49ers replay: Defense a big disappointment

The 49ers had designs on relying on their veteran defense this season. But through six games, the 49ers defense has been a major disappointment. Coach Mike Nolan expressed disappointment in the performance of his defense after the 49ers lost their third consecutive game, a 40-26 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles. The 49ers have surrendered at least 30 points in each of their past three games.

And it does not get any easier on Sunday when the 49ers face the New York Giants, the reigning Super Bowl champions.

"We'll evaluate those things and get ready for the Giants," Nolan said.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment has been the secondary. The 49ers boast the most experienced group of starting defensive backs in the league with cornerbacks Nate Clements and Walt Harris and safeties Mark Roman and Michael Lewis.

But after a strong start to the season, the 49ers pass defense has proven to be unusually vulnerable. The Eagles did not have starting wideouts Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown, but quarterback Donovan McNabb still managed to throw for 280 yards and two touchdowns.

"We can't give up the big plays and we need to make more plays," linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "Each and every one of us as individuals has to play better, and we have to get off the field."

San Francisco has been particularly bad on third downs. The opposition has converted 42.7 percent of third downs.

The 49ers tried to make some changes on defense against the Eagles. Instead of regularly matching personnel against personnel, the 49ers remained primarily with their base defense. The 49ers had used their nickel package a disproportionate amount through the first five games.

Nolan said on Monday he plans to big changes to correct the team's defensive problems.

"No, I'm looking for us to play better, and more than anything else, I think the players that we've got on the field are competent, quality players, and we have got to do a better job," Nolan said. "We need to be confident in the things we're doing. That comes, obviously, with success.

"We did the same things a year ago, so we have several players from that are familiar with what we're doing. One of the players is playing very well [and] wasn't even here a year ago and has confidence in what he's doing, and that's obviously Takeo Spikes. But there's other players that – Patrick [Willis] has continued to play well. There are some areas we need to play more consistently."

Willis, the second-year linebacker and captain of the defense, was outfitted with the radio transmitter in his helmet for the first time this season on Sunday. Willis took on the responsibility of calling plays in the huddle. Roman had that assignment for the first five games.

The 49ers can't afford to get their signals crossed Sunday against the Giants. They know it will take a near-perfect performance to be competitive on the road. In the past three seasons, the 49ers are just 3-15 in games that start at 10 a.m., Pacific time.

After the loss to the Eagles, Nolan told his team that there is still a lot of season left to be played and that nobody should be hanging their heads. However, the 49ers are in serious danger of seeing their season slip away, as the Arizona Cardinals have taken a two-game lead in the NFC West.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "All losses hurt. I have to look inside and ask myself what I could've done better to help us win. We have to learn to make those plays that it takes to win games." -- 49ers LB Patrick Willis.

TRENDING: Quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan has been plagued by a rash of turnovers in recent games. In the past three games -- all losses -- O'Sullivan has thrown seven interceptions and lost two fumbles.

--- TE Vernon Davis, who came into the game with five catches on the season, caught six passes against the Eagles for 75 yards. Davis had been used in pass protection about half the time when the 49ers threw in recent games.
--- WR Bryant Johnson saw only a couple snaps of action Sunday as he is battling hamstring and groin issues, he said. Johnson did not have a catch in the game. For the season, Johnson has 13 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown.
--- WR Josh Morgan saw extended playing time at split end with Bryant Johnson hampered with strains to his hamstring and groin. Morgan caught one pass against the Eagles for 25 yards.
--- RS Allen Rossum made his first career start on offense when he lined up at receiver on the first play of the game. He came in for a couple more plays and caught his first NFL pass, a four-yarder. Rossum previously had nine career starts, all at cornerback.
--- QB J.T. O'Sullivan has thrown seven of his eight interceptions in the past three games. His passer rating has slipped to 76.4. O'Sullivan threw for 199 yards against the Eagles. He was sacked three times for minus-24 yards, and he rushed three times for 31 yards.

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