Unless he's made a big hit or gotten an interception, Eric Reid's name isn't often heard on game days.
That's a good thing for a free safety.
But on Monday night against Atlanta, Reid made a few bad plays that led to Falcons points. If not for NaVorro Bowman's miraculous interception that sealed the win late, Reid's mistakes would receive far more attention.
"Me, I try to learn from everything that happens in a game, good or bad," Reid said Thursday before his team takes on the red-hot Cardinals.
Reid's first miscue came on Drew Davis' 59-yard reception in the second quarter that set up Atlanta's first touchdown. Davis beat the zone coverage with a quick slant over the middle on 3rd-and-6, then Reid flew up from his position to make a big hit. But Davis spun away from Reid as he didn't wrap up. It allowed Davis to take the ball 45 yards down field to San Francisco's 5-yard line.
Steven Jackson scored the game's first touchdown from two yards out four plays later.
"That's not a point in the game where you need to be aggressive," Donte Whitner said. "At that point in the game you just need to fence him off and make the tackle."
As physically gifted as the former first-round pick is, Reid's continuing to learn proper angles and tackling in a way that's appropriate to the situation. On that particular third down, Davis had already gotten the first down after making the catch. Reid could have given ground to ensure a clean tackle instead of diving and trying to make a big hit.
The bright lights of the last game at Candlestick Park and "Monday Night Football" could have led to Reid's over-aggression and poor angle.
"I think it was a little bit of both. Maybe sometimes just need to be more patient, not shoot my gun as fast and use my help sometimes – force the ball back into the pursuit. I'll learn from it," Reid said.
In Nov. 10's loss to the Carolina Panthers, Reid tried to tackle hefty running back Mike Tolbert head-up instead up wrapping his legs and suffered his second concussion of the season. But he did not miss the next week's game in New Orleans.
Reid's other key mistake Monday came on Roddy White's 39-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that made it a three-point game. The 49ers had taken a 10-point lead the possession before on Colin Kaepernick's 4-yard run up the middle.
After getting a key 3rd-and-9 on a pass to White over the middle, the Falcons brought an extra lineman on the field for a heavy look on first down. White was on the left side of the formation and ran a deep post splitting Tramaine Brock and Reid over the top for a touchdown. Reid didn't locate the ball soon enough and got beat by a perfect throw from Matt Ryan to cut the lead back to three.
"Those guys get paid too. They made a play," Reid said. "I need to get tighter in coverage. I'm gonna learn from it and hopefully make a play next time."
Whitner, who's having a very good year in his own right, isn't concerned with the rookie's performance.
"He got pushed off a little bit but (I) still would have thought he would go up and get the football," Whitner said. "He's a big enough guy, explosive enough. He understands that. He's still a rookie. He understands that everybody in the National Football League will have one or two bad games. But the type of character guy he is, he's a really, really hard-working guy. He'll correct those mistakes this week and get back to playing the way that he was."
That play was the first time Reid has gotten beat on a long pass all season, which says something about the level of coverage he's provided on the back end during his first year in the league.
Reid's been the last line of the league's fifth-rated pass defense (211 YPG) that's also No. 3 in scoring (16.8 PPG). Even after Monday, the LSU alum is allowing quarterbacks a 66.90 passer rating and has four interceptions to two touchdowns allowed.
From a coaching standpoint, it's better for Reid to take these lumps now than in the postseason, just two weeks out.
"It's good to get it out of the way. You know for the last couple of weeks the coaches in practice have been telling him to be in the middle of the football field in deep coverage. That's what he'll do," Whitner said.
There might not be many games remaining where Whitner and Reid are side-by-side at the back end of the 49ers' defense. Whitner's contract is up after the season and there's a chance he joins the talented crop of free-agent safeties on the open market. But San Francisco could opt to give him the franchise tag for 2014, much like they did Dashon Goldson in his final season with the team before leaving for Tampa Bay last spring.
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