Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR analysis and color commentator Gary Plummer is back again this year with his Points of the Game, a weekly online column that previews the upcoming opponent. Check out some of his views on Sunday's home game against the Seattle Seahawks.**
If Seattle is without Matt Hasselbeck for this game, their backup quarterback Seneca Wallace can still make enough plays to help them win. He's a great athlete. He's been slowed by a calf injury, and that really effects him, but he played well a couple of years ago when he substituted for Hasselbeck. In four games, he was 2-2.
I think he's really struggled since coming back from the injury, but as we found out in the 49ers first game, Seneca was good enough to be a possible starter at wide receiver — and that's actually when he ended up pulling that calf, in warm-ups for the first game against the 49ers. That calf injury limits his mobility, which is definitely the strength of his game.
Wallace, if he's starting, will have to rely on a banged up receiving group. The best wide receiver they have, Deion Branch, is still out having missed another game last week. He's been hampered by injuries all year long, first with a knee and now a heel.
A guy though, who has a real command of the offense for Seattle, is wide receiver Bobby Engram. He works out of the slot and he's always seemed to be Hasselbeck's guy, especially on third down. But without much help elsewhere, teams have been able to focus more on Engram, and it's really limited his success, and third downs have been probably the biggest problem for Seattle this year, on both sides of the ball.
They seem to be an awful lot like the 49ers in that category, where both sides of the ball on third downs have been contributing to a lack of time of possession.
Seattle's defense is 31st in the NFL for two reasons: not being able to get off the field on third downs and a -6 turnover ratio, which is 29th in the league. So those two things have, much like last year for the 49ers defense, put a tremendous amount of stress on the unit being on the field that much. And that in turn obviously hurts your productivity offensively when you limit your number of plays.
I think in order to control the ball, Seattle has really made the transition to be more of a running team. They already had to rely on the run more because of so many injuries at receiver, but now with their best player out in Hasselbeck, their passing game is in trouble.
Earlier in the season when those injuries hit his receiving corps, Mike Holmgren said that the one injury they couldn't overcome would be an injury to Hasselbeck. There were reports back then that Hasselbeck was having back problems, but it was completely denied. It's a fact now, he's got a bulging disc in his back, which is creating sciatic nerve problems down into his knee.
The injury just changes the entire complexion of their offense, and their strength now is their offensive line, and they are running behind it. Having said that, the 49ers shouldn't exclusively play 'Big Sub.'
Last week the 49ers did good job against Brandon Jacobs, although he scored two touchdowns, San Francisco limited his yards per carry. I fully expect the 49ers to be a 3-4 defense, put eight men in the box and dare them to throw the football. You look at how well Nate Clements played last week. After an inauspicious start, he completely locked down Plaxico Burress.
I expect the 49ers to lock down their receivers, but they've also got to pay attention to John Carlson. The tight end is their leading receiver, and he's a huge target who hurt the 49ers in the first matchup. Part of the reason for that was when receivers are struggling; the tight end is a safe throw for the quarterback. 10-yard stick outs, a big body sitting down in a zone underneath is a safe, comfortable throw for whoever the quarterback is. That's something the 49ers are going to have to focus on.
This week, I think it's extremely important for the 49ers to get the ball in the hands of Frank Gore. I don't think he had enough carries, but there were many reasons for that. First of all, the Giants were Super Bowl champions and have a 5-1 record for a reason. That's a pretty damn good team. Second, they have a very active front four, which the 49ers will see again this week against Seattle.
They can't afford to have a repeat performance. The strength of the Seattle defense is the linebackers, by far with two Pro Bowlers in Lofa Tatupu and Julian Peterson. And the other starter, Leroy Hill, is a great player too. So, it's a little bit different animal this week. It's going to be a blitzing defense.
The only way to beat that is with hot routes and having great protection. There were huge gains with Isaac Bruce last game. They've since benched the corner, Kelly Jennings, who Bruce beat twice, and they're now starting Josh Wilson, who's a younger guy.
Really, I see the Seahawks coming into this game and maybe not blitzing as much, but if they have success blitzing, they'll continue to do it. They had eight sacks in the last game, so usually the way to stop that is by hitting a couple of deep balls. The last time, their coordinator John Marshall never took his foot off the gas pedal. He just kept bringing it time after time, but, ultimately, it ended up being the downfall because it gave up a couple of big plays. It will be interesting to see how he does it this time. Will he play more coverage? He will certainly play more rush zone because that's what J.T. O'Sullivan has had trouble with.
And speaking of O'Sullivan, his problems with ball security are kind of interesting to me. You look at his courage to hang in the pocket with a bunch of big bodies flying around him, which is great. But on the other hand, he sometimes holds the ball too long. I think what he needs to do is hold the ball with two hands until he's ready to release it.
I know the 49ers are going to work with him even more this week in creating some drills so he's more aware of his ball security. He just needs to be more aware of it. I'd love to see him, when his first and second options aren't open, just take off and go. It adds such a dimension to the offense. He's got more elusiveness than any quarterback Mike Martz has ever had. Use that to your advantage. Instead of sitting in the pocket trying to be that guy that hangs in there, you just have to have an internal clock. When four seconds are up, it's time. It's time to start moving towards the line of scrimmage or out of the pocket. He has that Jeff Garcia-like ability to make plays with his feet. We saw last Sunday night Garcia had a lot of success against the Seahawks moving out of the pocket. I would really like to see more out of O'Sullivan.
First and second read not there? Four seconds are up? Start moving. Now, if that means you run 10 times per game, you're creating a new dimension. You're going to get linebackers that don't drop as deep anymore. It's such a pain in your side as a defender when you're back there in coverage and you've taken care of your responsibility and a quarterback scrambles for a first down. It really pisses you off. So, now linebackers won't get that depth and it will open up those dig routes that the Mike Martz is famous for.
If anyone knows what the 49ers players are going through this week during a coaching change, it would be me. I went through it myself in San Diego. It was a strange time. Al Saunders, who is currently the offensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams, took over for the legendary Don Coryell.
I don't really know the mentality with the 49ers, but I know that some players in our locker room didn't play very well after the change. Some players didn't respond well to it, thinking that the season was lost, but the way I looked at it was as a challenge. It shows you just how precarious your existence is in the NFL. To me, it's a message to all the players and all the coaches that the results so far are unacceptable. No excuses. It's time to put up or shut up. You really shouldn't need to be reminded because you're getting paid great money to live out a childhood dream, whether you're a player or a coach. But, we're all human, and some people get complacent. So, it's a nine-week audition for Singletary, the rest of the coaches and the players.
If players in the locker room don't realize that this is like an extended training camp, then they're fooling themselves because it doesn't matter if Singletary gets the job next year or if somebody else comes in, personnel is going to be evaluated very, very closely.
Vice president of strategic planning and co-owner Jed York grew up watching the 49ers dynasty. He grew up watching all that success, and that's what he expects. And he just proved that the results over the past few years aren't good enough. Everyone in the building needs to take heed and understand that.
The one thing that Jed talked about was intensity. I noticed a little bit more intensity on the defensive side of the ball against the Giants. That needs to happen across the board. For a long time we heard about how good guys were looking in training camp and how guys performed in practice, but it doesn't matter what happens during the week if you don't perform on game day, and I think that's the message that's been sent. Take that practice, whatever it is you do to prepare for a game, and transfer it on to the playing field on game day, otherwise it's all for naught.