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Return of Erickson - By Bryan Hersh Oct 1 2007

THIS CONTENT IS COPYWRITED, REDISTRIBUTION OF IT (including copy/pasting it to a message board, forum or bbs) IS PROHIBITED AND COULD RESULT IN LEGAL ACTIONS - feel free to quote up to 1 paragraph providing a source link to http://www.49ersparadise.com is included

It didnÕt make the news this week, but apparently, unbeknown to even the most astute 49ers fans, former head coach and nightmare, Dennis Erickson returned to a prominent coaching position within the club. Ok, so maybe that is not the case, but in a performance that could be the 49ers worst and most disappointing showing since the Erickson era, it sure did look like he was back in-charge (and I use that word loosely) of the team.

Losing to a team that the 49ers beat twice last season, and to a team who was supposed to be weaker on both sides of the ball, was a let down. But fans could have moved past that if the 49ers continued to show progress as they had in the previous three games of the season. Instead the team looked abysmal in nearly every dimension and lost out on an important division rival match up that may have determined the playoff race in the NFC West.

There was no silver lining in this weekÕs game. For the third time in four games the 49ers lost a key starter. Alex Smith was knocked out in the first series of offensive plays. He is currently listed with a separated shoulder and undergoing a MRI. As more details become known, it will be determined whether or not Smith will even see the field again this season.

Forgetting about the game for a second (and I know it is difficult to push aside such horrific images) the loss of Smith even for a few games puts the team in a very precarious situation. Smith is tough as nails, and looked to be progressing into at least a good quarterback. He was someone the team could rally behind, and had all the physical ability to play the position. The problem is, Smith is all the team had at quarterback, and they are now completely unprepared for what was inevitable, having to play games without the man the team was supposed to be building around.

Trent Dilfer stepped in for Smith and proved what we all should have known (and many of us did). Dilfer is not a NFL quarterback. And yet, for some reason, Dilfer tried to play far beyond his own abilities further compounding the errors he was bound to make. It was an ugly showing for a quarterback who has all the knowledge to be a star, and none of the physical talent. Floated pass after floated pass lead to interceptions. A lack of mobility ran Dilfer into sack after sack. Poor instincts lead Dilfer to even run into defenders. In this one showing, Dilfer proved that his place is on the sidelines, in a role that should never put him on the field. But the 49ers have nobody other than Dilfer to turn to, so as Smith continues to miss games, this ship will continue to sink- faster and faster.

It should be expected that when a teamÕs quarterback goes down that the number two man is a drop off in most capacities. Occasionally, it actually breathes new life in to the team, but most often that is not the case. The problem is, most second-string quarterback will not actually prevent a team from winning in the way Dilfer has so successfully proven he would. Most second string quarterbacks have the ability to keep an offense moving, and the best ones can even step up and make a few plays.

The 49ers have made a big mistake in thinking Smith to be infallible. By ignoring SmithÕs backup position for this long the 49ers have put themselves in a precarious position that was inevitable. There is no one being groomed behind Smith, and no one ready to take the reigns. There is no one this team can rally behind, and no one who can make plays. Ignoring this position was a coaching mistake, one that previous regimes did not make. For every Montana there was a Young, and for every Young a Bono or Grbac. Someone that could step in and win. Now what?

The coaching mistakes though go beyond developing personnel. Coach Nolan continues to pin losses and poor play on the execution of players, rather than recognize that his coaching staff Š particularly at offensive coordinator and offensive line are not up to the task. Yes, player error was a problem this week, as it has been through the first quarter of the season Š but that player error calls into question the personnel on the field, the preparedness for the game, and the inability to make game time adjustments to match the opposition.

There are plenty of fingers to point. The offensive line was abysmal, the penalties and mistakes in-calculable, dropped interceptions, numerous turnovers, poor blocking, penalties galore and so much more. At the end of the day though, when a team underperforms to this magnitude the blame should be placed on the coaching staff because any way you slice it, this entire team was not ready to play against the Seahawks in what was surely one of the biggest games of the season.

Reaching beyond the poor performance of the coaches, the loss of Alex Smith, the lack of a replacement quarterback, the poor play of Dilfer and the offensive line, and the numerous mistakes made at the most inopportune times, there continues to be a problem in getting receivers the ball, and continues to be a lack of creativity in the run game. Frank GoreÕs lone good runs were when plays when outside the tackle box. This is likely due to a run game that is easily predictable and lacks any variation. One pitch outside, something I have been calling for all season was very productive, another few runs where Gore cut outside because the blocking broke down also lead to success. There needs to be variation in the run game. GoreÕs two fumbles at the start of the game (one lost the other not) certainly did not make it easy to establish a run game though.

I would be remised if I did not highlight the performance of both Joe Nedney and Andy Lee. The two had fantastic games, Lee nailing long punt after punt, and Nedney creating a beautiful onside kick. The onside kick, came at the start of the second half, in a surprise move that Nolan called to generate some momentum. Too bad one pass later Dilfer threw an interception. Special teams also performed well blocking a punt thanks to Keith Lewis, and Michael Lewis looked like he could add another dimension to the return game. If not for a fumble (which was not lost) by Maurice Hicks, the special teams performance would have been quite strong.

Defensively the team played pretty well. They did not however control the line of scrimmage which was a real difference maker. When the battle was won up front, the defense looked as good as any in the league, when it was lost, things got ugly. Derek Smith and Walt Harris each dropped an interception though Harris had to make a heck of a play to make the catch, SmithÕs was a pretty easy play to make. Nate Clements was beaten for a touchdown but also came up with a very nice interception.

The defensive side of the ball did not have a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination but they played well enough to win, and given that the offensive was unable to get them any rest (not converting a first down for most of the first half of the game) it is hard to fault them for the performance they did manage. There is room to improve certainly, but until the offense can move the ball a little it is hard to complain about a defense that has repeatedly put the offense in position to win.

Some would say the best thing the 49ers could do would be to forget about this game and move on. I however believe that the team should watch this game every day for the rest of the season until they are thoroughly embarrassed by their performance. This type of leap (not step) backwards is inexcusable even with the loss Lawson, Davis, and Smith so far this season. Moving forward the team will have to find a way to win the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and depending on SmithÕs status must find a way to compensate for not having him in the line-up. So far, the team has not had any success moving depth players into starter positions, nor have they reconfigured personnel to replace under performing starters. No doubt facing the Ravens next week is a scary thought.

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