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 49ers loss to Seattle and shares his thoughts on what needs to happen to get things turned.
For the second week in a row, we didn't get the win. It just didn't go right. This was really a game where things did not go well, particularly on offense.
Obviously the early injury to Alex Smith really changed the dynamics of this game right away for the 49ers. I don't think Seattle's defense changed one bit based on the change in quarterback though. They were going to do what they were going to do no matter who the quarterback was. Unfortunately, Trent Dilfer had to go in there early and try to run a gameplan that he didn't get that much time to prepare for during the week in terms of reps with that unit. It just seemed that the offense was off balanced from the very beginning.
The game plan was geared for Alex and some of the things that are his strengths, are not necessarily the same things that would fit Trent. So that, on top of the penalties and the turnovers just made it impossible to get much of anything going.
I think it's pretty obvious that defenses are just going to continue in sending a lot of pressure. The 49ers offense has yet to prove they can handle it or exploit it and until they do, defenses are going to just continue to send a lot of pressure. Right now defenses are not respecting the 49ers passing attack and until the 49ers show they can do something, it is just going to make it that much tougher for Frank Gore to get any yards.
When I graded the offensive line going into the season I thought they were a better and improved group over last year. You've got the rookie in there at right tackle in Joe Staley, but I think he's showed that he's ready for prime time. He's the only change and he's not the guy slowing them down. I think this offensive line should be a good one but they just haven't been able to establish the run game at all. They've struggled in the pass protection too, although that's not just the offensive line. With the amount of pressure that teams have brought against this offense, that protection falls to other guys like the backs and tight ends as well. Everybody has to protect when teams are bringing everything at you but the kitchen sink.
I can't really put my finger on why we are having so many problems offensively. I don't know what it is other than defenses have seen Frank Gore and they know what to expect. He had a phenomenal year last year and he's not going to surprise anyone with his ability anymore. They know he's the key guy and they have a sense for the scheme. I still think the run game will come. I don't think there is anything different about Frank, but I think the passing game has to loosen things up for everyone. Alex or Trent and the wide receivers have to establish that they can beat some people in man-to-man coverage.
Once you get that passing game going somewhat you can say, oh by the way we've got an almost 1,600 yard rusher in the backfield and you'll start to pop open those big runs, but until you loosen up that box, you are in trouble. You can't just run in this league. You've got to have the ability to mix it up and especially when defenses are pressuring the box like they are against the 49ers.
Heading into a game, you usually feel good about your plays, but it's a matter of execution and I think that's what this team has to take a look at. Are they having too many breakdowns in a situation or is it just not the right play for that situation? It tends to be a combination of execution, breakdown and selection. The strategy is to look at that defense and see where there is a weakness or where you can create a weakness. Some defenses don't have a weakness, so you have to create some. I think that's where the evaluation is for the 49ers. You go back to that opening drive against Pittsburgh and look at those plays that allowed the 49ers to drive the field. They mixed it up, and they kept the defense on its heels to some degree so they couldn't tee off. Right now defenses are feeling confident that they can get in the box, put pressure on the 49ers and hold them in check. Something has to happen to alleviate that pressure, and I think it has to happen in the passing game – whether that's shorter passes or hitting some deep balls.
Defensively for the 49ers, I think the first several possessions they were all over it and doing everything you have to do to keep you in a ball game. A lot of guys made plays. It's exciting to watch the defensive line make plays, and the secondary make the quarterbacks hold on to the football. It's always tough, because yes they have the job of keeping the game close no matter what that means or what the offense is doing, but that is a tough task for a defense when you are on the field that much with your backs against the wall that many times. When you give up points that hole just gets bigger for the offense to climb out of, but it goes hand in hand. When the offense can get some points on the board it gives the defense more flexibility of what they can do and how they bring their pressure.
The one play that hurt was the 65-yard throw to Deion Branch with Nate Clements in coverage. I think Nate has had a great year. He's come in and established himself and shown why they went after him. He's not just wanting to be the best cover corner, but the best complete corner and he comes up very aggressive on the line. But, even your best corners get beat. The double move is one you've got to be patient on. You can't play for it every play, but you have to be ready for it and that time Seattle did a nice job with it and put a ball out there that made sense. What I like about Nate is that he came back and kept playing and made plays after that. He got an interception later and that's what I'm looking at because you get beat in this league. It's just all about how you respond, and he responded.
I think overall the defense is doing a great job, especially early on in games of keeping it close, keeping the 49ers in it and giving the offense opportunities. Your defense has to be complete, but I think the 49ers defense is in a tough spot right now where they are not getting much help from their offense.
I think having the ability to go 4-3 and 3-4 like they did against Seattle just shows the flexibility of the defense, the talent and the depth that they have. Being able to go back and forth like that depends a lot on your linebackers crew and your defensive line. When you can play four man linemen in nickel situations even on first down, it gives the defense a lot more weapons and keeps an offense off-balance. If you've got the talent to do that and the kind of guys who can move and out of those different schemes and be effective, it is a big plus for the defense. The 49ers showed that they could plan the run or pass just as effectively with that package. I'm sure some of that has to do with the loss of Manny Lawson. Hannibal Navies has come in and done a nice job, but he might be a different fit in this defense, so I think the coaches are really just putting guys in positions to best utilize their talents.
That onside kick after the half was a gutsy call. They had great execution by Joe Nedney and that coverage team. It was a huge lift because it's an opportunity to have a short field and to get back into the ballgame. However, Trent gets picked on the next play and it just took all the wind out of those sails.
Keith Lewis got another big play earlier in the game when he deflected that punt. He's from the school of Ronnie Lott in terms of his hitting ability and I like the way he plays out there on all of the special teams units. I don't know if that one was a call block or if he just got in there, but it created another opportunity for the offense.
That's what the special teams and defense has to keep doing, giving that offense as many chances as it can so that it can get on track as it would like.
Trent is going to have to take over now, and the game plan will be built around his strengths. He'll get all week to work with the first team, and he's playing a team he's somewhat familiar with after taking that team to a Super Bowl. He knows the mindset of that defense and how they play so he knows this opponent pretty well. Trent knows it's important that he can establish some short and intermediate blows against this defense to give the running game a chance. I think that will be the difference in terms of how successful the offense will be because until the 49ers offense can establish the ability of taking advantage of a defense, they will see pressure, and they will see a lot of it.
With this one last game before the bye, I think this team could really help itself by getting back on track with a W.