Former 49ers linebacker Keena Turner, a four-time Super Bowl Champion, understands what's going out on the turf better than most which is what he'll try to share with you in Turner's Turf. In this week's column, Turner reviews the low scoring loss to the Ravens and discusses the bye week.
Let's start with the defense this week. This was a game that really went just as the 49ers coaching staff thought it would go – a low scoring, tough, in the trenches football. Both defenses really showed that they are both worthy, but unfortunately the 49ers were not able to pull out the win.
I think Trent Dilfer showed that after a week of practice and with a game plan built around his strengths, that he still has some gas in the tank.
The one drive that obviously stands out was the 49ers only scoring drive of the game. On the huge play down the field to Bryan Gilmore, two great things happened on that play. The first was Trent sitting back there in the pocket, seeing the rush and knowing he was going to get hit but still waiting long enough to put up a ball that Gilmore could go make a play on. The second was that Gilmore made the play. He really stretched out and made a finger tip grab for a big gain and a huge catch. That's the NFL, that's a pro caliber play by both the quarterback and the wide receiver.
I was a big fan of the move last week to bring Gilmore back. I felt like when I watched him in games in the past he was making tough catches, going up in the air and exposing his body and coming down with the grab. I liked the move, and I liked what he did out there.
Finishing that drive off with the touchdown throw to Arnaz Battle on the next play, that's how it should look. Trent got nice protection and threw one between three defenders on a rope to get the touchdown and they made it look easy. That's what you want to see out of your offense. I also liked the enthusiasm and excitement Dilfer showed after the play and that drive. You could tell that he was mentally into that ballgame and dead set on making something happen.
The other thing that stood out on offense was the offensive line. They showed improvement this week. I thought Adam Snyder stepped in at left tackle and played well. He did give up a sack, but I think as a unit it was a better performance from the week before against Seattle. They looked more in sync. You have to eliminate mental mistakes like penalties and they did that in this game. Physical mistakes happen in this game, but the mental side of things is something you have to be on top of consistently in this league in order to have any real success.
Dilfer led this team into Ravens territory there at the end of the game on what was really the 49ers second best drive of the game, and a chance to take their first lead. The strategy down there was to not necessarily rely on Trent's arm at that point, and was probably the right strategy to take by running it on 3rd and 9. It just didn't work. I think they felt they could catch the defense on their heels and sneak Frank Gore up the middle to get closer to the field goal, but that Baltimore defense was ready. It was a very short gain and it left a long kick for Joe Nedney, not out of his range, but definitely a big kick and a long distance. The 49ers came up short, but I think their strategy and approach to the game was right on the money. I think Mike Nolan knew his former team and what they were capable of, and he also knew his defense could keep it tight.
In the end, the offense just didn't do enough. Six first downs in the entire ballgame is a problem, and that translates to time of possession in favor of the Ravens and that translates to Baltimore having 76 snaps on offense compared to just slightly over 40, I believe, for the 49ers offense. That means you are not keeping drives alive and you are not helping your defense.
Despite the discrepancy in stats, it was still a very close ame, and I think that is a credit to a solid job by the 49ers special teams unit and by the defense.
The defense definitely gets a game ball from me. I like the leadership of the defense – guys like Bryant Young and Marques Douglas and Nate Clements out there have really set the tone. These guys are leaders and then you've got all these other guys stepping up and making plays.
Joe Staley continues to impress me and what I like about the kid is how he finds a way to be involved every week, whether that's in his pass coverage or run plays. He's getting 10-12 tackles a game and is really active. The 49ers also have that in Derek Smith, who throughout his whole career has also found a way to be around the ball and be involved in plays. That's what you want from your linebackers. You put a talented guy like Patrick who has that attitude and will to be around the ball, and you've got yourself a football player. He's a young player who has stepped in and really hasn't missed a beat in his development or what he's been able to contribute to this defense.
I also like the comments of the defense after the game. They hold the Ravens to nine points and still lose, and their mindset is, "well then we should have held them to six." No matter what is going on offense, these guys keep playing. I see different guys every week making plays – Michael Lewis, Hannibal Navies, Tully Banta-Cain. There are a bunch of guys coming up with plays week in and week out. This is a scrappy, bite you defense and they are a unit that has confidence that they can make plays.
I add Andy Lee to the defense because when he puts 70 yard punts up there, that's giving that opposing offense that much real estate they have to make up. Andy has done a phenomenal job for the defense all year long. I can't think of a better punter in the league, and he's playing with a lot of confidence right now. He starts the series off for the defense and he's been a huge advantage all year.
For the 49ers, the bye comes at a pretty good time. It gives the defense a chance to rest, and the offense could use the time to make some adjustments.
In this business, you are going to have your doubters – those outsiders looking in who think they have all the answers and who are right now calling for changes at coordinator. But you look around the league and week in and week out, and there are coordinators who look bad on certain weeks. I think where guys earn their reputations in this league is by how they come back and make adjustments. It's a matter of fighting through the tough times, and creating opportunities to win ballgames. It's not whether you put a good or bad game plan together, it's how you make your adjustments to take advantage of your talents and your team.
This is a chance to really delve into the offense and what needs to be tweaked. It's a chance to look at your personnel and really examine what you can do to fix things. For the 49ers I think it came at a great time to assess as many things as possible on the offense. I know Coach wants to look at different guys in different situations. Ashley Lelie will probably get a long look and an opportunity. He's a seasoned guy, he's a guy who has done it, and so now he gets an extended look and a chance to give that receiving group a spark. I think the 49ers will take a look at the offensive line and evaluate the line from a personnel, technique and style standpoint to see how they can create more cohesion.
It's just a great opportunity to take a look at all of those things, and in listening to Coach, everything is on the table and that's how it should be when you are still trying to get it to work.
The bye week is a great chance to give guys a chance to heal up and rest up. It's less of a physical week and more of a mental week, and it also buys you an extra week to get guys back who are banged up, like an Alex Smith or a Vernon Davis.
I know fans are disappointed where this team is at and after three losses, that is understanding. However, if you look around the league, there are a lot of good teams that have struggled. You look at San Diego, and they just finally had a breakout game. The same goes for Chicago with that win over Green Bay. Those teams were expected to be high caliber playoff contenders but they had not been able to really hit their stride like they were doing last season. It's a long season, and there is time for this 49ers team to get things turned and we'll see what happens after the bye.