As Sunday approaches, I'm feeling less and less concerned with Felix Jones or even Jason Witten for that matter. What does concern me is whether or not the 49ers have made enough progress to prevent a game-changing receiver from tearing us up again. That receiver is Miles Austin of the Dallas Cowboys.
In week 2, the 49ers face off against the visiting Cowboys to revive an age old grudge match between former NFL royalty. Now, the organizations dwell in the shadows of their once great players, fighting to restore that greatness to become worthy of yet another title run. One of the things that's restricted San Francisco from taking a step forward has been the inability to shut down the oppositions passing game.
During this decade long playoff drought, the 49ers defense has repeatedly let up big plays to the receiving core, and at times has seemed incapable of stopping even the most novice passing attack. In the past three years, the 49ers pass defense has gotten worse every year, going from 20th in 2008, to 21st the next year, and placing 24th in 2010.
Time and time again, the 49ers pass defense has been unable to stop the number one receivers; recently getting handled by guys like Roddy White, Vincent Jackson and Desean Jackson. Miles Austin is in that same category of receiver and will provide a tough match-up 49ers defenders trying to contain him.
If we have any chance of shutting down the Cowboys' Pro Bowl receiver, certain things need to take place:
1. Winning in the Trenches
San Francisco has to be able to win this game up front. If the 49ers front seven can get it going early, we can set the tone for the game and prevent Tony Romo from getting into any sort of rhythm. The strength of the 49ers seems to be the front seven's ability to impose their will on the offense. The guys up front need to play a complete game. That means being consistent, batting balls, putting their helmet on the football and getting hits on the quarterback. Romo needs to get shaken up and Ray McDonald and Justin Smith may be the men for the job. The word of the day should be "Disruption." If Romo is not covered in grass stains by the end of the day, we most likely lost the ball game.
2. Eliminate Mental Errors
The 49ers are going to need to play fast and they're going to need to play smart. They cannot afford to make mental mistakes or blown coverages because the Cowboys will exploit it; especially Austin. I am learning to trust Vic Fangio where if he calls a play, I'm confident it's going to work if there are no mental errors by the players. They will need to cut down on the mental mistakes we have seen in years passed. I believe this aspect will need to apply to the defensive backs the most. Donte Whitner is going to need to step up and lead that secondary by communicating; defeating Romo with his cerebral play as much as his physical play.
3. Blue Collar Cornerback Play
The cornerbacks are going to have to be ready to roll up their sleeves and come to work. These guys are going to have to play every down like it's their last because if Dallas gets rolling on all cylinders, it could be over quick. Jim Harbaugh was satisfied with the performance Tarrell Brown turned in against the Seattle Seahawks in his first start; but Dallas presents an aerial challenge Seattle does not. Whether it's Brown, Shawntae Spencer, Chris Culliver, Tremaine Brock or Carlos Rogers, every man is expected to do his job. There should be a lot of selfless play by them, and hopefully that will lead to another big team win.
4. Stop the Run
I want to see the same level of bullying in week two that I saw in week one versus Seattle. The Niners impressed onlookers by being tough against the run last week and would love to see it translate on a week to week basis, no matter the team. The 49ers ability to take away the run, takes away an entire dimension of an offense. If we can successfully do this against the Cowboys, it will force the Jason Garrett to change his gameplan, hopefully getting him and his team out of their comfort zone. If we can function with less men in the box to stop the run game, San Francisco can come in with personnel better suited to contain Austin, preventing him from taking the top off the defense at any given moment.
This will need to be a collaborative team effort to take down Dallas who is looking to rebound after surrendering a 14-point 4th quarter lead to the New York Jets last Sunday night. San Francisco may not have Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie but we can defeat Dallas this weekend in our own way. By playing sound football and not allowing Miles Austin to break loose, San Francisco can go 2-0 to start the 2011 season.
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