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New Orleans Saints @ San Francisco 49ers: Interview with the Enemy

The sports blogging community seems to be filled with more than it's fair share of people named Dave/David, at least here at SB Nation. Recently, I had a chance to exchange questions and answers with one of "The Dave's": David Fucillo, head honcho of SB Nation's own San Francisco 49ers blog, Niners Nation. He provided some valuable insight into his teams week one breakdown, head coach Mike Singletary's coaching and which player might surprise the Saints this Monday night.

Keep reading for all of that and more. Also, don't forget to check out my answers to his questions posted yesterday right here on Niners Nation. 


CSC:  Expecting a contender for first place in the division, many fans were surprised by San Francisco's sloppy showing last week. To what do you attribute this break down?

NN:  The breakdown in week 1 can really be attributed to a whole host of problems. I'd argue that part of the problem was that they bought into their own press a bit much and might have thought the division would be handed to them on a silver platter. If that's the case then I feel comfortable going forward because they had a whole lot of cold water poured on that little dream.

However, the breakdown really can be explained in numerous ways. The team looked really solid through the first quarter and into the second quarter. They were having some offensive red zone problems to which some of us probably should have paid closer attention. However, midway through the third quarter things just fell apart. Alex Smith had seemed in rhythm early on but then fell out of rhythm. Offensively there were problems getting plays called in and with the noise at Qwest that's obviously a big issue. Once the team fell behind the offense just couldn't get going. Frank Gore struggled, the passing game struggled. Everything struggled.

On defense, the team shut down the Seahawks early with some aggressive defense, but the Seahawks made some offensive adjustments and burned the 49ers corners. Nate Clements intercepted the first Hasselbeck pass of the game because he was sitting on the route. He tried that multiple times later and seemed to get burned every time. All in all the game was a debacle. Everything that could go wrong went wrong.

CSC:   From an outsiders perspective, Mike Singletary seems like a hard-nosed coach who yells and screams a lot but is he really getting through to these players or is he just wasting his breath? Does he have as much control of the locker room as we would all assume?  

NN:  Mike Singletary can certainly be intense, but I don't know if I'd qualify him as a coach who yells and screams a lot. He has a lot of passion and seems to wear his emotions on his sleeves but not to the level of a Ditka. He's certainly gotten through to some players, with Vernon Davis being the primary example (malcontent turned into team leader). However, this week has seen some problems primarily with offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, QB Coach Mike Johnson and QB Alex Smith in terms of communication issues.

At this point, he seems to have control of the locker room, and I think part of that is because he has as much street cred as anybody given his playing past, he can probably get away with a bit more. The team has had some apparent turmoil, but it remains to be seen how much of that story is extrapolating out from information as opposed to hard facts. This is a big week for the team in terms of getting everybody on the same page. That obviously makes this Monday's game all the more interesting.

CSC:   What gives with the offensive communication issues and what is being done to correct them? Do you expect them to be a problem again on Monday night?

NN:  I'd recommend reading the Yahoo! article I linked above to get a complete rundown of the communication problems. However, the basic problem was this: Jimmy Raye is up in the booth calling down plays. Initially it was to an assistant and then it switched to QB CoachMike Johnson. Apparently Raye has memorized his offense for the most part, but not entirely word for word as far as calling the play down. When he goes to call down a play he'll be looking through his playbook and supposedly when he calls the play down he says it as it is in his head, which doesn't always jive with the language Alex Smith and QB coach Mike Johnson know.

I guess you have to go through a sideline person for communication plays (no direct link between booth and QB). So, the assistant that was relaying plays to Smith knew how to translate the plays into the correct language, although obviously that delayed things. When Johnson switched in and became the guy who received the plays from Raye to send to Smith, he didn't know about this and so was getting confused by plays coming in. Given the limited time on the play clock there were some times Smith didn't get a play radioed in before the radio went dead at 15 seconds (as it does for everybody). He'd have to then call his own play but obviously the timing was all screwed up, thus leading to timeouts and delays of game. Throw in the Seattle crowd noise and it's a recipe for disaster.

The question is of course how the team is fixing it. There has been mention of just moving Jimmy Raye to the sideline. Folks at NN think QB coach Mike Johnson should be taking over play-calling anyways. All in all it's one big mess. Coach Singletary will meet with the press on Thursday and hopefully will have some answers for the media. No matter what I don't expect as big a problem on Monday because they generally don't have this problem at home games in part because the noise is not as big an issue as it is on the road.

So, long story short, who knows.

CSC:  How should the Saints offense attack the 49ers defense in order to be successful? 

NN:   If the 49ers play like they did last Sunday, double moves by the receivers will be a recipe for success. Of course, I would hope the 49ers are smart enough to make some adjustments. If I'm the Saints, in the rushing game I'd probably attack the middle and left side of the line. Justin Smith is a beast on the right side and performs well in defending the run and pass. However, the middle has seen the return of nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin after missing most of training camp waiting to sign his franchise tender. Franklin was awesome at nose tackle last season and I expect an excellent 2010, but it's possible there is still some rust there from his sitting out.

Isaac Sopoaga mans the left defensive end position of the 3-4, and while he can be solid at times, I think there is more inconsistency than the 49ers get from Justin Smith. Overall, the 49ers continue to have a strong rushing defense. Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes are both beasts up the middle, and the 49ers have a secondary that is really quite solid in stopping the run (sometimes to the detriment of defending the pass).

In the passing game, the 49ers seem to mix playing too aggressively with playing too passively. The team got burned by Seattle last week because of aggression, so it's possibleDrew Brees will be able to dink and dunk his way up and down the field. Clements and Spencer might sit back more rather than play up tight, which could open up 10 yard routes all day. I don't know the defensive game plan so obviously this is some speculation on my part. But it's human nature to play it cautious when you've been burned.

CSC:  Can you tell us about any unsung hero or unknown talent on the 49ers roster that might be a factor in this game?

NN:  This should be an interesting game for the 49ers because of the loss of Ted Ginn Jr. Ginn was brought in to help in the return game and bring a deep threat to the 49ers. He had two very solid punt returns against the Seahawks before spraining his MCL on a reception, which will cost him a couple weeks. His loss means some young guys will be getting some chances to make plays.

In the punt return, the 49ers will send out rookie CB Phillip Adams. Adams got a lot of time as punt returner in the preseason and actually ran one back for a touchdown. He is a rookie so who knows what to expect from him on any given play, but it should be fun to watch for one of us. He'll also probably see time in the secondary given all your wide receivers.

In the kick return, the 49ers will likely send out WR Josh Morgan who is the #2 wide receiver. Additionally you might see TE Delanie Walker in the kick return. Before you laugh at a TE returning kicks, Walker is one of the fastest players on the team and you often see him used in end-arounds.

Ginn was also the #3 receiver for the 49ers. In his absence, I'd suspect you'll see a lot of WR Dominique Zeigler. The former Baylor product has been primarily on the practice squad in the past in spite of having what everybody considers a great set of hands (that's what she said) and being a great route runner in practice. He was often considered too skinny to be effective. However, he made the roster this season and I suspect you'll see a good deal of him on Monday.

CSC:  Bonus: Care to make a prediction?

NN:  I never pick against the 49ers in our weekly prediction contest, so why stop now? I'll go 49ers 26 - Saints 20 for no other reason than hope.