49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

October 11, 2008
Q&A: Fans losing patience with Nolan

Question: HI Matt, great job as always. What do you think is wrong with the Niners? Is it the coaching, players, or the GM not drafting the right players? I think we have decent talent, but I'm not a Nolan Fan. It bugs me that we only won 5 games yet we don't have any starter from the draft. What's up?
Dave, San Francisco

Answer: What's wrong with the 49ers? If I had to pinpoint one thing, it's the run defense. The 49ers seem to be playing right into the opposing coach's hands. The opponent wants to make sure that Mike Martz's offense does as little damage as possible. The best way to do that is to deny him the ball. So the opponent trots out three receivers and the 49ers predictably go to their "Big Sub" defense, which Mike Nolan sees as a panacea for all offenses. But instead of throwing the ball, the opponent exploits Nolan's fear of the big play by making lots of little ones. He brings out his biggest running back and hammers away at a defense that is built to stop the pass. The opponent isn't breaking off any big runs. But they have enough three- and four-yard gains to constantly move the chains, get into scoring position, and most importantly, keep the 49ers' offense on the sideline.
- Matt

Question: Greetings Matt. With Nolan coming back again this year (big mistake), I essentially distanced myself from the team, because it's too painful to watch the mess that he creates. I do read clips occasionally, it never ceases to amaze me the crap that comes out of Nolan's mouth: "If you have the eyes I have, and you can't tell the numbers sometimes, they look the same," Nolan said. Seriously, anyone qualified to be a position coach in the NFL would recognize the HUGE difference between Westbrook and Buckhalter. Do you get the sense he thinks we all believe his nonsense?
Lebowski, L.A.

Answer: Lebowski! Where ya been all season? Missed your acerbic wit. As far as that quote, I think (hope) the subtext was, 'We're not taking the Eagles lightly because it's Buckhalter, not Westbrook, in the game.' The quote that got a lot of play in the media trailer this week was this one, which came when Nolan was asked about DeSean Jackson. "At the time we had a couple other players that we felt were, not necessarily a need, but the players that we thought would help us more quickly." After all, who could rescue a team more quickly than Chilo Rachal, who hasn't even stuck a toe onto the field this season?
- Matt

chilo.jpg = wolf.jpg

Question: Is there any method to Mike Nolan's madness when it comes to his press conferences and his cagey way of answering questions? Compare his style with that of Andy Reid after the Eagles lost to the Redskins this week. A little candor would buy him some benefit of the doubt with fans, but now it's too late. Look at how the Vikings handled the Saints on Monday...constant pressure on Brees and he wasn't as effective. Nolan should admit his defensive game plan for the last two weeks sucked and he's going to fix it!
Troy, Olympia, Wa

Answer: I agree that a little self criticism would go a long way with the fans. But that's never been Nolan's M.O. Confidence is what earned him his job, it's what preserved his job and it's what his players seem to respond to. They were still preaching his gospel (is that even a phrase?) this week and haven't wavered in three and half seasons under Nolan. And in the end, that might be his greatest accomplishment.
- Matt

Question: "Slide due to technical errors" wow...is this what a once proud team is reduced to? Does Nolan actually see the games on Sundays? Anyways, Matt can we expect changes any time soon as far as firings etc? And I'm still not sold on getting on the Martz bandwagon for our next coach, are you?
Adrian, Oviedo, Fla

Answer: Dunno if we're going to see any mid-season changes. That doesn't seem like the Yorks' style, although most teams don't have three guys - Martz, Singletary and Manusky - capable of taking over. As for Martz, yes, we probably shouldn't hop on the bandwagon. Sure, the offense is better statistically, but the 49ers seem to bear all the earmarks of previous bad Mike Martz teams. Something to keep an eye on.
- Matt

Question: Greetings from Canada! Just a quick question about the defense. Who is more responsible for the conservative defense- Nolan or Manusky? And if Nolan's job is on the line, do you think he would be more aggressive?
Jagmin, Toronto

Answer: It's Nolan's schemes with Manusky calling the plays (with an assist from Nolan. And with Nolan doing some coaching on the sideline. Nolan). And yes, I would think he would be more aggressive, especially since his offense has the ability to keep pace with just about every team. Instead, that vanilla reputation - what I have dubbed "The Umbrella of Caution" -- that got him booted out of Washington could be his downfall here, too.
- Matt

Question: Please pressure Nolan into explaining his defensive play calling. I would love if you could get him to explain why he runs a Big Nickel every game even though we get torched every Sunday with it. The DB's give too much of a cushion and continue to get burned. We have drafted to play a 3-4 but for some reason have abandoned it. This team has loads of talent but they are not being utilized to the best of their abilities. Please hammer Nolan because the fans that pay his salary want a legitimate answer to why he won't adjust.
Justin, Pensacola, Fla.

Answer: Oh, Justin, we do ask. The answer is that the scheme is awesome, it's just that the players keep screwing it up ... But your second point is a good one. For four years, we heard how great the 3-4 defense was, how it allowed for lots of flexibility, how it put pressure on opposing offenses. But after four years, it seems like the team is neither a true 3-4 nor a legitimate 4-3. Instead, the defense is stuck somewhere in the middle, making it an incoherent Centaur that doesn't do any one thing particularly well.
- Matt

centaur.jpg<

Question: Matt - love the Blog and thanks for answering previous questions. Here's another one - at the beginning of the season I thought we would score some points and worried that our lack of a pass rush would keep us out of games. Now I think I should have been worried about our run defense. Why don't we make more defensive adjustments as the game goes on? Thoughts?
Margaret, Sacramento

Answer: Two reasons: One, the 49ers don't have a lot of options. Sure, NT Aubrayo Franklin looks like he's wearing roller cleats, but Ronald Fields, Isaac Sopoaga and Kentwan Balmer have been no better at holding their ground. Two is this notion that the 49ers aren't getting beat, they're merely making technical mistakes. That convinces Nolan and his staff that, hey, it's not the scheme that's wrong, it's that the players are making mental errors. It seems the Monday post mortems are only encouraging the 49ers that they don't need any big adjustments.
- Matt

Question: Is it time to put Scotty Mac on the hot seat too? Quick recap: A Smith, #1 overall - bust. Baas, one pick from R1 - bust (still sitting in Year4). VD - bust (hands of stone, ala Duran; you draft a blocking TE in R6, not at No. 6). B Williams - bust. Lawson - R1, semi-bust (drafted as speed rusher; thankfully he can cover, or he's a R1 special teams player). Clements - "value-based" bust (not a lock-down corner). Sopoaga v Douglas - bad choice. Jennings - no words required. Time to re-assess the GM as well as the HC? Thoughts?
Mike, Montclair, NJ

Answer: The short answer is yes - if the 49ers have another losing season (that would be six in a row, folks) EVERYONE deserves to be on the hot seat. McCloughan, however, has better excuses than others. First, he didn't have full personnel power until this season. Second, I firmly believe that the 49ers would have destroyed any quarterback that was taken No. 1 overall in 2005. Aaron Rodgers can't even survive a quarter season in Green Bay. How long would he have lasted here? Third, Patrick Willis and Frank Gore. Those guys go a long way toward bolstering someone's reputation. (And yes, I realize that No.'s one and three contradict each other).
- Matt

Question: I think its obvious we won't be picking up Housh in a trade before the deadline, and not sure how much he could help out this year in our offense since its about trust, timing, and precision. However, have you heard anything about Roy Williams or Calvin Johnson? They are familiar with Martz' offense and I'm sure either of them would give their first born to get out of Detroit right now.
Sean, Stockton

Answer: Good observation about trust, timing and precision. Just as Martz doesn't think he needs big-name QB to run his scheme, he thinks it can be done without big-name, high-priced receivers, too. (See: Furrey, Mike). But to answer your question, I'm sure Williams would love to get out of Detroit. But would he want to come to Detroit West?
- Matt

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MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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