Criticism of Marathe’s booth involvement is unfair

When it was revealed a year ago 49ers director of football operations Paraag Marathe was in the booth on game days, helping with rules and replays, it caused a lot of people to question the wisdom of coach Mike Nolan’s decision.

Marathe this season has become an easy target for fans and media who are looking to assign blame for some of the poor replay challenges and the apparently non-existent booth-to-sideline communication in the crucial minutes during Monday night’s replay review after Frank Gore’s failed attempt to get into the end zone.

 

It’s time for everybody to lay off Marathe, who is also the club’s chief contract negotiator. It is completely unfair and misguided to single him out. He is only one of seven individuals in the 49ers’ coaches’ booth, and the head coach has the final say on everything.

 

There is no question in my mind Marathe knows the NFL rulebook better than anyone in the organization. There have been numerous times through the past couple years when I’ve casually asked him about obscure rules and he has always immediately given me a clear and concise answer. There have even been times when I thought, “That can’t be right.” But he is always correct.

 

If Marathe knows the rulebook better than anyone, he should be in the team’s coaches’ booth to assist the head coach in making decisions. That makes a lot of sense – but only if the head coach wants him in the booth. Nolan wanted him up there, and so does Mike Singletary.

 

I don’t claim to know all the details of what happens in the coaches’ booth on game days, so I can’t say for sure how much influence Marathe does or does not have. But I see nothing wrong with having a bright person available to offer clinical input to a head coach who has a lot of other things on his mind.

 

But the only – ONLY – problem I would have with Marathe in the booth is if he were entrusted to make game-impacting decisions under extreme pressure. That’s an area best left to the coaches who are out on the practice field every day and whose livelihoods depend on making split-second decisions.

 

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FYI, the coaches in the booth are Ted Tollner (quarterbacks/assistant to the head coach), Shane Day (quality control), Dave Fipp (assistant special teams), Johnnie Lynn (secondary) and Jason Tarver (defensive assistant/outside linebackers).

Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky moved to the sideline when Singletary replaced Nolan as head coach.

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OK, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s hit on a few of the key matchups for Sunday’s 49ers game against the Rams at Candlestick Park:

 

Niners interim coach Mike Singletary vs. Rams interim coach Jim Haslett: Both of these gentlemen are looking to eliminate the “interim” from their titles next season. Haslett got off to a great start, leading the Rams to their first two victories in his first two games. But they have since tailed off. Last week, the Rams were atrocious. They trailed 40-0 at halftime, and lost 47-3 to the N.Y. Jets. Singletary’s tenure has gotten off to a bad start. His first game against the Seahawks was a disaster all the way around, and the 49ers suffered a colossal coaching meltdown in the final minutes of the team’s loss Monday night. However, there were some signs that the 49ers could be getting better with Shaun Hill at quarterback and an offensive approach that seems to better-utilize their personnel.

 

Slot receiver Jason Hill vs. nickel back Jason Craft: The most exciting aspect of the 49ers’ game Monday was that Hill finally got to play, and he responded with an impressive game. Hill was clearly the 49ers’ best receiver with six catches for 82 yards. And, think, he probably never would’ve gotten that chance if Arnaz Battle had not sustained an injury. Hill will be facing a lot of experience, as he’ll go against midseason pickup Craft, a 10-year pro who played with Jacksonville and New Orleans.

 

Flanker Isaac Bruce vs. cornerback Fakhir Brown: Bruce has not done much since coming to the 49ers. He had 153 yard receiving in a brilliant Week 2 performance against the Seahawks. But in his other eight games, Bruce is averaging just 32.3 yards receiving. He is much more popular in St. Louis than he is in his new home stadium – and for good reason. He played a key role with the wildly entertaining “Greatest Show on Turf.” He faced Brown for several seasons in practices. In the lead-up to this game, Bruce said he sees no difference in those practices and this game. Hmmm, and I think we were supposed to believe him.

 

Left tackle Joe Staley vs. right defensive end Chris Long: Conceivably, this is the first of a matchup that could last for a long, long time. Staley has gotten better and better since moving to this spot at the beginning of the season. The move to switch him to the left side was a great decision because of the problems that would have been caused if the 49ers had been forced to fill in for Jonas Jennings again. Long was the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft. He has lived up to the advance billing of being a Justin Smith-type player. He’s very active against the run with 43 tackles, and he’s also picked up four sacks. The Rams have just started using Long as a stand-up pass rusher in some third-down situations.

 

Right tackle Adam Snyder vs. left defensive end Leonard Little: Snyder has given the 49ers no reason to rush Jennings back into the lineup. In fact, if Snyder plays well, he will have first dibs on retaining this position into the future. Little leads the Rams with 4.5 sacks, but he does not have his usual explosion off the snap of the ball because of a lingering hamstring strain. In his past three games, he has no sacks and just three tackles.

 

Quarterback Shaun Hill vs. the turnover bug: Hill’s promotion into the starting lineup was supposed to solve the 49ers’ giveaway problems. It did . . . for three quarters of Monday’s game. Then, Hill threw two interceptions (two others that were returned for touchdowns were nullified by penalties) and he lost one fumble. Hill has a calming presence at quarterback – unless he’s struggling to gain extra yards without the use of his helmet. The 49ers are the worst in the league in takaway-giveaway margin at minus-13. With Hill at the controls, they have to cut down on all those turnovers.

 

Defensive end Justin Smith vs. right tackle Alex Barron: The more I watch Smith, the more I’m impressed. The 49ers like to move him around quite a bit, and it seems to me that they’d want to match him up on Barron, who has struggled. Why put Smith on the other side against still-viable Orlando Pace. Anyway, if you get a chance, just watch Smith. The guy never quits on a play. Although he has only three sacks on the season, he leads the 49ers with 30 quarterback pressures. He needs to get a few hits on Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, who has been sacked 26 times on the season. The 49ers’ pass rush has been lacking. The club has just 10 sacks in the past eight games.

 

Cornerback Walt Harris vs. receiver Donnie Avery: Others might focus on the Nate Clements-Torry Holt matchup, but Avery is more like the kind of receiver who has given the 49ers problems this season. He’s young and he’s fast. Can anyone in the 49ers’ secondary match up with him? We shall see. Avery leads the Rams in receiving yards. He has 25 receptions for 392 yards for a 15.7 average. If Bulger gets time to thrown, Avery has the potential to pop a big play.

 

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