Former 49ers linebacker and now 49ers Radio Network Analyst Gary Plummer is back with his latest Points of the Game column. This week, Plummer hits on some of the key aspects to Saturday night's Monster Park match up against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Obviously the Bengals have one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, but being in NFC West, the 49ers face that almost every week. You have Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce in St. Louis. You have Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. The 49ers gave up a lot of yards, but not a lot of points to both those teams this year. So the 49ers are well versed in playing against some very productive receivers.
The one thing I'm interested in watching is Chad Johnson going against Nate Clements, because Nate loves to get inside receiver's heads. He has done that this year a couple times, most noticeably against Anquan Boldin. It will be as much a mental match up as a physical one against Chad Johnson. Some guys play better with that challenge, when they are talking trash, whereas some guys it can affect their team negatively by taking them out of their game. But both Johnson and Clements have proved over the years that it is part of their game, trying to get into someone's head, so that will be fun to watch.
They are going to move Johnson everywhere. He will play in three receiver sets, in the slot a lot and sometimes at the X or Z position. That makes it tough for teams to double team him. If you look at their stats, T.J. Houshmandzadeh is leading the league right now in catches. A lot of people seeing that T.J. has 17 more catches than Chad would say T.J. is the better receiver. Not the case. The reason T.J. has more catches is because Chad is getting doubled teamed on almost every play. Chad is more of a deep route runner which is evidenced by his 15 yard average per catch. T.J. is averaging 10 yards a catch and doesn't have the same speed and explosion of Chad. Both receivers are relatively the same size, but Chad is quicker and has more top end speed. T.J. is more physical, so you will see him running more underneath routes and blocking more. Chad will take plays off in the running game whereas T.J. wasn't selected until the seventh round and has that blue collar mentality and will go after defensive backs.
As to the guy throwing them the ball, Carson Palmer, is the NFL's fifth leading passer. Palmer's interceptions are up this year, but so are his yards. He can hang in the pocket for a long time because he has such good pocket presence. Obviously he's not a scrambler. He will take off, but he's nothing like the 49ers faced last week in Tarvaris Jackson. Palmer has a lot of confidence in his offensive line, which is why he tends to stay in the pocket for so long. He also has a ton of confidence in his arm strength, so he will try to fit a ball in there where most guys wouldn't throw it. He's a lot like Brett Favre, who makes a lot of ill advised throws because he has so much confidence in his arm. When Palmer is on, he's as good as they come when throwing the deep ball, but when he's not on, that's where his interceptions come.
One of the things that was scary last week, was that the 49ers were so intent on stopping Adrian Peterson, that Chester Taylor was the guy who did the big damage. The same thing could happen this week with Rudi Johnson and Kenny Watson. Rudi has had limited playing time this year due to a hamstring injury. He is a short guy who is just built like a bowling ball at 5'9'' and 227 pounds. He gets downhill quickly, so you need to get low to get this guy tackled. He hits the hole with excellent burst and good power. He is a short space guy who finishes off runs well with good leg drive. Kenny Watson is an undrafted guy who is tough and just happy to be there. He is more of a straight line runner. He will make one cut and just go. He has average speed, but has had very good production in the passing game catching 44 passes so far. He does a good job in protection. Johnson and Watson aren't too different, but the change up guy is DeDe Dorsey who is averaging nine yards a carry, most of which has come in the last few games. When that starts happening, you will see a team like Cincinnati say, "We need to get this guy more touches." So that's a big change up with him being more of a speed guy.
Shaun Hill is now leading the 49ers offense, and it's a lot easier for some guys to come off the bench like he did last week. There are no sleepless nights, no time to think about the pressure you are under, so there is no anxiety during the week. Ironically the Bengals played against a guy last week making his first NFL start in Brock Berlin of the Rams, so they will be going against first time starters for two straight weeks. Because of that, the Bengals brought more blitzes, and were very effective in sending their strong safety Dexter Jackson.
Shaun was impressive by the fact he was able to go through his progressions so quickly. It was interesting though too, because he went through his progressions so fast that he was disappointed in himself. From a defensive standpoint, that's tough to face because you have a guy who is going to be starting all the way to his left and then all of a sudden going to his right which makes it hard for a defense to get a break on the ball. I thought it was good thing for the 49ers.
I do expect the 49ers to simplify the offense a little. You should see a lot of short and intermediate routes followed by using max protect with the play action pass getting two guys out on routes. It looked like there was a good connection with Vernon Davis.
The one thing that jumps out at you when looking at the Bengals is how many first round draft picks they have. This is a team that struggled for a long time in the 90's and early 2000's, so they have a lot of former first round picks, one of which is Justin Smith who is by far their most productive player. He's a guy who really doesn't have any weaknesses which you can't say about very many defensive linemen. He plays just as well against the run as he does against the pass. Usually you will see guys who are specialists. You would say Marques Douglas is a run down specialist and Dwight Freeney of the Colts is a pass down specialist. Even though Smith doesn't have the statistics, he plays both run and pass very well. One reason he doesn't have the production is that teams are sliding protections towards his way and using chip blocks on him.
Leon Hall, another first round pick out if Michigan, is leading their team in interceptions. He has made big strides since the middle of the season and has been moved in the starting corner position and has gotten better at route recognition and the only way to do that is by going out and doing it. He has good size and speed, and is a bit of a gambler, which has led to them giving up some huge plays, but they've also made interceptions, which is a trade off when you have young guys in Hall and Jonathon Joseph. Hall and Joseph have however combined for 7 of the teams 15 interceptions, which has really benefited them.
The Bengals are still looking to finish at .500, while the 49ers just need a win at home this Saturday. The 49ers must limit Palmer and crew as much as possible, and they'll need some points out of their offense. Ball security is going to be imperative for San Francisco, something that has been an issue the last few weeks.