Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR color commentator Gary Plummer previews the 49ers opponents every week of the 2009 season on 49ers.com. For this week's "Points of the Game" column, Plummer breaks down the 49ers week nine opponent – the Tennessee Titans.**
The Tennessee Titans are 18th against the run, and that could mean that Frank Gore could get going. What they'll do is the same thing that everyone has done against the 49ers, they're going to put eight in the box, as frequently as they can and try to force Alex Smith to beat them.
To me, it's interesting that you have two quarterbacks in the same situation in Smith and Vince Young of the Titans. Both are former high draft picks who are trying to resurrect their careers. Each team would be crazy not to put eight in the box and make the quarterback who has struggled early in his career, beat you.
The good news for the 49ers is that the emergence of Vernon Davis at tight end and the addition of Michael Crabtree to the receiving corps have given defensive coordinators more things to be concerned about. What you can do is run a play-action pass against eight guys in the box. You can also run max protection to protect against the blitz.
I'm not a huge college football fan so I actually didn't know much about Michael Crabtree except for watching ESPN highlights. But his physical skills have been remarkable and his explosiveness impressed me.
Also, his ability to play almost every snap of his first game in the NFL impressed me. Then he played every single snap in the second game. It's astounding. Even more astounding than all of his physical attributes is that the game doesn't seem to be too big for him. That's the toughest thing; is the adjustment.
Davis too, has had an amazing season so far. People have been critical of him. But, part of the reason he was not able to develop as quickly as he could have is because he was a glorified tackle. He did a fabulous job in that role. To me, his biggest improvement is his ability to read defenses.
We've seen a huge improvement in his hands; he is not dropping balls like he used to. But many times you will hear a receiver say that they will just beat their guy in man-to-man. You can't always beat guys physically when the defense is in zone coverage. Davis has picked up the ability to find spots to go to against a zone defense. He has learned where to sit down and is on the same page as the quarterback.
That to me is his biggest improvement this year.
I was pleasantly surprised by Barry Sims play last week as well. He's been a starter before and it's a little bit of what we're seeing with Smith. When you're thrust into a starter's position the pressure is building on you week after week. Barry has been a backup for essentially a full season now, and it has given him a different perspective. You have to applaud him because he has continued to work on his craft and get better. That's the mark of a true professional. There are some guys who get cut when they are no longer starters. So many guys don't play the role of going from a starter to a backup. Not only did Barry remain to be a good teammate, but he got better by watching other people do it. He said to himself, the next time I'm going to get an opportunity, I'm going to do it differently. And he has in this situation.
One thing I keep reading about is that Frank Gore only averages 2.8 yards per carry if you take away those few long runs. Well guess what, that's how this league works. Having played defense against Barry Sanders, Marcus Allen, and Emmitt Smith, you would often times be thinking to yourself on defense, "We got him." But then in a critical situation, the guy would bust one for a touchdown. No one would ever look at those three guys and say that they were not successful and only averaged three yards per carry except for their big runs. Most backs in the NFL don't average more than three yards a carry until they bust a big one. That's how it works in the NFL. It's bazaar to me that Frank's lack of production, outside of his big runs, has been the focus.
The writers and reporters, who are talking about this stuff, don't understand the effect that all of the two and three yard runs are having on the defense. It's setting it up for play action pass to be successful. It's softening the defense up. It's slowing down the pass rush. It's keeping their offense off the field.
In my opinion, it's so shortsighted to say that Gore is not having success if you throw out his four runs.
On the other side of the ball, I think Aubrayo Franklin should get his due for the Pro Bowl. Normally to make the Pro Bowl at that position, you have to have back-to-back years like Franklin is having in order to unseat the guy who has been there because it's a popularity contest. Franklin doesn't play in many national games gaining a lot of exposure, but I think he's starting to earn a reputation around the NFL.
Does he deserve it? Absolutely. Should he be considered? Absolutely. He's making tackles in the backfield. He's tying up blockers. He's not a sideline to sideline guy, but he's getting over to make plays on the outside of the tackle box. That's astounding for a nose tackle who has to take on at least the center and another guy prior to getting there.
Tarell Brown will get another start at cornerback this weekend and other than the very first play against the Colts, I think he played well. He's a guy who was being considered for a starting cornerback position in training camp before he got hurt. It has to feel good for him to feel healthy again and to be able to contribute like he was expecting. That's one of the most disappointing things that can happen; to be competing for a starting role then become injured, and pushed to a reserve role. It was a perfect time for Tarell to be placed in to a starting role because of the fact that Nate went down in the same game. Now there is not assumption that he won his job simply because the other guy got hurt.
It should be interesting to see how all of those aspects of this game play out, it figures to be a great game.