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Article: That Sinking Feeling for the 49ers

Psssssttttttttttt. That’s the sound of the air leaking out of the 49ers’ balloon.

A few months ago, a mere three yards shy of Super Bowl victory, San Francisco was just pounded on its home field by the Indianapolis Colts. Not only did Andrew Luck defeat his former college coach, Jim Harbaugh, but also Harbaugh’s former college assistant Pep Hamilton, now offensive coordinator at Indianapolis, composed a game plan that looked an awful lot like the Stanford offense.

“Awful” suddenly applies to the Niners. They’ve lost their last two outings by a combined 56-10. Since taking the field for the Super Bowl, San Francisco is 1-3. Sunday, the vaunted San Francisco defense was hapless; Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis repeatedly missed tackles. The Colts’ defense — 26th-ranked in 2012 — dominated the Niners’ vaunted offensive line. The San Francisco zone read that was unstoppable during the playoffs has turned unstartable. Star Aldon Smith is in limbo and star Frank Gore is in meltdown.

Colts leading 13-7 in the third quarter, on first down Colin Kaepernick was dropped for a loss trying to run the zone read. A second down rush was stuffed. On third-and-13, veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin made the rookie error of pulling up his pattern short of the first-down marker. Now it’s fourth-and-4 on the Indianapolis 45 — and Harbaugh/West sends in the punt unit! An offense that gained 468 yards in the Super Bowl punts on fourth-and-4 in opposition territory while trailing in the second half at home. Harbaugh/West might as well have left for a craft-brewed ale along the wharf. By the time San Francisco entered Indianapolis territory again, the score was 27-7 and the clock nearly expired.

Then there’s the matter of the naked quarterback. Kaepernick has thrown for three touchdowns and four interceptions, with a 72.5 passer rating. At Kansas City, Alex Smith, sent packing to grant Kaepernick the San Francisco job, has four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 92.1 rating. Discounting for the 2012 San Francisco-St. Louis tie in which both played, since the beginning of last season, Smith is 9-2 as a starter, Kaepernick is 8-5. All of Kaepernick’s starts are with a team many touts view as having the league’s best roster. Three of Smith’s starts have come with the worst team of 2012.

In August, this column supposed “Smith is the real deal. At the Niners, Harbaugh/West was so eager to showcase Kaepernick that Smith fell out of favor despite performing well. In Smith’s final 2012 appearances with San Francisco, he combined to go 25 for 27 with four touchdown passes and no interceptions. Should Smith play well in Andy Reid’s pass-wacky system, this trade will be viewed as the year’s steal.”

Kaepernick is talented, but his emergence was tied to NFL defenders not knowing how to handle the zone read. Now they do, as Robert Griffin III has found. If the zone read recedes into the collector’s case as just a flavor of the month, teams will go back to emphasizing the kind of tried-and-true passing tactics epitomized by Tom Brady, the Manning brothers, Drew Brees — and Alex Smith. By season’s end, will Niners faithful be wishing their team had kept Smith?

Speaking of whom, the Kansas City Chiefs, who had two victories in 2012, already have three in 2013. Perhaps they will go worst-to-first.

Last season the Colts and Vikings jumped from the cellar to the playoffs. In the NFL’s format, with just four clubs per division, each member team has a 25 percent chance of finishing first, plus a bonus chance of a wild card. Eight divisions, each with four teams with a one-in-four shot at the title — if victories were distributed by chance, each season there would be two worst-to-first outcomes. Turns out that in the last decade, there have been an average of 2.5 playoffs teams that were cellar-dwellers the previous year. So Kansas City’s chances are good.


Response: In regard to Easterbrook’s 49’ers article above, I feel as if am addressing an irate fan, embittered at the prospect of a team that was one of a handful to be favored to win this year’s NFL Championship, but now sits ugly at 1-2. I am, in fact, addressing a professional sports columnist that is relied upon to share something of an astute opinion with the general sports loving public. Unfortunately, this writer seemingly has just begun to watch the NFL this season (or so it would appear) and refers to some statistical blurbs from last season in order to illustrate specious arguments that a lay fan would find perplexing and comical..

To begin, you need to separate seasons, Gregg. The Super Bowl played in the year 2013 was actually the 2012 season. So any mention of the 2012 Forty-Niners being a team that is exactly the same as the 2013 version is highly misinformed. To begin, their starting WR’s from last season are on the PUP list. They did bring in soon-to-be 33-year-old Anquan Boldin, and he did have a stellar game one. But then I suppose, based on your theory of merging seasons, that you would include that performance in his 2012 campaign? So, utilizing your theory, it is then safe to say that Boldin has done nothing so far this season. But that being said, let’s state that Boldin is a viable alternative, for now. Who is on the other side? Kyle Williams? Nice punt returner when he’s not fumbling the ball. Oh, that’s right. That was two seasons ago. Well can’t I use your merging seasons philosophy to include any season? In Kyle Williams’ case, I’m merging 2011 and 2013 and skipping 2012 for my merging argument. Anyway, Kyle Williams? A.J. Jenkins might look viable in this receiving corps now! OK, maybe not. But you get the picture – suspect on the outside.

Speaking of the stellar 2012 Niners offense, arguably the most underrated and effective utility guy in the NFL – Delanie Walker – is gone! Excellent blocker, very good receiver, clutch playmaker. So, now, that’s no Manningham, no Crabtree, and no Walker – three offensive starters at skill positions from 2012. Of the 289 receptions by Niners receivers last season, 178 of them have not been active to play or have moved on elsewhere. When receptions leave the team, so, too, do the players that receive them. That would be termed “chemistry” or, now, a lack thereof. That has temporarily escaped the 49’ers offense the last two weeks and there may be many reasons for it. Perhaps Kaepernick has spent/spends far too much time in photo shoots/commercials that he has lost some focus. I’m not privy to his scheduling, but I feel that I am more familiar with the contours of his pointy face and 10-pack abs than I am my own girlfriend. And I’ve studied the contours of her anatomy with repetitious precision for many years. Maybe it’s the coach. I say that because…doesn’t that have to be said? Maybe they’re just a year older and slower. But let’s also look at 2012. The 49’ers are not new to getting beat downs. In fact, they were manhandled in several match-ups last season. Physically overwhelmed! First, by the Vikings in Minnesota in which the Vikings dominated with your guy, Alex Smith, at the helm. The next pummeling came at the hands of the deplorable New Jersey Giants – 26-3 at Candlestick – also comandeered by Alex Smith. That performance set back QB’ing as we know it today 25 years. THAT’S why Alex Smith is no longer a Forty-Niner. And if you had the opportunity to watch him versus the Eagles last Thursday, and you had a layman’s knowledge of football, then you would understand that Alex Smith is never going to win a championship for your team. It was a combination of the horrible Philadelphis Eagles, a stellar Chiefs defense and a great RB that won that game – NOT Alex Smith. I guess THOSE Giants weren’t the same as THESE Giants though. Next loss was actually a tie with the Rams in which the Niners were outplayed much as they were in the rematch loss to the Rams a few weeks later. And then there was the thorough dismantling by the Seahawks – 42-13 – in much the same way they beat them last Sunday night. The only difference is that they had not lost two of them in a row last season. Regardless, those performances were nearly identical to the last two weeks of this season.

Your case FOR Alex Smith is not only non-sensical, it borders asisnine. What you are saying is that these troubles the Niners are currently experiencing would not be played out on the field if Alex Smith instead of Colin Keapernick is the QB. Even though I just demonstrated two disasters by him just from last season (there’s many more, believe me). Actually, don’t believe me. Do your homework! Check his stat lines from games from years past. But even more telling – watch him. As a week-to-week NFL starter, he is a painful reminder of skeleton statistics, a conservative approach to LOSING, and a guy that will not bring your city a championship.

What’s most telling about your assessment of Alex Smith is that this is his 9th year in the NFL and questions regarding his capacity to lead a team to a championship have shadowed him since he was the overall #1 pick in the 2005 NFL draft. Harbaugh obviously concurred with “experts” and fans beliefs that he wasn’t a championship QB based on his daily diagnosis of the team’s functionality “with Smith” as opposed to “with Kaepernick”. What he does at Kansas City is irrelevant to the topic of the Niners. That experiment failed after 8 YEARS of effort!

In yet another merging of seasons to construct your point, you share the 2012 Colts defensive statistics as if the Niners traveled back in time on Sunday to play THAT defense. Wake up, son! It’s 2013 and a new season and a better Colts team (by the way, they WERE 11-5 last season!). They’re stingier defensively in 2013 and pressure the QB very well. Once again, you draw a comparison from a team from another season. And it’s interesting to note that you undertook the frivolous activity of determining the worst to first scenarios for each division every year but then cling to your examples of the Colts and 49’ers using last year’s teams. Why share with readers that teams can turn around their seasons in one year and make a point with these two teams as if they are exactly the same two from a year ago. Did you not understand your own points that you drew for the readership in proclaiming the Colts and Niners deficiencies? You stumbled over yourself the entire article, and it wasn’t all that long! Did you need to meet a deadline so you threw some @#$% at the wall? Too bad none of it stuck.

Is Frank Gore REALLY melting down? He’s a RB that wants to run the ball because they are a better team when he does. That’s a meltdown? Writer’s embellishment for your unnecessarily dramatic story about a team that just isn’t that good. And I haven’t even addressed the defense yet!

Perhaps the silliest comment (in a short article in which there are many) is the statement that the 49’ers didn’t go for a 4th and 4 on the Colts 45, down 13-7 with 3:10 to play IN THE 3RD QUARTER even though they gained 468 yards in the Super Bowl. That was probably the single most stupid analogy, analysis, assessment, deduction, inference, or whatever you want to call it, that I’ve read in a sports column this year. I’d rather just call it lazy and uninspired writing. I’m cracking up out loud while I write it down! I can hear Harbaugh talking to himself now, “4th and 4 from Indy’s 45 – what should I do? Well, we did gain 468 yards in the Super Bowl. If that’s any indication we should make 4 yards here. Wait! Why am I even considering this? It was 7 months ago and we’re a different team this year. Besides, we’re ONLY down by 6 and we COULD pin them deep inside their own territory, hold them, and then get very good field position next possession. OK, that’s what I’ll do. How could I even consider going for it here? Someone, a sportswriter, likely, must be throwing some bad advice into the atmosphere for me to make a horrible decision on.” Have you figured out why it is a poor decision yet, Gregg? I wrote it down for you for educational purposes. Read it again or until you’ve been brainwashed into understanding the game (and strategy) of football.

I have news for you Gregg: The Alex Smith trade was already viewed as a steal the moment it was made. Nothing Smith does on the field, short of an all out functional meltdown, will change that. That isn’t news to anyone except you. What’s that term called for stating the obvious and then you think you know more than everyone else just because you stated it? Yes, hubris. You hubrisized us with that tidbit, Gregg!

It appears that you do not watch much Sunday football. Robert Griffin is not remotely the same player he was in 2012 because of his injury. The defense is absolutely horrible and they pay scant attention, relative to last season, to running through Alfred Morris, instead of a visibly hobbled Robert Griffin. So you’re assessment of the pistol is without merit. It’s completely ineffective without a stellar running QB. Griffin is not healthy enough (that we’ve witnessed so far) to carry a pistol offense to success. He is uneven as a passer in the pocket and avoids utilizing his greatest asset – running when a play calls for him to do so or if it doesn’t. Kaepernick? Highly effective in week 1. Totally ineffective against the best defense in football in week 2. And inexplicably ineffective in week 3. So, the way I assess it, the offensive scheme for the Niners is being tested for several reasons. The first is all of the previously mentioned offensive talent that is no longer there. The second is the horrible pass protection afforded Kaepernick. The third is the unwillingness to reaffirm the running game. Those fundamental issues of play and personnel would shake most teams’ offensive output. Especially when the defense is unable to press their opponent.

Speaking of the Niners defense, you probably haven’t noticed that they lost three outstanding starters in that line-up, Isaac Sopoaga at NT was a steady force. He was replaced with perhaps the worst 1st round draft pick in the last 10 years, Glen Dorsey (FA Chiefs). That’s a gaping hole in the middle, even if Dorsey is 300 pounds. They also lost their best cover corner, Chris Culliver, AND one of the top safeties in the entire NFL, Dashon Goldson.

Having the knowledge of the amount of defections/injuries for the Niners coming into the season on both sides of the ball, how is it that you cannot understand what it is they are going through at this particular time. They just aren’t a very good team right now. It’s that simple. I had them #24 in my own personal rankings BEFORE the Colts game. I would have been surprised if they had won. But I am a far more erudite student of the game, Glenn, so it is ludicrous to believe you would have as much insight. But expressing shock that the Niners did not go for a 4th and 4 at the Colts 45 with 3:10 left in the 3rd quarter in a 6-point game and not understanding the consequences for such a questionable decision tells the public all they need to know of your limited knowledge of the game.


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