This week, in an effort to learn more about the San Francisco 49ers, I exchanged questions with Fooch of Niners Nation about this weekend's Sunday night matchup.
Check out my answers to his questions here.
A lot of people, myself included, tabbed the Niners as a team ready to take the next step this year, but after an 0-4 start everyone is wondering what happened? So... what happened?
Fooch: I think a lot of 49ers fans were tabbing this team to make the leap to playoff team as well. Instead, the first quarter of the season has been an absolute disaster. Alex Smith has been inconsistent. The defense has had its moments but has choked in big opportunities against the Saints and Falcons. The team as a whole has stepped up against the known quality opponents (Falcons, Saints) while absolutely falling apart against teams they probably should've beaten (Chiefs, Seahawks).
This is an immensely talented team (at least compared to recent 49ers squads) and a lot of people think Mike Singletary is just not sufficiently ready to be head coach. Of course he also made some strong moves last year to build up these expectations, but he's struggled a bit under the pressure of a potential playoff season. He's let his emotions get the better of him.
Jimmy Raye was the first scape goat as the team enters its second game with new OC Mike Johnson. The offense looked a bit more diverse last week but Alex Smith could not execute on a couple key plays and that stymied the offense. If the team continues to struggle, one would imagine Mike Singletary would be next on the chopping block.
Of course it's amusing to think that in spite of all this the 49ers remain in the playoff picture, only two games out of first in the abysmal NFC West. If they could actually win a game they might get back in this thing.
Our old pal Brian Westbrook has literally done almost nothing so far this season in San Fran. Why do you think he basically hasn't been used at all?
Fooch: I'd imagine it has something to do with his age and something to do with the team's total trust in Frank Gore. I was expecting a lot more two back sets with Gore and Westbrook but it really hasn't happened. From listening to press conferences it seems like the team has some concern about his ability to be blended in but in reality, nobody has really said anything of substance about it.
Last week he was on the field for a play and Alex Smith had to wave him into a different spot on the field. He was never seen again after that. It's really hard to tell what exactly is going on with this at this point.
One of the reasons a lot of us thought the Niners were ready to become contenders was because it looked like the light was finally coming on for Alex Smith, but he's struggled this year mostly due to turnovers. What's your level of confidence in him at this point?
Fooch: At this point I have confidence that he will be inconsistent. He will show amazing abilities to make plays and scramble around one minute. And the next minute he'll make a horrendous decision and throw a pick.
Over the course of his career, Alex Smith has shown the inconsistency that drives people crazy. I've been a big supporter of his over the years but this inconsistency is certainly wearing on me. He's a free agent after this season and if he continues at his current rate he'll be somewhere else in 2011. He just hasn't shown the ability to consistently move his offense down the field. He shoots himself in the foot too many times at this point to be an effective QB. I'd like to think that will change and am perfectly willing to give him the rest of this season. However, right now it's not looking particularly good.
The 49er defense looked like a clear strength of the team coming into the season, but they're bottom 6 in points allowed so far. What do you blame for that?
Fooch: I'd imagine giving up 31 points to the Seahawks and Chiefs would contribute to that!
But really, it's a combination of factors. In week 1 the 49ers defense was often overly aggressive in trying to sit on routes and Matt Hasselbeck made them pay on multiple touchdowns. The defense also has a nasty habit of turning into a bend-but-don't-break style of play that allows teams to get down the field in short order.
I'd also blame part of it on the offense. The offense has had some solid drives, but more often than not has gone three and out, leaving the defense on the field to wither away under the pressure. Of course, last week if Nate Clements had fallen down and not fumbled the interception of Matt Ryan with 1:30 to go, we'd be talking about a 49ers defense that held a fairly potent Falcons attack to 13 points and shut down Matt Ryan.
At the end of the day, it comes down to consistency across the board. The pass rush can be extremely potent, but has shown just as often to be weak and ineffective, giving QBs more than enough time to find open receivers. Against the Falcons on that final drive the defense was sending 4 and 5 guys at the QB but the secondary was leaving the middle of the field open which allowed Ryan to pick 10-20 yards on most passes. That kind of prevent style of defense prevents wins, as they say.
Finally, the question I always like to ask last... If you could steal an Eagle and add him to your roster who would it be?
Fooch: There's one guy who will go down as the ultimate "guy who got away" for most 49ers fans. That guy is DeSean Jackson. There were concerns about his size but most 49ers fans were dying to see the Cal product end up with the 49ers. His speed and game-breaking ability is second to none. Even though the 49ers have added a variety of offensive weapons, an all around threat like Jackson would certainly have been a welcome addition to the 49ers.
Oh and let's not forget about the guys the 49ers selected instead of Jackson: DE Kentwan Balmer and OG Chilo Rachal. Balmer was dealt during training camp to the Seahawks for a late round pick. Rachal has struggled at right guard and is very close to being benched. The knife just gets twisted a little deeper.