logoby Britt Schramm

Aristotle once said that “Nature abhors a vacuum” and the same could be said for the NFL during this past week.  With the national scorn also known as the New England Patriots on a bye week, the world should have been able to just focus on the other 28 teams and their respective games. 

But with all of the other news-worthy happenings in the league (as listed below), guess which worn-out news item was given more credence than it ever should have by the media at large?  Here are the candidates:

  • St. Louis fired current beleaguered coach Linehan, hired former Bills beleaguered coach Haslett who immediately won back the team by promoting the 2nd string, $65 million QB back to his former starting job;
  • The Lions’ future is looking lighter as they finally shed that 300+ pounds of dead weight formerly known as Matt Millen;
  • The NFL’s version of the Human Procreation Machine decided to screw the pooch this time when he was busted in a drug deal;
  • Richard Collier, an up-and-coming Jax OT, became another tragic paralyzed NFL player, albeit through an off-the-field shooting;
  • The ramp-up of the TO Circus for the 2008-09 season;
  • ESPN’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback made it through one whole week without demanding a lifetime ban of the HC of the NEP;
  • While announcing the firing of his HC, Raiders owner Al Davis, showing less life than Nosferatu, dredges up a horse-beaten, tired story about those cheatin’ Patriots and a case of tampering during last year’s draft day acquisition of WR Randy Moss.

If you guessed Numero 7, you are a big winnah.  To claim your prize, you can send an email to the address listed at the top of this column.

Seriously, from all accounts, it appears that Dracu-Al is running his once great franchise six feet under faster than Ocho-Cinco is burying his waning career. Not only did he trade away a possible game-changer in Moss, but also he also chased off former Raider HCs Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden; both whom have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy at least once since they left the clutches of the Prince of Darkness.  It is really telling about the sad state of affairs in Oaktown when they make Warren Sapp appear lucid.

But enough about that mess, it’s time to gear up for the other team in the Bay Area, otherwise known as the Team of the 80s.

This Week – San Francisco 49ers (2-2; Against AFC East 0-0)

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

It seems like the 49ers have been in a perpetual rebuilding plan ever since Mooch left the team.  While the Mike Nolan era is nothing to write home about record-wise, this year’s version of the Niners may be different than recent years past with youth leading the way. 

On both sides of the ball, the average 49er age is 27 with six years of experience.  Once you discount the aging vets like Isaac Bruce and Walt Harris, this team is looking very young at some very key positions.  Offensive players like RB Frank Gore (4 yrs), TE Vernon Davis (3 yrs), WRs Bryant Johnson (6 yrs) and Arnaz Battle (6 yrs), QB J.T. O’Sullivan (6yrs) and LT Joe Staley (2 yrs) are counted on in the Mike Martz variation of West Coast offense. 

Outside of San Fran giving up an average of 4.75 sacks/game (19 total in four games), some stats belie the normal tendencies of a young team.  A traditional stereotype of a “greener” team would be the committing of mental mistakes that result in penalties.  Right now, the kids are hanging in there.  There have only been 24 penalties accepted (19th in NFL) for 173 yrds (17th in NFL) on offense for the 49ers.  Fairly middling but they’re better than teams like the Cowboys, Packers and Panthers

Currently, being at .500 makes San Fran tied for the top of the slumping NFC West division.  If they keep it close, their lack of age and attention to minimizing the mental mistakes (plus the lack of a true division front runner) may allow the kids to stay in the playoff picture.

Wha’chu Talking About, Coach?

This week, during his weekly conference call with the media, Coach Belichick was asked to compare last season’s ROY and All-Pro 49er LB Patrick Willis with his youngest starting LB Jerod Mayo.  The ProJo’s Shalise Manza Young wrote up a great piece on the two physically similar players so I won’t go there.  But it goes give me a chance to put the spotlight on the Cult of Willis.

Niners Nation has two lists of Willis Facts; both done to the tune of Chuck Norris/Jack Bauer facts.  Obviously, if you’ve heard them before, they’re not all that amusing.  But when you look at Willis’ stats, they might not be all that far off from being factual.

Last year, Willis had 135 solo tackles plus 39 assists for an amazing 174 total tackles.  Willis also had four sacks and five passes defended.  That, my friend, is a true ball hawk. 

This year, teams are not only planning to avoid Willis but his role seems to have changed.  He is dropping back in coverage more than last year which is signified by not only his decrease in tackles but his four passes defended and an 86-yd INT touchdown return.

Willis’ flexibility and ability to get to the ball is, right now, second to none – Roid Boy Merriman included.  Mayo would do well to keep an eye on the field when the Patriots have the ball.  While he’s cheering on his teammates, he could take some notes on how his position is played by Willis.

Chatter Box

Sydney Mayhew of 49erswebzone.com offers his opinion on what the Niners need to do to get better and pays a compliment to the current starting QB in his post titled “Absolute Sitting Duck“:

“In order for us to change history, we must have everyone prepared to do their collective parts in order to do so. We collectively lost this game based on a number of scenarios. It is imperative that Mike Nolan take something from this loss and present it in a constructive format to better the team overall.

I believe it all starts up front with the offensive line. Our defense cannot be counted on to stay on the field as long as they were and stay productive. Our pass rush was ineffective in getting to Drew Brees and our inability to make third down conversions destroyed all of our offensive momentum. J.T. O’Sullivan may have had a rough game, but I felt he did a lot of encouraging things out there on the field and he does move this offense like no-one has since Jeff Garcia left town.”

On his blog at 49ers.com, WR Bryant Johnson offers his keys to getting the job done against the Pats:

“We need to be much better overall offensively than we were last week – whether it’s penalties, interceptions, scoring in the red zone. We need to be focused and put pressure on their defense. Other keys for us offensively – we’ve got to execute and be able to operate at our tempo, not turn the ball over, do well in the run game, and make plays downfield when we have those opportunities as receivers.

We also have got to protect JT. We need great play out of our line this week because that’s very critical to being effective pushing the ball down the field, and then also for Frank Gore to be able to find lanes in the running game.

I think there was a lot to learn from that film from last week. All of our mistakes are correctable. It’s not that we aren’t good. We just have to be efficient and very good with our technique. I think this week it’s going to be a big factor to focus on our efficiency as an offense so that we don’t have any lulls.

I definitely expect our defense to be a little hungry this week, being that they gave up a few big plays last week. I know they want to erase those by coming out and having a good game this week. I think you can expect those guys to be very hungry and very eager to get back out there on Sunday.

They’ve got a lot of playmakers on offense – Randy Moss and Wes Welker are two very good receivers but I think we match up well with Nate Clements and Walt Harris. I think we have some very good corners and we match up well with a lot of teams. I think those guys are licking their chops for the chance to go against Moss and Welker.”

Gerald Madriaga at Mercury News writes aimlessly about what the Niners can do against the visiting Patriots in a weird stream of conscious post:

“The good news for the 49ers is they are at home, and Tom Brady is OUT for the season. What does that really mean? It means the Patriots might turn more to there (sic) running game, which doesn’t bode well for the Niners D. Seems the secondary is ok, except for last week, but the run Defense is abysmal. We have given the fountain of youth potions to the likes of Edge, Julius Jones, Rudi Johnson, and Duce McAllister. I can’t wait till we play Miami, Is Ricky Williams going to run wild too? The good news is New England does not have one of those great backs from days gone by. Belichick doesn’t trust Maroney and Sammy Morris looked awful against Miami so unless they start LaMont Jordan who currently is sitting at 4th string, the Niners might be able to contain the run. The protection on offense needs to be better, and JT needs to stop looking right at his intended target. Martz has got to lean more heavily on Gore, or at least balance out the play calling. If Ronnie Brown can go for 5 TDs, Gore can go for 10. Ok maybe I am exaggerating, but the Niners have to win this game.”

Matt Maiocco at Press Democrat.com provides a Freudian-like quote from Nolan when he was asked about his defensive thought-process when the Pats go three wide against his base defense:

“Everybody in the league does it. Simple case, if you stay in base when they go to three wide receivers and you have a lot of confidence that Takeo Spikes can cover Wesley Walker (Wes Welker), then you try to do that. In our case, I’d like to think we have a better matchup with a defensive back. (It’s) a standard throughout the NFL. It’s a matchup issue. That’s all it really is.”

My comments – I should hope that Spikes could cover Wesley Walker.  Walker last played 9 seasons ago and is currently 53 years old.  His best season was twenty two years ago with 49 receptions for 1,016 yds (20.7 avg) and 12 TDs.  And yes, I know he meant Wes Welker but if I was the HC of a team opposing the Patriots and I was only going to mention one of their players, I would make damn sure that I knew his name at least.

Next week, the Pats stay on the left side of things and will travel down to San Diego to face off against the Merriman-less Bolts.  Come on back next week for a look at the boys in Powder Blue.