Catch up with former 49ers cornerback Eric Davis each week as he recaps Sunday's game. In this latest column, Davis gives his perspective of the good and bad from the 49ers loss to the Eagles.**
The 49ers had their chances. The defense came out tight. The first play of the game was a dropped pass by DeSean Jackson, but Nate Clements came up and absolutely dropped the guy. It was an aggressive three and out stance. The offenses took the field after a 45 yard punt return by Allen Rossum, starting with excellent field position at the 12-yardline. They immediately began to move in the wrong direction and had to "SETTLE" for a 30 yard Joe Nedney field goal. We all like to see Joe do his job, but YOU'VE GOT TO SCORE A TOUCHDOWN. Getting all three phases of the team in sync has been a problem all season long and it continued against the Eagles.
It was disappointing because the Niners were not able to find a way to win the game. Everyone is frustrated because you can see that the talent is there. We all expect wins from this squad. But, you can't win a game when you play three and a half quarters. You have to play four quarters of consistently high level competitive football. The 49ers are not doing that.
Fans are jumping off the JTO bandwagon, but he is the best quarterback on the team. This is his first year on the field and there are things that he simply has not seen. I have said all along, we are going to have to take the good with the bad on this guy. Everyone loves the long drives, the nice throws, and him getting the ball to the playmakers. That's the good.
The bad is that he does not have the game experience. Experience teaches you that you are not just playing against the guys on the field. You are playing against a coordinator too. The last interception he threw was a perfect example of that. The coordinator got in his head on that one. Earlier in the game, JTO was hitting Arnaz Battle in the slot on hot reads. The Eagles blitzed and JT read it and threw darts to his slot receiver for a big gains.
But then, fourth quarter, crunch time, pressure is on and you have to make a play. What happens?
The Eagles coordinator made an adjustment. He gave JTO the exact same blitz look. Philadelphia stacked the box as though they were coming, but they only rushed four. They disguised what they were doing and had JTO seeing ghosts. He threw directly to a player dropping into a zone that he thought was void. The more experienced player in Arnaz did not cut off his route because he correctly read the coverage and continued running. The more experience JTO gets, the more the game will slow down for him. He's making mistakes, and he's going to make those, but I think he's the only quarterback capable of making the big throws and the big plays. And, with the amount of points this offense has put up, it still should be enough to win.
The offensive line gave Frank room to do what he does best. Twenty-one ran down hill HARD making it difficult for the Eagles to attack the quarterback the way they love to. The play selection, formation shifts, and use of personnel complicated things for the Eagles. Combine that with the fact that so many different players got touches early in the game, it had to be difficult for Philadelphia to key on a particular player or personnel grouping. Even when they fell behind on the scoreboard, the offenses continued to play with confidence. JTO maintained his swagger and the offenses moved the ball. The O-line protected and JT made good decisions. Oh, did I mention Vernon Davis CAUGHT the ball.
Vernon has played well in the run game. He is a big part of the blocking scheme that creates running lanes for Frank Gore. No defensive end in the NFL should be blocked one -on-one by a tight end. Vernon does not only block defensive ends, he makes it look easy. Still, expectation levels are high for him. Getting behind a defense is not unfamiliar territory for Vernon. Getting open in his route running is not anything new, but this week he also caught the ball and used his athletic ability afterwards to make a big play. Everyone knows he's a great athlete, that doesn't make him a great receiver. He has to work on it, concentrate on it, and catch the ball. Sunday he did a great job in all phases of his game.
The defense has to do a better job. They have to stop allowing so many points to be scored on them. Interceptions returned against the offense for touchdowns should not be their concern. They can not concern themselves with long returns given up by the special teams units either. They have to concentrate on what they can control. Hold teams to field goals when there is a turnover or a long return against the 49ers. Do not give up touchdowns.
THEY are responsible for the balls that have been thrown over the top of the defense. THEY have to tackle better, and not allow the teams to continue to grind on them with the run. There is too much talent on that unit for them to play the way they are playing. A couple of big plays can kill your rankings so I'm not concerned with where the 49ers are ranked defensively, as opposed to just how they are performing on Sundays. They have the talent. It is just a matter of getting the guys in position to utilize their talents.
There were bright spots. The 49ers made big plays in all phases of the game. Allen Rossum had the big return. Ray McDonald powered through Philadelphia's line to block a David Akers 54 yard field goal attempt that was returned for a touchdown by Donald Strickland. It was an enormous play going into the half. Takeo Spikes continued his productive play on Sunday. He's a solid veteran player and I think he is a good influence on Joe Staley. He is on the field making plays and walking the walk. That's three games in a row now where he's gotten an interception, which is impressive.
After the Takeo Spikes pick, the 49ers offense went three and out on three incomplete passes. In less than a minute the defense was back on the field. The play selection has to be put on the coaching staff. JTO is not calling his own plays. I'm not one for putting blame on coaches; I still think players on the field making plays is what wins or loses games. Players on the field have to get it done; sometimes in spite of what the coach has called. The coaches can't get it done for you. But, when Frank Gore is averaging 5.2 yards a touch in the game, you've got to get the ball in his hands. He is a true star. Give him a chance to show it. I understand you can't just line up and hand it to him every single play, but it makes sense to give him as many touches as possibly in as crucial a time of the game as it was. Frank is going to do something positive if given enough opportunities and you have to use him to control the clock. That is a coaching decision, and coaching decisions are now going to be questioned more and more.
Of course, it is always easy to second guess on Monday morning, but the field goal challenge NEVER should have happened. That WASTED time out would have been useful later in the game.
There is more to being a coach than just being a teacher. You've got to put players in the right situation so that they can excel and show their talents. You also have to be able to manage the game and make the right moves in the chess match. There are some questions as to whether or not the right moves are being made right now. It is the job of a head coach and his staff to manage all of those aspects of a team and get all three units in sync and playing well. There is enough talent there to have more wins and that is the frustration that every Niners fan is feeling right now. There was a point in the not so distant past where you knew that the talent was not in the locker room. That is not the case right now. The coaching staff has to find a way to get the players to perform more consistently. They have dug themselves into a bit of a hole and they are going to have to work hard to dig themselves out.
Good news, the division is still winnable.