After the first two preseason games of 2008 the San Francisco 49ers have failed to show the world who they really are. They went out in the first contest and completely looked the part of a team in transition against the Oakland Raiders yet they appeared to turn it around last weekend in their annihilation of Green Bay. However two exhibition games does not a season make and the 49er faithful can thank whatever higher power they believe in for that fact.
For reasons that had escaped many onlookers minds at the time, Head Coach Mike Nolan elected to trot out career backup J.T. O’Sullivan onto the field to start the both games. O’Sullivan did what most thought he would in the first game, nothing. He did manage to complete a few nifty passes however he also made an ill-advised pass attempt which went straight to defensive back Stanford Routt for an interception. He also fumbled the ball when he was forced from the pocket and took off running, looking more like a Shriner then an NFL quarterback.
In the game last weekend he started slowly but did find his rhythm in completing 8 of 17 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. He did however reach his minimum of one mistake per game quota in throwing a pass directly at two Packer defenders which resulted in a Charles Woodson interception. Alex Smith, once given a chance did not make any costly mistakes though he did miss on two passes that should have gone for scores thus he has not separated himself from JTO. Hence the reason he is getting only second-team reps in practice and in games.
But I digress; there really is no quarterback contest by the Bay. In fact it would appear that O’Sullivan will be the starter when the regular season opens on September 7th. As much as Mike Nolan would love for everyone to believe that he is indeed running an open competition the facts remain the same, O’Sullivan has been named the starter once again for this Thursday’s game at Chicago. To not hand him the starting position now would not be right after taking it this far and would only further the firestorm that Alex Smith has lived in since being drafted first overall in 2005.
Enough rambling, onto the matter at hand, discussing the second set of four games on the 49ers 2008 schedule and how we see them playing out.October 5, 2008 – vs. New England
If there are any positives that can be extracted from this weeks match-up it is that the game is being played in San Francisco and the team doesn’t have to travel to the other side of the country to play the defending AFC champs. New England ran rampant on the league last season all the way to the Super Bowl where they finally met their match in the pass rush happy New York Giants. The only significant loss the team experienced was at cornerback as Asante Samuel signed a lucrative free agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles; otherwise they are a team that is very much intact from their Super Bowl run of last season.
They have made some nice additions to a team which was already one of the best in the NFL, signing RB Lamont Jordan, TE Marcus Pollard and DB Fernando Bryant via free agency. They also drafted highly coveted OLB Jerod Mayo out of Tennessee and CB Terrance Wheatley from Colorado, both should see significant playing time this coming season.
If the 49ers are smart they will look at what the Giants did last February and try to mirror that game plan as much as possible. The defense is going find it difficult however to generate that same level of pass rush which should give quarterback Tom Brady ample time to find Randy Moss and the rest of a talented receiving corps. No matter the outcome of this contest it will be a good measuring stick to see just how far the 49ers have really come at this point in the season. Patriots 34 49ers 21October 12, 2008 – vs. Philadelphia
Once again the Eagles come to town and once again this team is battling questions out of the gate. The most notable of the bunch? Whether or not incumbent QB Donovan McNabb can stay healthy and fulfill his potential to become a Super Bowl winning signal caller. If not, second-year QB Kevin Kolb will be ready to take over and see where his arm can take the birds.
Signing running back Brian Westbrook to a contract extension earlier this month was a good move although one which was not unexpected. To let a player the caliber of Westbrook leave at all would have been grounds for fans to run amuck on the team’s headquarters demanding
Andy Reid’s spleen on a stick. Philadelphia had a productive draft last April, selecting wideout DeSean Jackson out of Cal and defensive tackle Trevor Laws from Notre Dame. Jackson should pay dividends almost immediately as he pushes for a starting position and Laws is being projected as a back up to current starting DT Mike Patterson.
I see defensive coordinator Greg Manusky really trying to get after McNabb in this contest as well as placing a shadow on Westbrook virtually every down. On offense the 49ers should attack the Eagles with a heavy dose of Frank Gore to set up the pass and allow whoever is starting at quarterback to connect with newly signed wideout Bryant Johnson and surprising rookie Josh Morgan as well as tight end Vernon Davis. If the team can get pressure on McNabb and Gore has a solid day on the ground the 49ers can take this one. 49ers 17 Eagles 14October 19, 2008 – @ New York
The schedule makers obviously didn’t see the need to do the 49ers any favors this season as this marks the third consecutive contest against a team that can legitimately challenge for a title in 2008. Of course this match-up pits the red and gold up with team who actually did win the title last year.
The Giants were somewhat of a Cinderella team in 2007 as no one expected them to appear in the Super Bowl let alone best the Patriots in the game. Eli Manning suddenly found the antidote for what had been ailing him since he entered the league as a wide-eyed rookie in 2004. When gauging this team it is clear that they possess one of the leagues most feared pass rushes.
San Francisco could very well find it difficult to effectively pass protect or have ample lanes to run against a New York defense which led the league in sacks last season and ranked fifth against the rush. Questions once again loom at receiver as Plaxico Burress battles an injury to his foot that could sideline him for the remainder of the preseason and age is creeping up on Amani Toomer. Young wideouts Steve Smith and Sinorice Moss should give Manning a host of targets as he attempts to direct this unit once again. If the 49ers offensive line has not developed a good amount of cohesion it will be an extremely long day for whoever is quarterbacking the team at the time. I just don’t believe the team has the firepower to overcome what the Giants bring to the table on both sides of the ball. Giants 28 49ers 17
Just as a sidebar isn’t it a bit concerning that here we are only two days away from the third preseason game of 2008 and there is still, at this very moment no inclination as to who will be the starting quarterback on opening day?
Sure the masses have their opinion on who will be under center that day but until Mike Nolan comes out and says the result is anyone’s guess. It bears mentioning that this franchise is in complete disarray although the front office at least appears to be making strides in both the player personnel and new stadium departments whereas the coaching staff leaves much to be desired. There are many signs which point to the inevitability of Nolan being fired by seasons end and depending on how the first few weeks play out possibly long before that. There might be no indication more significant then the quarterback carousel that is running without an operator as I am typing this. J.T. O’Sullivan has once again been named the starter for the upcoming game against Chicago.
Should not Alex Smith be leading this team to start the season? Doesn’t this franchise need to determine whether or not the former first overall draft pick has what it takes to be the team’s leader? It appears that Nolan is certainly in fear of losing his job and as usual is talking of “staying the course” and sounding like a man who has nary a clue as to what he is doing. Just had to get that off my chest.October 26, 2008 vs. Seattle
The second meeting of the season between the 49ers and Seahawks takes place at Candlestick and I see this contest transpiring significantly different then the first. San Francisco should have the Martz playbook engrained in their minds enough to knock of the Seattle and improve to 4-4 at the halfway point of the season.
Frank Gore has had some very productive days against this team and this game will be no different as he will easily surpass the 100 yard mark and put up at least two scores. Watch for Patrick Willis to run roughshod against the Seattle offense targeting Hasselbeck and anyone else holding the ball. Seattle should once again be a playoff team however I simply do not see them sweeping the 49ers this season with the overall talent that the 49ers are fielding this season. That and I clearly view Seattle as a team on the decline as their Super Bowl window (if it even exists any longer at all) closes more with each passing year.
Not much else to say at the moment other then check back next week for the third installment of the season preview