October 28 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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The 49ers continue to have trouble defending on third downs. Itís my belief that the zone coverage the team typically employs, particularly on third and run, backs up too quickly. I believe it should be challenging the receivers, rather than trying to limit an imminent completion. I also believe that the linebackers are too often miss matched in pass coverage on third downs with Winbornís injury. The result is the 49ers can only stop an opposing defense when they force a turnover.
While I normally start on the defensive line, yesterday was all about Ronnie Heard, and his three interceptions. So Iíll start in the defensive backfield. As mentioned Heard had an awesome game, all three of his interceptions, particularly the last one were crucial to the 49ers winning. He saved a minimum six points from the Cardinals, and was simply all over the field. Last week I wrote that Heard knows the defense, but lacks the big plays. If he keeps playing like he did yesterday, Iíll be happy to Ďeat my wordsí. Tony Parrish had a big day too, he remains a ferocious hitter, and is starting to gel with Heard. Parrish is an amazing strong safety because he is good in pass coverage and run coverage. He simply excels. Ahmed Plummer never ceases to amaze me. Plummer made one mistake in the game, where he fell for a receivers fake, but otherwise played solidly. The lone mistake was a rarity for Plummer. Jason Webster played pretty well two. H e had a number of pass defendeds. Mike Rumph still needs some work in his coverage ability at this level. If Heard can continue playing as he is, Rumph could get some safety help which could make a real difference for him. There was one play in particular, where David Boston was hammered into a cartwheel as he caught the ball that sticks out in my mind. How he held onto that ball, Iíll never know, but what a hit. The defense gave up 286 yards passing, but it canít all be contributed to the defensive backfield.
An incredibly depleted linebacker core played decently. It seemed that they were a step behind where they needed to be on just about every play. Still they did a good job against the run game, Jake Plummerís touchdown run was really the only time they faltered badly. This group really misses Winborn and Rasheed too. They will be a force to reckon with upon their returns.
The defensive line got a fair bit of pressure. Andre Carter recorded a sack and a forced fumble, Chike Okeafor recorded a sack, and Bryant Young had his first sack of the season. It was a good job done by the front line of defense, especially when you consider how much bigger the Cardinals offensive line was. The defensive line does need to be careful not over pursue as they did a few times against the Cardinals. One play in particular that sticks out in my mind, was a screen pass that was incredibly well read by Young and linebacker Julian Peterson that ended up incomplete.
The defense still has away to go to become formidable again. They need to allow the offense to be less than perfect and that involves improving on third downs. The three interception game was the most by a 49er since Rod Woodson in 1997. The defense recorded a turnover over for the fifth time on the opponentís first possession. This group leaves me with mix feelings this week. A whole lot went right, but a whole lot went wrong too.