X

How San Francisco 49ers Can Overcome Week 1 Injuries to Their Secondary

Peter Panacy@@PeterPanacyFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 8, 2014

Tramaine Brock was one of three 49ers defensive backs injured in Week 1.
Tramaine Brock was one of three 49ers defensive backs injured in Week 1.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers secondary figured to be up for a major challenge when they took on quarterback Tony Romo and the prolific Dallas Cowboys' passing game on Sunday, September 7.

Culliver was removed from Sunday's game with a concussion.
Culliver was removed from Sunday's game with a concussion.USA TODAY Sports

Nos. 1 and 2 cornerbacks Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver, respectively, aimed to match up against Dallas targets Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Dwayne Harris, hoping to stifle a receiving game that stood as the primary chance for the Cowboys to thwart the 49ers' Week 1 victory.

In this, San Francisco's secondary was relatively successful. In total, the 49ers allowed 281 passing yards and a lone touchdown while forcing three interceptions from Romo.

The secondary also set the tone of the game early. Culliver ran in a touchdown off a Dallas fumble early in the first quarter—illustrated in the photos below.

Culliver is lined up as San Francisco's right cornerback as this play starts.

Culliver is lined up as San Francisco's right cornerback.
Culliver is lined up as San Francisco's right cornerback.NFL.com

In position, Culliver swoops up the loose ball.

Culliver finds the loose ball.
Culliver finds the loose ball.NFL.com

Trailing linebacker Ahmad Brooks, Culliver is able to run unopposed into the end zone.

Brock returns the fumble for a touchdown.
Brock returns the fumble for a touchdown.NFL.com

But Culliver was lost to a concussion, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.

Matt Maiocco @MaioccoNBCS

Chris Culliver is being evaluated for a head and neck injury. His return is questionable.

Also lost earlier was Brock to a toe injury. Fortunately, Brock was able to return to the sidelines towards the end of the game and was available to come in if needed.

Another setback was the loss of Jimmie Ward to a concussion, per Eric Branch of SFGate.com.

Eric Branch @Eric_Branch

#49ers Jimmie Ward being examined for head injury. Read: concussion.

These injuries took a heavy toll on a thin secondary for San Francisco. The 49ers opted to keep offseason acquisition Chris Cook inactivated prior to the game. We'll see if that changes next week.

Rookie Jimmie Ward was also lost to a concussion.
Rookie Jimmie Ward was also lost to a concussion.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In Brock and Cullier's steads, San Francisco relied upon rookie corner Dontae Johnson and fourth-year pro Perrish Cox.

Taylor Price of 49ers.com sums up how these two fared in place of San Francisco's top two corners, paying close attention to Johnson:

Rookie Dontae Johnson entered the game at right cornerback for Culliver, who was able to walk off the field under his own power. Veteran Chris Cook was inactive for the game, leaving San Francisco with just Cox and Johnson as the only healthy cornerbacks for the remainder of the game. 

Johnson showed he could be very effective against veteran receivers.

Cox posted an interception of Romo in the second quarter.

Romo's deep-ball pass into double coverage gave Cox this opportunity. He had help towards the middle.

Cox is posted in double coverage with help towards the middle.
Cox is posted in double coverage with help towards the middle.NFL.com

The interception seals the fate of this Dallas drive.

Cox comes away with the pick.
Cox comes away with the pick.NFL.com

On the positive side of things, San Francisco's backups proved capable enough of matching up against Romo, Bryant and Williams—especially as the Cowboys were desperately trying to get back into the game.

Cox did give up a deep pass to Dwayne Harris in the second half.
Cox did give up a deep pass to Dwayne Harris in the second half.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

That bodes well heading into Week 2 when the team faces off against another pass-happy opponent—the Chicago Bears.

Obviously, the 49ers would prefer to have corners Brock, Culliver and Ward back in time for this game. While Cox and Johnson performed well enough to warrant attention, the real strength of depth is felt when all three of these starters are available.

We'll be anxiously awaiting news surrounding the three injured defensive backs. 

According to David Fucillo of Niners Nation, Brock had X-rays on his foot, which were negative. There is a concern about turf toe, per Fucillo's report, yet nothing has been revealed so far.

Niners Nation @NinersNation

Tramaine Brock, Chris Culliver, Jimmie Ward all dealing with injuries following 49ers win over Cowboys http://t.co/IJdHQudNEV

The 49ers will now have to follow concussion protocols for both Culliver and Ward. As we have seen—such as with safety Antoine Bethea during the preseason—this can take a few weeks at maximum, depending on the severity of the concussion and each player's response to the various tests undertaken.

Rookie Dontae Johnson (right) might see an increase in playing time should injuries keep San Francisco's veterans out.
Rookie Dontae Johnson (right) might see an increase in playing time should injuries keep San Francisco's veterans out.Tim Sharp/Associated Press

We will likely not know whether or not they will play until just before the game versus Chicago.

Barring any unfortunate circumstances, Brock should be ready to go in Week 2. The 49ers need their No. 1 cornerback facing off against Jay Cutler and Co. 

At 6'2" and 200 pounds, Cook will likely be activated to take the place of Culliver on the outside if the latter is not active against the Bears.

Cook had some impressive moments during the preseason, including a noteworthy interception during San Francisco's first exhibition game versus the Baltimore Ravens.

While his lack of ball skills is still a concern, Cook does have considerable size—an attribute that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio might like to employ in his press-based defensive scheme. Cook's experience from his days with the Minnesota Vikings also might prove worthy against Chicago.

Chris Cook may have to be activated prior to Week 2's matchup versus Chicago.
Chris Cook may have to be activated prior to Week 2's matchup versus Chicago.USA TODAY Sports

Covering up the slot in Ward's potential absence is a little tougher to determine.

Second-year pro Darryl Morris was cut prior to the season. Morris had initially been competing with Ward and Cox for the slot-corner position, but now he's out of the question. Rookie Kenneth Acker has also been sent to injured reserve.

Grant M P @grantmp1

Niners already regretting letting Darryl Morris go.

The situation might be alleviated a bit if Culliver is able to return. Cox will likely slide over to the nickel cornerback position where he had been competing during training camp if Ward remains out.

Plays like the one illustrated above give us added confidence in Cox, but we have to account for the fact that he had help over the top on that play. San Francisco may be forced to do more of this with their safeties, Bethea and Eric Reid.

The continued monitoring of San Francisco's injury-riddled secondary will be a hot topic in coming days. While the 49ers defensive line did its best to generate a pass rush against Romo in Week 1, the question of facing off against a Chicago offensive line may prove to be a bit more difficult.

While the Bears gave up 30 sacks in 2013, they will certainly look to shore up this area in Week 2 after giving up two sacks to the Buffalo Bills to open up the season.

Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery (right) may prove a tough matchup against the 49ers' secondary.
Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery (right) may prove a tough matchup against the 49ers' secondary.USA TODAY Sports

Wideouts Alshon Jeffery—barring a hamstring injury—and Brandon Marshall will look to punish San Francisco's secondary. Jeffrey's speed and Marshall's 6'4", 230-pound frame create obvious complications for the 49ers defensive backs here.

We won't be able to determine exactly how San Francisco hopes to stop these potent weapons a week from now until we get the final assessment of the injured players lost in Week 1. Should they all return, the 49ers defense will be in that much better shape.

If not, major adjustments will be in order.

All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.

Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to check out his entire archive on 49ers'coverage, insight and analysis.

Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.