49ers Blog and Q&A

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

September 20, 2008
Q&A: Pondering Manny Lawson

Question: Frankly Matt, I'm confused. Do we run a 3-4 or a 4-3? I thought we drafted Manny Lawson to be a 3-4 pass rushing OLB, and that Kentwan Balmer was drafted to be our Richard Seymour-type end. So then why do we keep reverting back to a 4-3?
John, Great falls, MT

Answer: Well, the 49ers run a 3-4 and a 4-3, though they primarily ran a 4-2-5 against the Seahawks. Which is to say, it varies. You're right, Lawson was drafted to be a pass-rush linebacker, but it quickly became evident he had little pass-rush ability. So they moved him over to the strong side where he showed good ability in coverage. Which is why it was odd that he wasn't in the defensive game plan at all against Seattle. If you're worried about the passing game, why not include a linebacker who has been good enough to play safety at times? It also should be noted that the fifth defensive back didn't do a very good job of covering rookie TE John Carlson. Lawson normally would have tight-end responsibility. ... As for Balmer, no, he's going to be more of a lunch-pail type player. The Richard Seymour-type end in this system is Justin Smith.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt- I don't blame Nolan for using a nickel defense. I think 4 D-Linemen are the best bet for the Niners to get some sort of pass rush but it's the personnel they had on the field that confuses me. Seattle seems to be a speed-type offense, so why not have Lawson and Willis as the 2 LB's? That makes the most sense while resting the older guys. They could've gotten off the field a lot faster if they stoped the run but Julius Jones is a pretty fast guy for say, Ulbrich or Spikes to be running down.
Glenn, Sacramento

Answer: With five defensive backs, the 49ers wanted to make themselves as strong as possible against the running game at linebacker. Hence, Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes, two of the better run stoppers on the team.
- Matt

Question: Is it me or is playing predominately in a dime and nickel package weird vs a team that has a decimated WR corp? I thought we would be in a defense more aimed towards stopping the run. I feel like the dime and nickel defense allowed the Seahawks MAJOR yardage. No pressure on Hasselbeck and he WILL make plays even to me at WR.
Sean, Sacramento

Answer: It's not just you.
- Matt

Question: Any chance with the lackluster play of Ulbrich/Spikes next to Willis that Brooks gets a shot to start sometime this season.
Henry, Oakland

Answer: Well, I thought Spikes was much more aggressive against the Seahawks than he was against the Cardinals. Still, Ahmad Brooks' physical skills can't be denied, and I think the 49ers will try to get him on the field by hook or by crook this season. They may be eying him as their "Ted" of the future.
- Matt

Question: Three related questions, Matt. What does 8 sacks on JTO say about our O-Line (or Seattle's D-Line?) How long can JTO stand up to that? Should a higher priority have been given to the O-Line in the draft and free agency or would you say that the rebuilding of the 49-ers is about as far along as can be expected?
Tom, Elk Grove

Answer: I think JTO is a durable guy. He's obviously a gym rat. He's got muscles and is thickly built. And most important, he seems to have a sixth sense about the pass rush that has enabled him to avoid big shots. I would guess that he's closer to Jon Kitna in durability than he is Marc Bulger. But no one knows. That's the rub when it comes to a career back up - no one knows what he's capable of. He's a great unknown. ... As far as his protection, it's hard to see the 49ers putting more emphasis on the o-line. Their top free-agent pick up in 2005 (Jonas Jennings) was an o-lineman as were two of their first four draft picks that year (David Baas and Adam Snyder). They spent a first rounder last year on Staley and then spent a second rounder on Chilo Rachal. In other words, this offensive line should be way better than it's been the last two seasons.
- Matt

Question: The Seahawks' defensive linemen were getting off the line so quick I thought maybe O'Sullivan wasn't varying his snap count enough and they were jumping the snap. But Tony Siragusa pointed out that they were timing Heitmann's head nod. It looked like Heitmann would keep his head down so he could hear the call but right before the snap he'd bring his head up. Are the Niners aware he was doing this?
John, Sacramento

Answer: It may have been that Heitmann's head nod was a signal to his own offensive line mates that he was about to snap the ball. They had a very hard time hearing the snap count throughout the game.
- Matt

Question: My plates, since 1978(2-14 record) have read 9ERS SF. I'm a real deal fan but this REALLY sucks. The Chron's Tom Fitzgerald wrote "...and Logan Payne blew out his knee on Seattle's fifth play..." as if it "just sort of happened." It didn't. Dashon Goldson intentionally went helmet to knee and maybe ruined a guy's career. This was NOT Dave Wilcox/Ronnie Lott scary tough. It's just plain dirty play. Was glad to see him repaid in kind. Do you think his injury was "payback" by a Seattle enforcer? I'd like to think so.
Bill, Sacramento

Answer: When the play happened, I, too, thought it might have been a cheap shot. Both Goldson and Mike Nolan said that Goldson was in awkward position as Payne caught the ball and lunged to stop him. The result is that he hit Payne low - too low - and blew out his knee. The NFL looked at the play and ruled there was no malfeasance. (Although they also ruled that Brian Russell's blatant spearing of J.T. O'Sullivan was ok, too).
- Matt

Question: I'm a little PO'd that the 9ers didn't pick up Desean Jackson. Sure, all teams passed on him in the 1st RD, but it was stupid to pass up on him in the 2nd. I think Jackson's lack of size shouldn't have overshadowed his playmaking skills. Maybe I'm a little biased (being a CAL fan), but after watching Jackson's first two games, he showed that he still has the speed and moves to be a great WR in the NFL (except for the TD blunder on MNF). Do you now think the 9ers/Yorks were crazy for passing on him?
Christian, El Cerrito

Answer: I'm not going to disagree with you about Jackson - he's looked great and seems to be an excellent fit in the Philly offense. But the 49ers also have a good-looking rookie receiver who was lights out in the preseason. The fact that Josh Morgan hasn't seen much action makes me think that Jackson wouldn't have either had he been selected by the 49ers.
- Matt

Question: Matt, love the blog and your overall coverage. Question for you about the disastrous Terry Donahue regime. While he deservedly gets blamed for much of the talent drain in the early part of this decade, wasn't he a Bill Walsh hire and protege? Is Walsh's legacy and mystique so great he escapes blame for this horrible front office move?
Mike, Berkeley

Answer: In a word, yes. Bill Walsh's contributions to the 49ers and to the league were so great that his shortcomings are swept under the rug. Sorta like how no one ever mentions that George Washington lost almost every major battle during the Revolutionary War and was helped out by the French at the decisive battle at Yorktown.
- Matt



MATTHEW 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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