The truth is, it may be a non-decision. Had Dorsey been able to sustain the pummeling, and survive the first game of the season, and play as he was, moving the team efficiently (in all areas but the redzone), well then, he should be starting this week. That was not the case though as his injury re-opened the door for starter Tim Rattay. Make no mistake about it, Rattay played just well enough in his second outing to remain the team’s starter for the game against the New Orleans Saints. But the impression I am left with from just one game is that there is nothing Rattay can do better than Dorsey at this point.
Is starting Rattay the right decision though? The team was very slow to start, and part of that was Rattay's fault, a big part. The other big part was the offensive line, that gave no protection to either quarterback. Dorsey somehow managed to make the throws in the face of pressure, but Rattay - much like in his starts last season - simply could not get it done with pressure in his face. Starting Rattay again is the right decision though, and he should be given the opportunity so long as their is question about the offensive line. No quarterback should have been expected to perform under the battering that Rattay and Dorsey suffered though, so I do not mind giving Rattay another opportunity, or two or three. But, if he continues to be stifled by pressure, or start slowly, despite an average or better performance by the offensive line, then the team should give Dorsey a serious look. Does that make sense? I believe that Dorsey can do everything better than Rattay, but I have only seen one game. Maybe Rattay has something in him, or maybe Dorsey does, that we have not seen yet. Before the beginning of the season I stressed that whoever gets that start at quarterback needs to be given a real chance to either win the position outright or lose it. Based on the play from game one, Rattay better pick up his game quickly, because Dorsey appears to be the better quarterback at this time – even with Rattay seeing the majority of snaps in practice the week before. One thing is for sure though, both men need work on their redzone decision making, and efficiency.
The story of the day though was simply the poor performance of the offensive line. The run game and the pass game suffered tremendously by the 'naked' blitz wrecked the 49ers, the team just did not have a chance to defend it, but even against a four man front, the 49ers were not able to fend off the pressure. Aaron Walker against a defensive end is a huge mismatch, and I am completely in shock as to how the coaching staff let that happen. Jason Isom was not the reason for the poor running by Kevan Barlow though. Isom consistently hit his blocks… Barlow on the other hand needs to be even quicker at getting on his blocks. The offensive line as a hole needs to be held accountable for the pummeling that the quarterbacks suffered through. The line no longer has a Jeff Garcia or Steve Young back there to make them look good. If they cannot step up and provide some real protection for the quarterbacks the 49ers cannot expect to win this season. It really is that simple. Cutting Derrick Deese and Ron Stone are beginning to look like premature moves based on the lack of pass and run blocking we have seen.
Kevan Barlow’s performance was nothing to write home about either. Barlow fumbled the ball on his first carry of the season, emphasizing the problem that we were all aware about last season. His performance otherwise was nothing to write home about either. In fact, running back Terry Jackson looked better between the tackles. Missing Fred Beasley at fullback was not the reason either, as Jason Isom consistently hit his blocks.
Despite the inefficiencies at quarterback the receiving squad made the best out of a tough situation. Eric Johnson literally was the 49ers comeback drive, making terrific catches over the middle while wearing a cast on his hand. Cederick Wilson might be small, but he catches every ball thrown his way, even when taking hard shots. Brandon Lloyd was rather quiet, but came ever so close to making a few dazzling catches on some poorly thrown balls. One Lloyd missed touchdown opportunity was intercepted well before the ball got there, the other missed touchdown opportunity was on a fade pass which was over thrown. Lloyd got his hands on the pass, but the ball was knocked away by former 49ers cornerback Jason Webster. This group of receivers looks like they can get the job done, but in order to do that the quarterbacks will have to be able to get them the ball. For that to happen the offensive linemen need to protect, and the running game needs a far better start.
Special teams were mildly surprising. A few high snaps by Brian Jennings were handled well by Andy Lee, who pinned the ball down for Peterson. Lee had the best punting day in recent 49ers memory, missing just one of six (it only went 19 yards). Meanwhile Peterson continues to be accurate on his field goals and extra points, and showed a surprisingly strong leg on kickoffs. Arnaz Battle is an awesome talent on the kick and punt coverage units. He is however a little too daring in his own returns. Keith Lewis did an exceptional job blocking a punt, and almost intercepted a ball on defense.
The defense held the falcons to 21 points, that is a pretty solid outing against any team in this league and should be enough especially when of them come on a very short field. In the second half of the game, the defense really shut it down. Third down defense was a huge improvement, the Falcons only converted 1 out of 11 attempts. Clearly the redzone still needs some work though. This unit did surprisingly well considering the amount of time they were on the field, particularly in the first two quarters. The defense forced three turnovers, but the 49ers offense was unable to capitalize enough on these opportunities. Very little 3-4 defense was seen and that is not too surprising to me considering what I saw at training camp. The 49ers simply do not have a big enough, strong enough, healthy enough body to play nose tackle, and I think that was quite evident.
The defensive line remains a concern for me. Anthony Adams brought his “A” game, and consistently got penetration and helped stuffing the run game too. He tipped a ball that led to Jeff Ulbrich’s interception. The line did an exceptional job working with the linebackers to defend the run and Michael Vicks wild tendencies. Andre Carter finally looks like he can turn the corner and get to the quarterback, but the 49ers only sacks continue to come from linebackers and cornerbacks. John Engelberger was nowhere to be found in this game. Bryant Young still has enough speed to stop running backs from cutting up field when going outside. He can pull across the entire field. Not surprisingly the depth players on the defensive line made very little noise.
Julian Peterson working with Jamie Winborn is a thing of beauty. The two were awesome together, and Peterson recorded to forced fumbles, a batted down pass, and Winborn had a sack. Jeff Ulbrich picked up an interception, and Derek Smith lead the team with 11 tackles. This group of players is the heart and sole of the 49ers defense. There speed in holding containment and running down Michael Vick was obvious.
The defensive backfield held Vick to 163 yards passing and one touchdown, a poor performance for most quarterbacks in the league. Ahmed Plummer might be worth the millions he got this off-season if he continues to break up passes as he did in this game. Mike Rumph left the game early with an injury, he is doubtful for this weekends game. Jimmy Williams stepped in admirably and so did Shawntae Spencer. The 49ers might finally have a group of cornerbacks capable of playing in the NFL. Now if they could all stay healthy…. At safety Tony Parrish made a critical error on an open field tackle that lead to the touchdown. Parrish was quick to accept responsibility for the mistake, and I have a feeling it will not be happening again. Ronnie Heard looked good enough at free safety, getting to the ball quite quickly.
Evaluating the coaching staff remains fairly unimpressive, at least on offense. While the defensive performance was quite good, the coaches were unable to establish a scheme to keep running back Warrick Dunn out of the endzone. Other than that it was a fairly good job by the defense. The offense on the other hand was slow to start, and showed some very poor play calls, including two wide receiver screens. This team was not prepared for the first half of football, and there might be some errors in ranking the depth charts too. The 49ers had ten penalties, not for a whole lot of yardage, but often in critical situations, that amount of penalties, two turnovers, do not add up to a disciplined and prepared football team. I am quite happy with the improvement in third down defense, but on the other hand the redzone on both sides of the ball are big problems. I remain unconvinced that Dennis Erickson is a legitimate NFL head coach, and I really hope I can be convinced in the next game against the Saints.