A Reason for Optimism- 09/07/2000
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The 49ers have reason to be optimistic after last weeks game in Atlanta. Heading home after yet another loss, the 49ers couldn't have felt that bad. Sure everyone on the team wants to win, Fred Beasley was even quoted saying he thinks the 49ers can be a playoff time. Now to some this may sound absurd, but even if it is, all this positive thinking is still reason to be optimistic.

The signs of improvement were evident all over the field. On the offensive side of the ball, Jeff Garcia moved the ball very effectively. He was able to put up twenty-eight points on the board, and sustain some long drives. Garcia had a quarterback rating of over one hundred, and was rated amongst the top four quarterbacks for production in the fourth quarter. The receivers finally showed up too. All this adds up to an offense, that really showed improvement with Garcia under the helm. There were three sets of downs when the 49ers struggled but other than that this marked improvement should not go unnoticed, especially with a defense that is still improving.

Initial impression of the defense is that it struggled. Truth is though it really did not do that badly. Consider that although the Falcons scored on their opening five drives, these scores were for field goals, unlike last season when it would have been touchdowns. Truth is the defense buckled down and did not even let the Falcons into the redzone, even though the special teams constantly left the defense in bad situations. Why then did the "Birds" score thirty-six points? The answer to this lies in the areas that need improvement as the season progresses.

Starting with the defensive front. This years kick-off marked the first time since 1996 that the 49ers featured a front seven that at times had three defensive lineman, and 4 linebackers, rather than the inverse. This formation was used for several reasons, including adding pressure to the quarterback and stopping Jamal Anderson. Unfortunately the formation was only successful at fifty percent of its task. Anderson was held to under one-hundred yards but Chris Chandler was not pressured enough to help out the defensive backs. The 49ers will have to improve the pressure it applies if they want to stop the big play.

That brings us to the second point. Although the defensive backfield was hampered by a Lance Schulters injury in the second half, and though the defensive backfield was more effective than last season, it was susceptible to the long play. Ahmed Plummer gave up touchdowns of forty-four and forty-eight yards, even though he was in tight coverage, in his NFL debut. Clearly this is an area that the 49ers will have to continue to improve in if they want to get some wins under the belt.

The special teams was a cause for concern in the opening game. The unit was ineffective at stopping Atlanta from running back kicks for large games. This was a shot at the confidence the team is trying to establish and worst still, it left the defense in terrible situations. The special teams must improve immediately. This unit needs to show that it can play, otherwise the team may be forced to make some changes.

Though there are some glaring areas in need of improvement on the team, the 49ers should not start worrying yet. If anything they should fix their problems, and start proving that they are indeed able to play up to the new found potential.

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