49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

September 29, 2007
Wherefore art thou, Ray McDonald?

Question: Hi Matt. In reading your article today: 4-3 or not 4-3. You spoke with Ray McDonald, will he be activated any time soon to your knowledge? He was pretty exciting to watch during the preseason. I thought he was placed on IR for the remainder of the season. Like reading your stuff.
Danny, Wasco, Ca.

Answer: I don't know and neither does McDonald. The problem is that the 49ers run a 3-4 defense but have eight defensive linemen. Most 3-4 teams have five or six DLs. I'm just as surprised as you are that he's not active. It seemed like he was one of the few 49ers who consistently pressured the quarterback during the preseason.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I understood last year's game plan. Run Gore middle, run him left, run him right. It worked. But in the offseason we got Jackson, Lesley, Davis and Smith matured, yet opposing defenses are still able to stack 9 guys in the box against us. When forced to throw in the last 5 minutes of games Smith looks great. Wouldn't it be in Nolan's best interest to just create a game plan around starting with Smith in the shotgun and throwing to get opponents off balance? Starting like that would give Smith the ability to open up screens and draws.
Mark, Sacramento

Answer: That's a good game plan, Mark. But the 49ers' offensive line has been just as lousy at protecting Alex Smith as it has at opening holes for Frank Gore. Mike Nolan is nothing if not stubborn, and I suspect he will continue to try to get the running game on track starting with Sunday's game against Seattle.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Hey Matt, my Q is what is wrong with the o-line? The one unit we thought we didn't have to worry about seems to be our biggest problem. We haven't been able to run the ball consistently at all (subtract the 43 yrd td run by Franky and his numbers are horrible.) And when the 23 year old kid drops back to pass he is not exactly getting "qaulity alone time" to make his reads.
Jason, Sacramento.

Answer: I totally agree. There are a lot of things you can point to regarding the offensive woes. One of the biggest is the O-line play. It seems that the two tackles, Jonas Jennings and Joe Staley, have played well. The problem appears to be the interior of the line, which has had a hard time picking up stunts and delayed blitzes on passing downs. As far as the running game, it seemed to me as if the o-line was finally breaking open some holes for Gore in the third-quarter of the Steelers game. Perhaps that's a signal that they are on the verge of recapturing their 2006 form.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: How can the Niners improve the play of the offensive line, which I think is the Niners main problem this year? Even in Gore's best play from scrimmage, it was all Gore and some bad tackling from the Rams. They did solve some of the protection problems by rolling Alex out more often in the Steelers game but they still need to improve their blocking to get Gore going.
-- Saad, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Answer: I think they should run to the left more than they have and should use the Redskins' old "counter trey" by pulling Justin Smiley and Joe Staley in that direction. Smiley and Staley are two of the most mobile o-linemen in the league and the 49ers should play to their strengths.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Hi Matt. You're correct about the offensive line play. Have you or any of your colleagues pressed the Niner's coaching staff on why the line is having problems with blitzes? And why they are reluctant to replace the center/right guard combo that seems to be having the most problems.
Mel, Union City.

Answer: Yes, we've been asking those questions for the last two weeks. The answer, in a nutshell, is that something different seems to go wrong on every play. Which is a way of saying that the line is not yet in sync. When asked about the play of Eric Heitmann last week, Nolan said he's played "ok."
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Hey there Matt. Great work as always. Regarding Pereira's comments on the Davis (non)catch, did he ever address the fact that the ball never hit the ground? How can you have an incomplete when the ball never touches the ground?! There are only two calls that can be made, a catch or an interception. I wish Eisen hammered him on that.
Mike, San Francisco

Answer: He showed a frame in which the corner of the ball appeared to be on the ground. But it seemed to me as if Davis had the ball controlled in his forearm. I'll go to my grave thinking that was a legitimate catch.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, the head referee for the Niners vs. Steelers game seemed to be a 1000 years old. Do you think that because he was alive before replay, television and fire were invented prevented him from making the right call on Davis' catch?
John, San Francisco

Answer: Maybe he forgot to take his Centrum Silver. Whatever the case may be, he certainly didn't seem too current on the rulebook.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: From the rulebook: "A forward pass is complete when a receiver clearly possesses the pass and touches the ground with both feet inbounds while in possession of the ball. If a receiver would have landed inbounds with both feet but is carried or pushed out of bounds while maintaining possession of the ball, pass is complete at the out-of-bounds spot." Is there some clause elsewhere in the rulebook that covers the "volitional" aspect of bringing a foot down? I doubt it. Pereira is lying. He should tell the truth: NFL refs always give the Steelers the calls and always have.
Bill, La Canada, Ca.

Answer: Darrell Jackson and the rest of the players who were wearing Seahawks uniforms in February 2006 would tend to agree with you.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I know Vernon Davis has all the physical tools, but I have more confidence in Delanie Walker catching the ball. Plus, he's very good after the catch. With the 49ers being a run first team, who will start at tight end with Davis out?
Ron, Elk Grove

Answer: I tend to agree with you, Ron. I think at this point, a pass to Walker is more likely to be complete than a pass to Davis. I'm not sure who will start between Walker and Billy Bajema. It depends on the play call. But the two will see an equal amount of time.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Isn't it about time for the 49ers to open a game with 80% pass plays so that Alex Smith could be on the attack instead of playing to not make a mistake? Sure he would have some picks but he would also make some big plays. I think Alex Smith is playing down to the coaches' expectation level.
Gary, Carmichael

Answer: If Alex Smith was in an offense that was, say, like the Arizona Cardinals (of 2006) or the Denver Broncos', I have no doubt he would put up equal or better numbers than that of Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler. As it happens, he runs an offense that leans very heavily on Frank Gore and the run. For better or for worse, I don't see that changing any time soon.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: With Vernon Davis out who starts at TE? If time is split between Bajema and Walker won't it tip off what kind of play is coming, like when Baas was the second TE against the Rams?
Ken, Salem, Ore.

Answer: That's a good point, Ken. I'm predicting that Billy Bajema will get his first catch since his rookie season. I don't see him turning into Tony Gonzales, mind you. But I bet at least one ball will go his way.
-- Matt Barrows.

Question: Hi, Matt. Great blog, as usual. My question is about Ashley Lelie. I saw him in on the one play in Pittsburgh when he ran the "lazy route" and missed a decent pass. I didn't see him in the game at all after that. Does Nolan really have that short of a leash on him?
Nick, San Diego

Answer: I think Nolan got Lelie in the game because Lelie spent most of the week practicing for Darrell Jackson, who had a sore back. If Lelie makes that catch instead of swatting at it, does Nolan leave him in a little longer? We'll probably never know. One of the issues regarding the passing game in my most humble of opinions, is that the 49ers' two starters, Arnaz Battle and Jackson, essentially have the same skill set. They are really both flanker receivers, even though Jackson is playing split end. What the 49ers need is someone who can stretch defenses. So far, no one has stepped up.
-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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