Dashon Goldson can help show the way in secondary
Shawntae Spencer and Dashon Goldson each brought 32-game streaks as starters in the 49ers’ secondary into this season, but Goldson hasn’t played a snap in the team’s first two games, and Spencer has barely sniffed the field. Now that both are healthy, that needs to change immediately this week against the Cincinnati Bengals, whether SF’s new coaching staff has warmed to the two veterans or not.
Spencer didn’t exactly ingratiate himself to the team’s new regime this summer when he missed all but a few training camp practices and all four exhibition games with a hamstring problem. Coaches were eager to see Spencer in action this summer after his play regressed in 2010 following the eighth-year veteran’s career year in 2009.
Even though Spencer was deemed healthy enough to be in uniform against Seattle in the opener and Dallas last week, he was on the field for only a handful of plays as Tarell Brown and Tramaine Brock handled the roles of San Francisco’s Nos. 2 and 3 cornerbacks behind No. 1 Carlos Rogers, the newcomer who now holds the role that previously belonged to Spencer as the team’s starting left cornerback.
Coaches don’t seem to be too endeared to Spencer, but it’s time for the team to realize he’s the best starting-caliber corner on the roster besides Rogers. The 49ers got by with Brown and Brock in lead roles against Seattle, but they played like the backups they really are against the Cowboys, and the 49ers paid for it.
Likewise, Goldson’s return this week couldn’t come any sooner. He injured his knee before the season began and wasn’t ready for the opener. But, even after Goldson announced himself fit to play last week, he was held out as a precaution against the Cowboys to give him another week to get ready.
The 49ers hadn’t worked Goldson into the game plan against Dallas, but they should do that from the get-go this week, because both Madieu Williams and Reggie Smith failed the Niners in key situations against the Cowboys.
Even if Goldson joined the team late this summer and still will be playing himself into shape and getting comfortable in a new system, his presence is much needed on the back end of San Francisco’s defense.
Coach Jim Harbaugh admitted on Monday that the secondary is “not where we want it to be yet,” and he said the 49ers will look at the option of both veterans returning to the lineup.
“Well, they definitely have the ability, the experience, and the license to do that,” Harbaugh said. “Definitely we’ll have that shot this week. Both of them are working their way back into the lineup so that will be something to really assess and look at this week.”
Playing without Spencer and Goldson against the Cowboys, the 49ers and their fans watched in horror as Dallas quarterback Tony Romo consistently made big plays in the late going, including the damning 77-yard catch-and-run to former practice-squad player Jesse Holley on Dallas’ first play of overtime, setting up Dallas’ game-winning field goal on the next play.
Romo lit up the San Francisco secondary, completing 20 of 33 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns despite playing with a broken rib and, it was later reported, a punctured lung.
Even with an injury that he said made it difficult to breathe, Romo challenged the 49ers as the game went along, and they were helpless to stop him even when they had a good idea what was coming.
Romo’s exploits erased a 10-point, fourth-quarter advantage and Romo did it without star receiver Dez Bryant, who missed the game with a thigh injury.
Late in the game and in overtime, he also did it without Miles Austin, who injured his hamstring in the fourth quarter. Before he was done for the afternoon, Austin embarrassed the Niners with nine receptions for 143 yards and three touchdowns.
The 49ers’ secondary definitely played a major role in allowing 432 yards passing to Romo and backup Jon Kitna.
The list of breakdowns included:
--- Smith taking a bad angle on Austin's 53-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the second quarter.
--- Brock slipping when attempting to bump Austin at the line of scrimmage on the same play, allowing Austin to break free over the middle and get wide open in space for the catch.
--- Williams failing to play the ball or make the tackle when he was in position to do both on Austin's 25-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Williams also let Austin get a step on him in the back of the end zone on Austin’s first TD catch that brought the Cowboys within 14-7 in the second quarter.
--- Safety Donte Whitner and Rogers both bit on Romo’s play-action on Dallas’ first play of overtime, allowing Holley to run right past them on the killer 77-yard play that effectively decided the game. Whitner chalked it up to a miscommunication and a mistake, but both DBs should have been playing the pass first in that situation, particularly with the Cowboys backed up in their own territory and Dallas going nowhere on the ground.
Whatever it was, the 49ers cannot give up more than 400 yards passing to an injured quarterback who is playing with a practice-squad receiver.
Besides the conspicuous glitch, Whitner and Rogers have played well in San Francisco’s first two games and have been upgrades in the secondary. But now the team needs to match its two holdover veteran starters with the two new regulars.
Harbaugh also seemed to isolate his secondary when he said Monday that his defensive line provided the same pressure they did in Week 1, when the 49ers sacked Seattle's Tarvaris Jackson five times.
"I think you're going to look at this and see a pass rush that was very good," Harbaugh said. "Got a sack, got the hurries, got the hits."
The 49ers did intercept Kitna twice after he spelled Romo in the third quarter. But one was a gift when Kitna blew a pass about 10 yards over tight end Jason Witten's head and Whitner swooped in to make the pick in the end zone. The other came off a deflection, when Rogers tipped the ball and an opportunistic Brock made his second pick in two games.
But even with those turnovers, the secondary should be primary in the team’s defensive adjustments this week. And those adjustments should include getting Goldson and Spencer back on the field as starters.