There were bright spots for the Niners on both sides of the ball, but Mike Nolan certainly had his work cut out for him in practice this week. A maxim for every head coach has to be "Correct the negative, build on the positive." In that manner, let's first look at what went wrong last week.
One glaring issue for the 49ers thus far has been ball security. QB J.T. O'Sullivan has only thrown one interception, but he, RB Frank Gore, and FB Zak Keasey have combined to fumble the ball six times, losing four of them.
The defense has been great this year, but poor ball control will continually put them in difficult situations. Mike Martz and his offensive staff have to hammer this home in order to sustain longer drives and keep their defense off the field for longer stretches.
Another necessity is to get Vernon Davis more involved in the passing game. How rare is it to see a 6'3" 250 lb. TE who runs a 4.38 40-yard dash? This man is a physical specimen with good hands, and he can stretch the defense in the middle of the field.
Utilizing Davis will only create more single coverage situations for wideouts Bryant Johnson and Isaac Bruce—not to mention open up the running/screen lanes for Frank Gore and DeShaun Foster. Throw him the damn ball!
Finally, get O'Sullivan some protection! The journeyman quarterback has already been sacked 12 times this year. With RT Jonas Jennings again dealing with shoulder issues, Barry Sims will get the start this weekend. If this team wants sustained success, they best keep J.T.'s jersey a lot cleaner.
On the positive end, O'Sullivan threw for 321 yards last Sunday, ending a 60-game drought without a 49ers QB throwing for over 300 yards. Always under pressure (sacked eight times), he marched on and led the offense down the field for the game-tying field goal in regulation and the game-winner on the first series of overtime.
This brings us to Joe Nedney. After tying the game with that late field goal, he missed a game-winner as regulation expired. All the veteran kicker wanted was a chance at redemption, and when O'Sullivan and the offense put him in position, he did not let them down—nailing the 40-yarder.
The defense turned in another good performance highlighted by Patrick Willis's 86-yard interception return for a touchdown. As the offense matures, look for this unit to get even tighter and more efficient. They'll need to do a better job against the run, which will come with time.
Looking ahead to Sunday, offensive coordinator Mike Martz has to be excited to face the team that cut him loose in the offseason—especially since the Lions' defense has given up 921 total yards and 82 points in the first two weeks. He will charge O'Sullivan with picking apart the much-maligned Detroit secondary.
Frank Gore and DeShaun Foster should also be geared up for big games, as the Lions' run defense is probably worse than their pass coverage. No game in the NFL is a "gimme," but the 49ers should be heading to New Orleans on Sept. 28 as a 2-1 ball club.
My Prediction: 49ers 34, Lions 23
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