The truth of the matter is that before getting pounded by one of the worst teams in the league, the 49ers jumped out to a quick and big lead, 14-0 against the Cardinals. Two defensive touchdowns thanks to big plays from Bryant Young, Corey Smith, Brandon Moore, Derrick Smith, Travis Hall and Derrick Johnson. In fact, despite the injuries, and despite the defensive backfield leaving receivers wide open, the 49ers were off to a really strong defensive start. But as per the norm this year, the 49ers offense could not stay on the field so the defense tired quickly – the elevation of Mexico City only compounded this problem.
Anthony Clement absolutely stunk up the place at left tackle. Stepping in for Jennings, Clement was repeatedly exposed and Tim Rattay continuously hammered; and despite Fred Beasley being the best blocking back on the team (even if he is not in his prime), Nolan’s stubbornness kept Beasley from seeing maximum action. This compounded the Clement problem and hindered the running game too.
Despite the incompetence of the offense, the defense kept the team in it as long as they could. In fact it was not until the fourth quarter that the team really were out of contention to win this game. Much of that defensive performance can be attributed to the front seven, where even Andre Carter showed up to make a play this week. Travis Hall also emerged as a player. Of course, to keep things in perspective, we do have to remember this defensive performance came against an awful Arizona team.
It became clear quite early that Tim Rattay is still not the quarterback for this team. He continued to throw the ball in the wrong place to his receivers, his week arm was seen again, and so was his poor decision making. Eventually Rattay was relieved by Alex Smith, but the game was over by then. The best thing that came out of this game was that Smith has supplanted Rattay as the starter. I continue to content that Smith should have been starting from week one. I do not know if he gives the team a better chance to win or not, but he certainly cannot be any worse than Rattay, and at the very least he can learn from some valuable play time. The 49ers will have to find a way to protect him, and that should mean Fred Beasley and Terry Jackson see the field a little more. It should be noted that Kevan Barlow still is not an adequate blocking back (he flat out did not even attempt to stop a blitzer on at least one play last week).
The 49ers defensive backfield is in serious trouble. On top of the injuries to Plummer, Rumph, and Johnson, Willie Middlebrooks is also listed on the injury report. Peyton Manning and the Colts will be licking their chops as they come to San Francisco this weekend.
Promoting Smith is the right decision, it just came later than it should have. Smith entered the game later than he should have this past week, but when he came in, he was passionate and focussed. He has the physical tools to make it in this league, but we all know it takes more than that. I am not ready to hang my hat on him after seeing only a series or two – but I do know that our best chance for him to be a real quarterback is to start him in a no pressure situation, and to protect him. The 49ers need to do both of those things, not one or the other. Unfortunately, the time to find a mentor for Smith was this off-season, and Rattay clearly was unqualified for the job. I continue to be confused as to my faith in Mike Nolan. He seems to be making the most out of the talent on the field, but some of his judgement calls on which players to play, what to say to the media, and even what plays to call seem very rookie-like. At some point Nolan will have to grow into his role.