Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
I can’t remember the last time I found a bye week so refreshing. How nice was it to complete the last yard chores of the year, finishing the day with a plate of tacos, cold beer and a few football games to actually enjoy?
With each pull of the leaf rake, my brain wandered to the weeks ahead for the San Francisco 49ers – both for the offseason and the remainder of the year.
Team Moral – Good, Bad or Indifferent
I believe many fans thought the 49ers would ride the victory wave into the Week 10 game against the New York Giants. Quarterback Nick Mullens, floating somewhere in between the earth and the moon, succumbed to gravity and played as well as a third-string quarterback would last week.
Though, Mullens had me on the edge of my seat during the last drive of the game. For a few minutes, I had the spark of hope deep in my gut. It had been a long time since that feeling had paid a visit.
While the 49ers’ offense continues to operate in fits and starts, my bigger concern is with the secondary. Throughout the game against the Giants, I noted more of the defensive backs and safeties pointing fingers and expressing frustration with one another than in previous weeks.
It’s been a difficult season for the coverage men, but this is the first game I could remember watching them point fingers and blame the other.
Here’s the grim reality: The 49ers may win only one more game this season.
All eyes will continue to be on the defensive backs, so I want to see how the position group responds to continued losses, coverage breakdowns and game-winning touchdown passes. Will these frustrations spill out of the locker room and into the press, or will the team find a way to deal with it internally and build from it?
Will Saleh Call an Aggressive Game?
Let’s lay this down sharply: I like defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s defensive scheme. I like his attitude and the way he motivates players.
Saleh’s flaw is his lack of creativity during games and his unwillingness to find new ideas to stop offenses.
In the Week 8 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, we saw an assertive Saleh call a game filled with stunts and B-gap pressures, which finally led to an interception. It felt as if Saleh and the defense carried the same mentality into the Week 9 victory over Oakland.
But against the Giants, Saleh and his defense went back to the old philosophy, which included not covering Odell Beckham Jr. I noticed more blown coverages and a lack of pressure on quarterback Eli Manning.
Saleh loves the tackle-end exchange (TEX) stunt. It’s not unique, as I’ve seen the other 31 other teams run it. The TEX stunt is a quality blitz to have in any playbook at any level of football.
Rather than use the TEX stunt sporadically in games. Saleh goes to the well it more than he should.
Saleh called the TEX stunt on the 49ers’ second defense of the game. It’s a solid look, especially with linebacker Fred Warner threatening the A-gap and linebacker Malcolm Smith lined up on the edge. On the surface, it looks like Saleh called a six-man blitz.
The blitz dropped both Warner and Smith into coverage, and had defensive end Cassius Marsh coming around through the A-gap to hurry Manning.
Here’s the TEX call again on the very next defensive series. Saleh dressed it up differently, but the Giants were prepared and knew how to defend it. Marsh ended up being pushed out of the play and Manning found Beckham in the back of the end zone for six points.
I do not believe Saleh is on a hot seat, but I want to see him call a consistent game, filled with different looks and stunts. It’s time to end the “rush four men and pray” strategy; I know Saleh’s capable of more and I want to see it for 60 minutes this weekend.
Who’s Stepped Up and Who Hasn’t?
The Hub could host a roundtable of readers and each one would have a different opinion of certain players (read: Solomon Thomas or Jimmie Ward).
It might make for a healthy debate, though I do not believe fans are objective about either player. We can, however, be as objective as possible to see who finishes a dismal season on a high note. Those men might make a big difference as the bedrock of the 2019 roster.
Example: I was highly critical of guard Laken Tomlinson re-signing with the 49ers during the offseason. Tomlinson has played very well this season, exceeding expectations and making me look like a fool.
I’m just fine with that outcome. In fact, Tomlinson, center Weston Richburg, left tackle Joe Staley and right tackle Mike McGlinchey could be the offensive line’s foundation going into the 2019 offseason. The team needs to solidify the right guard position, but I’d rather the 49ers have to deal with one offensive line position rather than four.
I despise thinking about the offseason with regular season football still on the calendar. Alas, that’s the unfortunate situation the 49ers find themselves and I feel there’s no choice but to join them.
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