Catch up with former 49ers cornerback Eric Davis each week as he recaps Sunday's game. In this latest column, Davis praises the efforts of all three phases in the win over the Lions.
Things are starting to get exciting offensively. The 49ers offense showed how effective it can be when it carries out assignments, blocks, and protects the ball. They came out of the locker room in full "attack" mode and the Detroit Lions could do absolutely nothing to stop them.
That fact was never more evident than on the 49ers third scoring drive. The offense, led by JT O'Sullivan, sliced through the Detroit defense in a manner that couldn't help but stir up the memories of prolific 49ers offenses of the past. The first play – a deep ball to Vernon Davis, and a defensive holding call. They take the penalty and the next play was a deep crossing route to Bryant Johnson for a first down. JTO takes the next snap and throws a deep in route to Josh Morgan - first down. The next play is a perfectly thrown seam route to Delanie Walker to the end zone for a touchdown. On any of those first downs the offense could have run a more conservative play. Instead, Mike Martz created match-up problems, utilized four different receivers, and simply got after the Lions. That's what this offense is capable of when the protection is there and when the guy are working in sync. It was impressive.
After last week's game in Seattle, it was painfully obvious that the offensive line needed to do a better job in pass protection. It was one of my, and will remain to be for a few weeks longer, major concerns going into the game. The offensive line performed well. Reports have suggested that the Lions played a "read and react" defensive scheme. That may be true, however, the Lions did run rush zones and used blitz packages to try and get pressure. They couldn't get to the quarter back. Let's give credit to the players blocking and not to the lack of pass rushers by Detroit. The offensive line played well. When more protection was needed, running backs and tight ends stayed in to help protect. The Detroit Lions' pass rush was essentially negated using the extra blockers.
One of those extra blockers was Frank Gore. I've really been impressed with the way he has been picking up the blitzes. Frank is going to get his yards on the ground and through the air. However, for the 49ers offense to have the type of productivity it's had the last two games they also need Gore to protect his quarterback's blind side from time to time. Blocking seems to be one more thing Frank does well.
With a significant 21-3 lead starting the third quarter, the 49ers decided to play strong ball. The offensive line continued to grind and root players out at the line of scrimmage allowing Frank to do his thing. He ran hard finding lanes- creating lanes at times- and the offense controlled the clock. The offensive line and Frank Gore displayed an ability that Coach Martz has been criticized for not having. They RAN the ball and controlled the time of possession.
On 4th and 1, I can't help but wonder what Coach Nolan was thinking. Did he want to please the crowd or did he simply think it was close enough to go for? Whatever the case, I was completely with Coach on this one, even though I know if they kick the field goal the 49ers go up by 18 and have a three score lead. Football is an emotional game. Sometimes you have to go with the "feel" of the situation. During that particular drive the 49ers had been extremely successful running the ball. Coach Nolan had to believe his offense could gain a few more inches. He also had to believe that his defense would continue to perform at the level they had shown all day. A 99-yard touchdown drive by Detroit was improbable. Why not go for it? Good call Coach.
Deep balls were thrown to Vernon Davis several times on Sunday. It always smart to stretch the field when you have a player with his type of speed. A secondary has no choice but to cover the route, opening up the underneath passing lanes. Combine this with a running game led by Gore, and an offensive coordinator and his quarterback have the full run of the playbook. Vernon does have to start CATCHING them or it won't matter. Still, just throwing it creates problems for a defense and forces it to cover "side to side" and "top to bottom".
Delanie Walker is also very capable, as he showed on his touchdown reception on Sunday, of getting behind a defense. The tight end position should become a match-up problem and a big play position for the offense. More and more balls are going to be thrown to that position. And to which guy? The one who CATCHES the ball of course.
I was concerned defensively by the absence of Shawntae Spencer. The 49ers secondary is solid and Shawntae is a big part of that. There's always concern when a player goes down. The concern is even greater when it's a DB. The Lions have great receivers and a pro-bowl quarterback. Tarell Brown not only maintained the level of play expected, but made some plays of his own. The secondary did a tremendous job taking away the Lions passing game, highlighted by Brown's interception.
As a whole, the defense played as though it was tired of not reaching a certain standard. Justin Smith set the tone early with his sack and caused fumble. Defensively, the 49ers flew around playing the type of physical, smart football that should be expected from that unit.
Special teams were a plus this week. For the first time all season they didn't do anything to impact the team negatively. Joe Nedney did have a field goal miss. Normally I'm not kind to kickers, but he's allowed from that distance. He'll make up for it- his track record says so. The coverage units were solid. They created poor field position for the Lions at the beginning of the game allowing the 49ers offense to work with a short field and get an early score.
Arnaz Battle once again showed why he is on the team. Most players would have simply fielded the onside kick attempt and felt as though they had done their job - and they would be correct. Arnaz saw a chance to make a BIG play and tried to take one to the house.
For the team to play well, JTO has to play well. For him to play well, they just have to protect him. When given time, he puts the ball where it's supposed to be. He has a quick release and he plays with a lot of confidence. He knows where he wants to deliver the ball and he has this cocky thing that you want your quarterback to have. He's creating plays back there, and it's been a while since the 49ers have had this kind of playmaker at the position. On the touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce, he ran around, bought time, and still went through his reads. He knows he has teammates at the skill positions who can make plays, and he seems to have a determination to get the ball to them no matter what.
Bottom line, the 49ers looked good. I know they played the Detroit Lions. They also disposed of them exactly the way they were supposed to do. It was vintage Niners football if you asked me. The "O" took the field KNOWING it would score. The "D" took the field expecting to give up NOTHING. Once a lead had been established, the secondary looked to make plays and the d-line went on a quarterback hunt. Detroit had the option of getting beat up in the passing attack, or to simply run the ball to keep the clock moving, hoping to minimize the pain.
Vintage 49ers football. That was fun to watch.