Normally I finish my post game report with an analysis of the coaching staff. Today I think I am going to start in that area, with Dennis Erickson. Week after week I simply cannot understand why Erickson cannot get this team disciplined and prepared to play football. Two fumbles, four interceptions, seven penalties, and it all ads up to an ugly performance. Week after week people argue against my position that Erickson has to be responsible to keep turnovers and penalties down. They believe that ultimately this should be the player’s responsibility. Week after week this remains a problem though. Players are not disciplined for these errors; the coaches appear complacent when these happen rather than irate. Players that turnover the ball are rarely benched, and for some reason the players that commit these turnovers often repeat the same mistake more than once. This points to a coaching problem. If players are not learning from their mistakes it means something is not being taught to them properly. The coaches simply do not prepare this team well enough.
As I go ‘hard’ against the coaches, I do have to make an exception. I think our defensive coordinator deserves some kudos. He has gotten the defense to buckle down on third downs which is a problem the team has had over the past few seasons. That being said, giving up 358 yards, even with a banged up defense is simply inexcusable. One thing that I found was extremely interesting was that the 49ers dominated the time of possession battle by 13 minutes and still lost. This is highly uncommon in football, and does illustrate the problems with not being able to run the ball in the second half of the game.
I think I have seen enough of Quarterback Tim Rattay for now. Rattay was responsible for 5 turnovers all on his own. Some of these interceptions were repeated mistakes from earlier or from throughout his season. If Rattay cannot learn from his mistakes, and from what I have seen so far, he cannot, than the team should begin searching for a new quarterback. That search should begin on the roster. Rattay consistently delivers the ball late, way too late to his receivers. This makes it harder to make plays after the catch, and gives cornerbacks the opportunity to break on the ball, leading to interceptions. Receivers should not have to wait for the ball to ‘get there’ in the NFL. Week after week that is a problem with Tim Rattay. I really have seen enough. No more excuses about the offensive line, he simply is not a winning NFL quarterback.
Kevan Barlow had his best first half of the season, and he still averaged less than 4 yards a carry. Beasley and the offensive line picked up there games in the blocking, but Barlow still could not get it done. When he lost it completely in the second half, he also lost his composure and took a very dumb penalty. Barlow finished the day, averaging 2.2 yards a carry. Meanwhile, Maurice Hicks averaged 5.8 yards a carry and looked explosive in the backfield. This kid needs to be given more play time. It really is that simple.
Eric Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, and Cederick Wilson all had big days. They combined for 16 receptions and Lloyd had a few beautiful receptions. But where was Rashaun Woods? Woods needs to get involved in the game. He should be part of the team’s future and yet has been silent all season. Meanwhile, in a likelihood either Wilson or Conaway will not be with the team next year, and yet they both see a ton of playtime. I am not trying to take anything away from Wilson or Conaway. I think both are hard workers and have done well with the team this year. I am however looking further down the road. Get Arnaz Battle on the field too. The guy just makes plays and needs to be involved in the offense.
I saw improvement from the offensive line this week, and from Kwame Harris. No this group did not ‘excel’ but it certainly did improve. This is important because it provides a more clear understanding of the problems the team has at quarterback and at running back. With any luck the offensive line will continue to improve over the remaining seven games.
Special teams had uneventful day. Arnaz Battle excelled as he normally does. Peterson did his job ok, as did Lee. Coverage units could have improved a little bit. But overall this group is on track.
The 49ers defense started off quite well. They allowed the offense to jump out to a lead. As soon as the Panthers realized they could throw against this team, that was lacking its top four cornerbacks, this game was over. It really was that simple. The defensive line played decently. The linebackers played decently. But the defensive backfield was a mess, and well anyone could have predicted that. The defensive line was back at full strength, at least with all four starters present, and they played well, but not amazingly. Jamie Winborn lead the linebacking group with another solid performance, but again it came down to the defensive backs. While Heard and Parish had decent days, the 49ers fifth string and lower corners simply could not hold their own. The result was a Panther team that could score, and score quickly.
The silver lining… with the loss the 49ers are one step close to securing the first overall draft pick next season. Then again, I remain unconvinced that the team will be able to use that pick successfully to improve this team. Unfortunately, the future looks bleak right now.