Eric Davis spent 13 years in coverage as an NFL cornerback. By joining the 49ers Broadcast Team in 2008, the formers 49ers will embark on a new sort of coverage. Catch up with Davis throughout the season as he gives The Wrap Up of the team's Sunday performances. Below are his thoughts about the 49ers first regular season game against the Arizona Cardinals.**
Much has been written about the offense's lack of rhythm, consistency, and ability to score. The Niners are supposed to win with solid defense and special teams…right? Emphasis has been placed on the offense's ability this year to sustain drives, get first downs, and keep the defense off the field. And, you got the feeling at the start of the game that it was going to go that way, but by the end of the day, I think you could look at this one and say the formula didn't go as planned. The defense couldn't get themselves off the field, special teams made big errors, and the offense didn't get a chance to really show what they could do.
But given the expectations for these three units, it wasn't a huge shock when the Niners offense got off to a slow start against a good Arizona Cardinals defense. A three and out opening drive by the offense followed shortly thereafter by a Zak Keasey fumble was not the way the Niners needed to open the season. However, the defense played solid ball and gave up only a field goal after playing all of its snaps on the first two series of the game on their own side of the 50 yard line. The defense is expected to handle the tough situations in the game. A short field, sudden change or a bad special teams play should not and did not affect the defense at all.
The offense then came back out and put together a scoring drive highlighted by a 41 yard Frank Gore touchdown run. J.T. O'Sullivan looked poised and efficient with his decision making during this drive.
Unfortunately, the next drive came and he did exactly what a young quarterback is going to do. And yes, J.T.O. is, by playing status, a very young QB. There are schemes that he simply hasn't seen or played against, and teams are going to blitz him with 5,6, and sometimes 7 guys until he shows that he can handle the pressure. The offense will have to keep running backs and tight ends in to protect, limiting his options, but J.T.O. has to make the smart choice. An incompletion is not always a bad thing. It's better to throw it away than to throw it to THEM!
Yes, he is scrambling to buy more time. And yes, he is trying to make a play. But experience teaches quarterbacks to not throw back across the field when they are on the run, because bad things like interceptions happen.
J.T.O. will be credited with three turnovers, but two of them belong to his offensive tackles. If the Niners are going to compete in the division J.T.O. MUST play well. In order for him to play well, the offensive line MUST protect, PERIOD. Every time the offense got something going, an assignment was missed or a mistake was made.
Now, don't get me wrong. Every mistake made by the Niners was not simply bad football on their part. The Arizona Cardinals came into Candlestick and out hit them too. Sometimes when you get two evenly matched clubs it comes down to who hits the hardest. Frank Gore and Zak Keasey both have to hold on to the ball, but on both of those plays, a Cardinals' defender SMASHED someone to make it happen
For the first half of the game, the defense was playing as advertised. Kurt Warner did put together one touchdown drive against them, connecting with Larry Fitzgerald for the 1-yard score. But, pressure was there, and plays were being made. The defense was continuing to give the Niners offense a chance and it was a 10-10 game at the half.
Then came their downfall.
The NFL is a league of adjustment. Arizona made some at the half and the Niners seemed to never respond. The defense's inability to give the ball back to the offense in the second half was a problem.
The Cardinals were more physical up front and that allowed Edgerrin James to run downhill and control the clock.
I think you credit Arizona for using the short kickoff to catch the 49ers special teams off guard, but remember, this team needs consistent and solid play from its special teams unit. That turnover led to another Cardinals drive, keeping the defense on the field for eleven minutes.
I was asked if the team was out coached or if there was a lack of effort on the players part. The Niners have a great coaching staff and talented and well prepared players who are always going to play hard. But that only takes you so far. Players HAVE to make plays on game day when their number is called. Kurt Warner, Edgerrin James, and Anquan Boldin answered the bell. No one did when it mattered for the Niners.
With all that being said, there were some bright spots in Sunday's game. Frank Gore ran well. Bryant Johnson and Vernon Davis made some big plays in the passing game. J. T. O'Sullivan looked sharp at times. The defense, though not as effective in the second half, made a strong showing in some adverse situations. They harassed Kurt Warner all day and made things extremely difficult for him. These are all positives to carry up to Seattle, and there were some very good things done in the game. But were they good enough? Did they Win?… Enough said. But, it's only week one.