October 18 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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It became very clear in watching Monday nights game between the 49ers and the Seahawks, that the 49ers were sorely missing starting linebacker Jamie Winborn. Winborn who has been out with a knee injury is a key fixture in the middle of the field for the 49ers. His speed and ability allows him to effectively blitz the pass, the run or cover a running back and tight end in plays over the middle. Winborn is also a good enough player to cover a receiver in the middle of the field - and that is what distinguishes him from the other linebackers on the 49ers roster.
Watching the Seahawks exploit the middle of the field repeatedly on Monday night showed just what a difference it makes to have him on the field. The Seahawks were enormously successful on third down conversions because of the 49ers inability to cover that part of the field was a large reason why.
The 49ers have a good set of linebackers, and Jeff Ulbrich, who is filling in for Winborn is good in his own right. But with Ulbrich on the field the 49ers need to recognize that they need to change their defensive philosophy because he doesnít have the speed that Winborn does. Rookie Saleem Rasheed has the speed, but isnít ready for role quite yet - and so the team is left with a hole in the middle of the field.
This weekend the Saints will go after that part of the field. They always have. Aaron Brooks has made a living running through this area against the 49ers, after escaping the pocket. Deuce McAllister will be there all day catching passes (incidentally when the Saints were in the NFC West, McAllister and former Saintsí running back Ricky Williams, were some of the reasons the 49ers went for a linebacker with Jamie Winborns speed and talents) and the Saints may run slants into this area too. The 49ers either need someone to step up and make plays in this zone - and that could mean keeping strong safety Tony Parrish up in the box (though with Zack Bronson out with an injury this may not be the best move), or keeping Mike Rumph on the field to help cover that middle zone, particularly on passing downs, or they need to shift their defensive strategy to accommodate for this hole. Otherwise it could be another very tough game against a very strong Saints team.