49ers Blog and Q&A

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

January 18, 2012
Err apparent: 49ers' concerns heading into championship game


Yes, the 49ers won Saturday's game in dramatic fashion and there are a number of players - Justin Smith, Alex Smith, Vernon Davis, Joe Staley chief among them - who deserve heaping platters of praise. But there also were a number of lapses in that game that need to be noted, especially because they were weaknesses the Giants also will be able to exploit.

No safety net

How do you grade the 49ers' starting safeties? Both Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson threw their bodies around like men possessed during the game and both forced turnovers in the first half. But both were left sprawled on the grass in the second half while Saints pass catchers ran past them for big gains down field.

Marques Colston (Goldson) picked up 31 yards down the center of the field in the third quarter. Darren Sproles (Goldson) scored from 44 yards out in the center of the field in the fourth quarter. And then Jimmy Graham (Whitner) scored from 66 yards out down the center of the field with 1:37 remaining.

That brings to 14 the number of 40-yard pass plays the 49ers have allowed this season, one of the worst marks in the league. The vast majority of them have been short or intermediate throws in the middle of the field. The question is: Do you rein in the safeties' aggression, which has forced turnovers all season but which also has allowed big plays? Meanwhile, the Giants don't have a Jimmy Graham-type tight end, but they have three wideouts - Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham - that can score from long distances.

Light on weapons

Alex Smith didn't have a lot of options in the second half after Ted Ginn left the game with knee and ankle injuries. The only non-running backs Smith connected with after half time were Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. The blitz-insane Saints chose to leave Davis in single coverage at key moments in the game, something the Giants will not do. Braylon Edwards is gone, Ginn is hurt and Delanie Walker's status is a mystery.

In my opinion, Kyle Williams can be a weapon on offense, but he's only been used in a bit role heretofore and may see his special teams duties increased if Ginn can't play. After Smith fumbles late in the second quarter, he gestures to either Williams or Brett Swain, who were in the same vicinity down the right sideline, that one of them should have cut over to the middle of the field. Smith is the kind of quarterback who needs to be very comfortable with his receivers. It's clear he has not developed an on-field rapport with Swain or No. 5 receiver Joe Hastings.

That's why Walker's presence would be such a boon to the offense. He'd give Smith another weapon and he'd theoretically make the Giants pay for spending extra attention on Vernon Davis. My guess is that Walker plays, but that's just a guess.

Blitz pickup problems

The 49ers have been flummoxed by blitzes all season, and Saturday's game was no exception. The Saints concentrated on the right side of the 49ers offensive line throughout the game, an approach that backfired when Greg Roman called an Alex Smith bootleg to the left in the fourth quarter.

However, the Saints also were successful in bringing an extra pass rusher - or two - on that side. Right tackle Anthony Davis twice blocked down to double team a Saints defender instead of picking up blitzing safety Roman Harper who had a free run to the quarterback. Smith was sacked four times and fumbled once. The good news for Davis and the 49ers is that the Giants are not a blitzing defense. Like the 49ers, they rely on their talented defensive line to supply their pressure. But they only need to look at the Saturday's game film to realize the 49ers still get confused on blitz pickups.

-- 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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