The San Francisco 49ers came up just short against the New York Giants this past weekend, and it was the middle of the field defense that was the biggest problem. The corners gave up some passes, but that final drive saw the Giants chew up the middle of the field with relative ease. It culminated with Larry Donnell getting up over NaVorro Bowman to catch a perfectly placed Eli Manning pass.
One of the many questions facing the 49ers this season has been what to expect from NaVorro Bowman in his return to action from his January 2014 knee injury. Bowman is making plays, but the consensus opinion is that he has lost a noticeable step. Bowman himself has acknowledged he is not where he wants to be. It is just the nature of coming back from a devastating knee injury.
Joe Flacco chatted with 49ers media on Wednesday, and he mentioned where Bowman was not quite where he wants to be:
Well I think laterally, and the in some of the man coverage type things, which he's not in a ton of positions to be in, but, in some of that stuff, I think you might be able to see the fact that he's coming back a little bit. But as far as being a leader, and coming downhill, and being able to tackle, and things like that, just straight-line things, I think he's himself, and he's still playing at a high level.
We saw some of this on Sunday against the Giants. Bowman was able to run down Odell Beckham Jr. after a reception, showing the straight line speed was there. But moving around in space, and getting up with Donnell on that final touchdown are examples where he has work to do.
It remains to be seen if he will return to his pre-injury form, but he will get every opportunity. At the same time, the team could still try to keep him from getting over-worked. Jim Tomsula spoke to the media on Wednesday, and he was asked if Bowman would benefit from a rep count given that he seemed a step slow. Here is the exchange:
NaVorro Bowman, would he benefit from a rotation at inside linebacker? He's seemed to look a step slow in pass coverage, especially covering running backs.
"And again, we had other issues. And I know Bo is a guy that we all, his name leaves our lips all the time just because he's just a terrific football player. But, no, we talked about it last week, two weeks ago and just in terms of the reps. You know I had seen that in the first couple of games. I think we talked about it in here. Those rep counts were getting a little high. So, that is something we've been taking a look at. But, Bo by no means was the reason for all of our, I mean, I don't want that going there. We've got to get better, all of us. And we've got to get better in our coverage and we've got to do those things."
I'm just asking, do you think he would benefit from a little more of a rotation, so his knee--?
"Yeah, well in the passing downs and things like that, but we don't want him off the field. But, yeah we're looking at those things. We're looking at monitoring reps."
The 49ers acquired Gerald Hodges last week in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings. He was inactive against the Giants, but a week of work since should get him in the active 46 this weekend against the Ravens. One of his strengths coming out of college was in coverage. Tomsula was asked if Hodges made the coaches more comfortable with monitoring Bowman's reps:
Yeah. Hodges was a guy that was, I went through that. I mean, he was a guy that we identified coming out of the draft. That guy's been on our board since the draft. We're happy we got him. We got a football player. We went and got a good football player. So, that's where that was. In terms of Bowman, I'm a Bo fan. I'm a Bo guy. Bo plays a lot of good football and you know, I'm excited about Bo.
So, we don't get much clarity from Tomsula, but a rotation is at least on the radar. Bowman might never return to his pre-injury Hall of Fame caliber form, but a rotation could help him remain a bit more fresh, and potentially get back closer to that form as he moves further away from his injury.