After finally notching their first win of the season, the Tennessee Titans will travel to San Francisco this weekend to meet the 3-4 49ers in an interconference matchup. The Niners' 3-4 record belies their talent. Three of their losses, all on the road, have been by a combined ten points. On the flip side, they also have a three-game losing streak.
Niners coach Mike Singletary was a teammate of Jeff Fisher on the Bears back in the day, under defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan. I don't believe it's a coincidence that all three have similar philosophies -- play tough defense and run the ball on offense.
Offense: Former offensive coordinator Mike Martz is gone and new coordinator Jimmy Raye has been the target of fan displeasure. The run-oriented offense, featuring Frank Gore, hasn't been effective for the most part. Part of the problem is a line that isn't that good. Gore has three long touchdown runs but other than that averages only 2.3 yards per carry.
Although the Niners had a lead for most of the game against the Colts last week, Raye went against the grain by passing twice as often as rushing. Go figure.
Raye is also being criticized for not using a three-WR attack more often, even though it's been their most effective offense lately.
Michael Crabtree has ended his holdout to join veteran Isaac Bruce and Josh Morgan. Crabtree led the team with six catches for 81 yards last week, in only his second NFL game.
Like the Titans, the 49ers have had a first-round draft pick quarterback on the bench for over a year before starting them last week.
Alex Smith, formerly a number one overall pick, was inserted into the lineup in the second half against the Texans two weeks ago and threw three touchdown passes to TE Vernon Davis. Smith got the start last week and the Smith-to-Davis connection struck for another touchdown.
As mentioned previously, the line isn't that good and they now have injuries to deal with as well. Tony Pashos is out for the year and their best o-lineman, LT Joe Staley, will be out for six weeks. It looks like they'll have a tough matchup against the Titans d-line.
Defense: The 49ers play a 3-4 defense and it's the strength of the team. Last week they held Peyton Manning without a touchdown pass, only to lose on a trick play, a halfback pass by RB Joseph Addai. They lost to Peyton and the Colts by four points and to Brett Favre and the Vikings by three points on a miracle play, so they've been right there.
Watch the Niners' linebackers this game, they're the strength of the defense. ILB Patrick Willis is a real stud. He's been in the league for two years and been to two Pro Bowls. That's how good this guy is.
Lined up next to Willis is thirteen-year veteran Takeo Spikes. He's probably there because he's no longer fast enough to play outside but can apparently still get the job done inside. The outside LBs, Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson, are young and good.
San Francisco is second in the league against the run and Willis already has 67 tackles, fifth in the league.
Don't look for Nate Clements, the $80 million cornerback, who was benched last week before being injured.
Special teams: Two familiar faces will be on the Niners' special teams. Joe Nedney is still alive and kicking (pun intended). Brandon Jones is a backup as a WR but is expected to take over the punt return duties in place of Clements.
That reminds me, the last time the Titans met the 49ers was in 2005, the game Jones tore his ACL. I remember watching him fall when making a cut, then watching the Niners DB get an easy pick-six. It was also Steve McNair's last good game as a Titan.
Prediction: It's hard to say what the enigmatic Niners offense will do after last week's aerial outburst. I mentioned earlier the Niners line will have a tough matchup this week. One matchup that concerns me is their TE Davis against the Titans safeties, who've had problems all year.
The Titans have always had problems playing further west than Houston and I don't know why that would change now. I believe San Francisco's defense is good enough to hold the Titans to 13 points. Unfortunately, I don't think the Titans can hold the Niners to less than that.