration for Lynch, after the two spent time working out together.
"I have much respect for Marshawn," Willis said. "We've trained together, I know him personally and he's a great guy. Each game, he's becoming a better and better football player. I know that we're really going to have our work cut out for us. I heard a lot of things about him when he played at Cal and to have trained with him, I'm really looking forward to playing against him."
Stopping Lynch will be extremely important, as the Bills rely heavily on their physical back to set up their play-action passing game, in which Edwards has been completing passes to a slew of Buffalo targets.
"I think it all starts for them with Lynch," Clements said. "Just from looking at him on film, and on TV from previous games, he's an explosive player. He's a tough running back. And he's very talented. In order for play-action to work, you have to set it up with the run first. That's what they've been doing, establishing the run. And that's why they've been successful with the play-action."
With Lynch attracting multiple defenders in the box, speedy wide receiver Lee Evans has been doing what he does best, getting behind the opposing secondary and making deep catches. Evans averages 19.3 yards per catch.
"He's a big-play guy," Walt Harris said of Evans. "But they have other receivers, who can get down the field as well, so you don't want to focus in on one guy. We have to keep their big plays to a minimum."
Some of those other downfield targets include wide receivers Roscoe Parrish and Josh Reed, along with tight end Robert Royal and third down back Fred Jackson. Each target has benefited from Lynch's success in the rushing game, which has allowed Edwards to stretch the field or find his check downs for easy completions.
Most of those check downs go Lynch's way, who is tied with Evans for the team lead in catches, or to Jackson, who is fifth on the team in catches with an 8.4 average yards per catch.
"Jackson is a good back," said defensive end Justin Smith. "He can catch passes out of the backfield and is more of a scat-back guy."
While the secondary shouldered the blame for the deep balls that occurred last week, it's a responsibility that Smith said falls to the front line of defense as well.
"We can't allow deep balls like that. If we get more pressure up front, across the board we should be better," said Smith. "It's a big challenge for us, but one that we're up to."
With backs and receivers to account for, the 49ers will need a solid all-around performance from both the front seven and their back end, in order to win their second road game of the season.
"We have to do everything," Harris said. "We have to stop the run and we have to stop the big plays. We just have to play good sound football all-around on defense. When we do that, as we've seen in a few games this year, we'll be alright."
Thursday's Practice Notes
Wide receiver Jason Hill was hobbling a little bit at the end of the practice with a tight groin. He was added to the injury report, but with a full practice designation.
"We'll see tomorrow how he's doing," said Singletary.
WR's Arnaz Battle and Josh Morgan took part in individual work for the second day in a row, and were joined in a limited role by cornerback Walt Harris, who missed Wednesday's practice completely with a sore hamstring.
"It's still a bit tender," said Singletary of Harris. "We'll see. It will probably be a gametime decision."
If Harris can't go on Sunday, Singletary indicated that Tarell Brown would have a strong possibility of starting.
Linebackers Takeo Spikes and Patrick Willis took a full practice after sitting out on Wednesday.
Nate Clements and Battle are listed as Allen Rossum's backups at punt returner, but Singletary indicated that he would prefer not to use Clements this Sunday.
"I think that would be something that we really want to stay away from. It could be a possibility, but hopefully that's not something we have to do."
If Battle is healthy, Singletary would rather rely on him, but that too looks to be a game time decision. Other possibilities include Dominique Zeigler, or Morgan.