Third down defense and the redzone in general was back to its ugly self again as the 49ers took on the Saints. In his first start Ken Dorsey was 0/5 to begin the game, and it was not until much later that he began completing passes with any sort of consistency. Near the endzone though, Dorsey was completely lost. His best play in scoring position was an out of bonds touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd, which of course did not count. I have supported Dorsey since he arrived in San Francisco but the way he played today, is not the way a NFL quarterback should play. It took about two and a half quarters to see one pass with zip on the ball, and by that point it just was too much for team.
The running game produced. Kevan Barlow had a 60+ yard scamper that lead to his first of two solid touchdown runs. Following the blocks of Fred Beasley, Jamal Robertson scored the 49ers go ahead points. In fact had it not been for Roberton’s fumble on the 49ers final drive the run game would have had a really solid day. Terry Jackson was also smooth and in control. All this behind a non-existent offensive line.
Curtis Conaway lead the team with receptions and recorded over 100 yards. Two really bad plays though put a damper on his play. He completely telegraphed a run play inside the five that all but ruined any chance Kevan Barlow might have had at scoring, and he spiked the ball after a long completion that resulted in a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Cederick Wilson was inactive with a hamstring injury that apparently was more severe than originally thought. Brandon Lloyd, Arnaz Battle and Rashaun Woods did absolutely nothing – perhaps because Dorsey didn’t have enough time to go beyond his first read. Eric Johnson coughed up the ball in the fourth quarter, but did make a few nice plays. Aaron Walker was completely silent.
The offensive line is one big mess. Kwame Harris looked awful out there, his eventual injury brought some relief to the left tackle spot as Kyle Kosier moved over and Justin Smiley stepped in. This line did not fair much better as Dorsey was continuously pounded, and the run game still was not getting that crucial initial push. Without an improvement from the offensive line the 49ers will be in for a very long season. No quarterback should be expected to play with that type of beating.
Special teams had Jamal Robertson fielding kickoffs. Robertson played at an average level. Arnaz Battle took fewer chances returning punts, and made no significant plays in coverage. Todd Peterson was perfect on field goals, though he did bang one extra point off both field posts. He never had the chance to win the game for the team because of the Robtertson fumble, and later a Ken Dorsey interception. Peterson was short on kickoffs going for direction and playing keep away from the saints. Andy Lee took a roughing the kicker penalty that kept the 49ers go ahead drive a live, but his punting was lackluster.
The 49ers defense would be quite a bit better if the offense could give them a little bit of rest. Even still with no Mike Rumph in the game the 49ers were burned by he pass play after play. Third down defense does not get much uglier than it was today, and Jimmy Williams and Shawntae Spencer still have lots of growing up to do before they can excel at cornerback. Ronnie Heard had an ok performance so long as he was not locked into coverage, and while Tony Parrish delivered a punishing shot he probably had his worst game as a 49ers, being out of position or flat out beat far too often.
The 49ers linebackers of course were the bright spot. Julian Peterson is an animal out there. Still this unit did not force any turnovers, and ultimately that killed the 49ers chances. The 49ers need their linebackers to make plays every time they are on the field. It is no easy task, but the 49ers will not win without it happening.
Considering the state of the defensive line it played surprisingly well. Otis Leverette had a good game and will likely stick around for a while. Anthony Adams was called for a 15 yard face mask, but continues to be a force in the middle. Bryant Young had more speed then I have seen in a while, holding containment very well. John Engelberger forced a fumble and got more pressure than I think I have ever seen out of him. He also dropped an interception that would have sealed victory for the team. Tony Brown had one tipped pass. All in all the defensive line had one of the best showings in years, and if it had a little help from the cornerbacks likely would have had a decent day. The Saints only recorded 46 yards rushing.
The coaching staff still have not won my favor. Dennis Erickson clearly knows how to make half time adjustments, but the team is constantly not prepared to come out fighting. The team is more disciplined this year, but fumbles and penalties in crucial situations remain a problem. Redzone offense and defense play calling has been pitiful and the 49ers 3rd downs on both sides of the ball took a step backwards from last weeks game.
Above all I think I was most disappointed in Ken Dorsey. Yes the offensive line really stunk it up, especially prior to Harris leaving the game. And yes that is likely why Dorsey did not pass to his second, third and fourth reads very often (as we have seen him do in pre-season). But I was expecting a poor performance from the offensive line. From Dorsey, I was expecting more. Mainly it took half a game for him to start zipping the ball in to his target. Until then he was floating the ball over to his receivers and putting them in compromising positions. That has nothing to do with arm strength, because later in the game he did begin to gun them in. It just has to do with know how, and Dorsey did not know how to throw the ball in the NFL to start this game. I do not know the reason for it, but I do know that he played just badly enough for there to be no question as to who starts next week (so long as Rattay is healthy, Rattay will start). Dorsey on the other hand, is calm and collected, he knows the plays, but he is not ready for the NFL yet. More play time will certainly help speed up the learning curve, and all is not lost – after all, despite throwing an interception to end the game, he kept fighting back and move the team efficiently down the field with under a minute to go in the game. Bad luck forced lost this game for Dorsey, but he should never have floated that last pass out, it should have been gunned out of bounds. For whatever reason, Dorsey was not ready for the NFL, age, experience, coaching? Who knows. What I do know is that he grew up at the end of that game, he will be better because of the game, and we may see a stronger Dorsey not to far in the future. I was expecting more from his first game though, and so I remain disappointed.