Ouch. Literally...that is the only thought that a two game losing streak brings to mind. Ouch. For the second week in a row, the 49ers came up one play short against a very good team...and now seem destined for the 6th seed in the NFC playoff picture...provided that they can reverse their fortunes over the season's last 6 weeks, that is.
This week, Diego and AJ will be delving into the most ridiculous roughing the passer penalty of the 2013 season (and certainly a candidate for the all-time list, if one exists), taking a closer look at the "why" behind the struggles of Colin Kaepernick and chiming in on which 49er assistant coach, if any, should be sent packing. Any way you slice it, this should be an entertaining installment of UFR...provided that we can avoid any incidental neck contact.
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AJ: As Saints Tackle Zach Streif whiffed miserably at Ahmad Brooks late in the 4th quarter of last Sunday's game, I saw what was coming. You saw what was coming. I'm pretty sure that there were more than a few blind folks out there who saw what was coming. Drew Brees was about to get crushed. Hard. He winced. Brooks struck. And everyone went nuts.
Watching the hit in real time was epic. Brees crumpled, the ball popped out, and Patrick Willis fell on it. That was it. The decisive moment. Game, set, match. Checkmate. Vaya con Dios, chingaderas.
And then the flag fell.
The replay showed no head contact. Brooks didn't lead with the crown of his helmet. He didn't touch the face mask. He didn't piledrive Brees into the ground. His bicep made contact with Brees' neck. Sort of. And the 49ers got screwed. Sort of.
Was it a personal foul? Maybe. Maybe not. This kind of borderline play often transpires without a flag falling...like when the Saints sacked, face masked and wrenched Colin Kaepernick's neck in the 1st quarter. Was it a penalty then? Maybe. Maybe not. I believe that Joe Buck said at the time that "it was a good non-call."
My thoughts? Simple. The official should have kept his flag in his pocket, and "let them play." Late in games, this has often been the practice of NFL referees, precisely because of one simple fact: a borderline penalty flag should not affect the outcome of a contest. In this instance it did, and that is a shame. Not just for the 49ers, but for the game itself.
Diego: I have this saying, it goes like this: "I don't like taxes, but I pay them." It's a saying I often say when people complain about the rules. A lot of people, especially 49ers fans, have a beef with the flag thrown on Ahmad Brooks for a "personal foul, contact to the neck of the quarterback ...", so in order to discuss this I did two things:
I looked at the replay SEVERAL times: Brooks beats Streif right as the ball is snapped with a great first step on a speed rush, the Saints right tackle was trying to catch up to Brooks all the way. Brees, who had no idea Brooks had abused Streif on the right side of the line, was looking to his left for a receiver that just wasn't open (more on this later), and Brooks nearly blindsided Brees, hitting him with his right arm high on the border of the chest and neck areas, wrapping him up and sending him to the ground, forcing a fumble in the process that was recovered by Patrick Willis. As Brooks was getting Brees to the ground, his right arm slightly slices across Brees' neck, although for purposes of the flag I'm sure this didn't really have much of an effect on it.
I looked at the NFL rulebook: Rule 12 (Player Conduct), Section 2 (Personal Fouls), Article 13 (Roughing the Passer) point 3 (Hits to Passer's Head and Use of Helmet and Facemask) - "In covering the passer position, Referees will be particularly alert to fouls in which defenders impermissibly use the helmet and/or facemask to hit the passer, or use hands, arms, or other parts of the body to hit the passer forcibly in the head or neck area."
Look, by the current rules of the NFL, that was a borderline hit by Brooks. If you guys watch as much football as I do, you have already seen NFL official officials regularly err on the side of caution on borderline plays such as this and throw the flag. The league is trying to protect these quarterbacks. The application of the rule on this play was definitely not something uncalled for. The fact that Drew Brees is short (yet still 4 inches taller than me) doesn't matter. If we reversed the roles and it was Kap who was hit in a similar fashion and fumbling the ball, we all would had jumped off our seats doing the throw-the-flag sign. Yes, the league is changing. If you want to have a discussion about whether the rule should be changed, we can have that discussion, but this particular play - with the current NFL rulebook - doesn't really have much to discuss.
The Conundrum of Colin Kaepernick
Diego: The short answer? He has regressed. Why? Beats the hell out of me.
Not too long ago I was reading about how Mario Manningham's return to the team would help Kap by providing him with a solid #2 wide receiver. Now apparently Manningham isn't really that good. I was harsh on the offensive line last week, but Kap's struggles can definitely not be blamed on his protection. The third year man out of Nevada is simply inconsistent, often times locks onto and forces the ball to his first read, and while at times he can make amazingly accurate throws, other times he just displays the accuracy of Tim Tebow. Admittedly, he is not necessarily getting a lot of help when guys drop some pretty good passes, but Kaepernick has definitely been far from the guy who has a chance to potentially be the greatest QB of all time (Jaworski jinx, anyone?)
Oddly enough an aspect of Kaepernick's game that made him so dynamic last season has been absent for most of this season: the deep ball. His lack of going through his progressions comes to mind here, especially on a particular incomplete pass last Sunday. The 49ers third incompletion of the day came on a first down play with 22 personnel (2 running backs and 2 tight ends). With Kap behind center, Gore lined up alone in the backfield while Vance McDonald and Bruce Miller lined up as tight ends on the left side of the formation. The wideouts on the play were Anquan Boldin on the far right and Vernon Davis in the slot. It was play-action, and Boldin ran a corner route while Davis ran a deep route. Kap inexplicably threw the ball to Boldin, trying to fit the pass into a tight space where Boldin would be surrounded by defenders, and in the process he missed Davis running WIDE OPEN for what would had been that dynamic long play we barely see from the QB anymore. He had time in the pocket, so that can't be the excuse. While I can't recall another play in this game where the 49ers QB missed an open receiver down the field, there were definitely a few plays where, as a result of throwing the ball right away to his first read, Kaepernick missed open receivers.
AJ: With the exception of the 2013 season's first week Colin Kaepernick has looked like a completely different player than he was last season. Last week, I surmised that Kap's struggles have come primarily when Vernon Davis isn't on the field. That is a root cause, to be sure...but drilling down a bit brings to light larger issues. It's those larger issues that I want to get into today.
Last season, the 49er coaching staff wisely installed the pistol offense (in part, at least) to elevate Kap's comfort level... And the results were a sight to behold. He came in, stepped up, and led the 49ers to their first Super Bowl in 19 years. The 2013 season brought its share of changes...and one of these was a decreased emphasis on the pistol.
Why the change? Simple: the pistol was intended to be a developmental bridge for Kap, and that's about it. Because the pistol essentially cuts the field in half, it shortened Kap's progression on pass plays, allowing him to read half of a defense, make his decisions more quickly, and get the ball out of his hands or take off running.
This season, Kap is taking more snaps from under center, so instead of standing and reading, he's doing much more dropping back and reading, which requires different footwork...the basis of every quarterback's game. And Kap is still fine tuning it.
Additionally, Kap had a pared down play book last season. The offense the 49ers installed was designed specifically to make him as successful as possible as quickly as possible. Defenses have adapted, and as a result, new wrinkles have been added...so he's still learning. This affects the time the 49ers spend in the huddle, shifts and audibles based on reads at the line and decision making once the ball has been snapped. When you take all of the aforementioned into account then take away 3 of Kap's top 4 receivers from last season,is it any wonder that the 49er passing game had faltered?
The good news? It will get better. The bad news? It will take time. And time is a commodity that the 49ers are rapidly running out of this season.
Should the 49ers Fire an Assistant? If So, Whom?
AJ: I know what you're waiting for. You are waiting for me to give you a scathing indictment of 49er OC Greg Roman. You want to hear that he sucks. You want to hear that he can't call a game. You want me to validate your frustration, giving you a target upon which to vent your fury.
I hate to disappoint, but that isn't going to happen. Sorry.
Greg Roman shouldn't be fired. He shouldn't be replaced. He should be given time to fully unveil this offense...to grow it as he has done since 2011...to build it around the player that he and Head Coach Jim Harbaugh have hand picked to run it.
Imagine this: I describe a football team to you. I tell you that they have a lights out defense, a very good running back and a hell of an offensive line. Their tight end is among the best in the game. Then I tell you that their #1 and #2 wide receivers are injured and will likely miss more than half of the season...and they've been replaced by journeymen and one aging vet. Then I tell you that they have a very young, very talented but inexperienced QB. Would your initial thought be "Super Bowl team?" Would you think "Dynamic passing attack?" Probably not.
The trap that most of us (myself included) fell into with the 49ers this season is that most of us didn't bother to do a "deep dive" into Colin Kaepernick's sudden success last season. What that deep dive would have shown us is that while Colin Kaepernick is insanely gifted, the finer points of his game need work. His "conventional" quarterback skills need polishing. And his offensive coordinator probably knew this headed into the season.
This offense will improve. It will perform at a high level. It will become something truly amazing to watch. But that will take time. And patience.
Diego: First of all I don't want to see any more references to Cam Cameron being fired towards the end of last season, and how this magic move helped propel the Ravens to an NFL Championship. That's a nice story for the Ravens (sarcasm), I'm happy for them (more sarcasm), but just because that series of events took place in Baltimore last season it doesn't mean that is what will happen ANYWHERE this season.
Fire Roman = CHAMPIONSHIP ... I wish it was that easy.
It was just this past offseason that the most of the fan base was scared to lose Roman to a head coaching position elsewhere in the NFL or in college. That being said, it is abundantly clear that this coaching staff needs to adapt to how they are being defended by opponents. The Saints practically lived with 8, sometimes 9, and at times even 10 men in the box against the 49ers, especially when they lined up in that heavy I-formation with a single WR (mostly Boldin, but Manningham and even Baldwin rotated in). The results were mostly none or negative, with occasional positive yardage. Initially I became frustrated at an audible not being called switching to a pass play, but where do you think the ball is going to go in that case? It's either to the WR if he can beat the single coverage (more often than not they can't) or to Davis because he is really the only matchup that can be exploited, except defenses know this and pay extra attention to him. The stubbornness needs to stop. You can't try to use Vance McDonald in the same way you used Delanie Walker last couple of seasons. Sometimes, the 49ers use their heavy I personnel and line them up in a trips formation, or try to get cute about how they lined up to disguise what they are trying to do ... they're not fulling anyone, not until they prove that McDonald or Bruce Miller can make them pay in the air, which they won't. McDonald and Miller each had more snaps played in this game than Manningham, and twice as many as Baldwin. That needs to change. I may not be a Baldwin fanatic, but Manningham sure as hell is a proven NFL receiver. He is 27 years old. We need to start seeing more traditional I-formations with two wide receivers or Ace formations with McDonald replacing Miller - that's right, either or, not both, only occasionally, and it shouldn't always be a run play either (just to stay away from being predictable).
Is change needed? Absolutely, but not in the way of knee-jerk reaction firings. Jim Harbaugh is not unattached to this offense, he has an input on it, and if change is going to come it needs to come from him.
- On Wednesday, the NFL levied a $15,750 fine for Ahmad Brooks' hit on Drew Brees. Count me among those that think this fine is a sign that the NFL is moving rapidly down the road to completely changing the game that we all love for the worse.
- Lost in the hubbub of the flag that shouldn't have fallen is the fact that Ahmad Brooks is turning in one hell of a season. Expect that to continue on Monday night in Maryland.
- Will this be the week that the 49ers finally welcome back Michael Crabtree? I sure hope so...because they need him. Bad.
- I'm still sitting here trying to understand how Baldwin didn't get a touchdown on the play before Boldin's touchdown. Go check out the NFL rule book, Rule 8, section 1, article 3, item 1. Please enlighten me.
- We will probably never remember how amazingly well the 49ers secondary played against the Saints, even after Tarell Brown left with a rib injury, so I'm making this note on here so that the 49ers defense knows that their efforts don't go unnoticed in this tough loss. They gave the 49ers a great chance to win this game.
- If you haven't done so yet, check out Mike Tanier's excellent breakdown of Colin Kaepernick's Impossible Situation. It will hurt, but it is a great read.
Week 12 Picks:
AJ edged Diego last week going 8-7, Diego 7-8.
Saints (-9.5) at Falcons:
AJ: I predict that this game will be decided by a flag thrown for roughing the puss...uh, passer...when an Atlanta defender accidentally sneezes on Drew Brees. SAINTS
Diego: And the flag is going to lead to a 10-point score for the Saints? That's a rough break for the Falcons. Anyways ... Atlanta just lost to the Buccaneers, so that will be that. SAINTS.
Bears at Rams (-1):
AJ: The Bears are suddenly gaining momentum...which will likely be ground to a halt by one of the league's stoutest defenses. RAMS.
Diego: Zac Stacy has been eating. Chicago's defense has been feeding yards. RAMS.
Buccaneers at Lions (-9):
AJ: The Lions are not the Dolphins...much to the chagrin of Schiano's resurgent group of misfits. Look for Megatron to abuse an aggressive but very beatable secondary. LIONS.
Diego: Megatron. Revis Island. Coup d'état. LIONS.
Chargers at Chiefs (-5):
AJ: Last week, the Chiefs lost their first game of the season...to a team that might be representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. I expect the KC defense to overwhelm a competent, but certainly not dominant Charger offense. CHIEFS.
Diego: Ok so Kansas City lost to Denver last week. What's San Diego's excuse for losing to Miami? The Chiefs will look to bounce back and gain momentum going into their rematch with the Broncos next week. CHIEFS.
Jaguars at Texans (-10):
AJ: I am about to pick the Texans to win a game by double digits. Is it because they are that good? Not really. It's because the Jags would have a tough time scoring against the Modesto Rams' pee-wee team. TEXANS.
Diego: I want to talk up Jacksonville, I really do, but I have nothing. TEXANS.
Jets at Ravens (-3.5):
AJ: He of the most ridiculous contract in the history of overpaid underachievers will get a win this week. Not because he's worth his bazillion dollar contract...but because the Jets are so confounded right now that I doubt they could win a game of tic-tac-toe with a two letter head start. RAVENS.
Diego: What's really funny about the Jets is that they win the games you don't expect them to win (vs Patriots, vs Saints). Rex Ryan's team is 1-4 on the road this season while the Ravens are 3-1 at home. Hmmm ... RAVENS.
Panthers (-4) at Dolphins:
AJ: Quick prediction...with the game on the line, Kuechly will suplex Brian Hartline as he attempts to adjust to the ball in the endzone. But the ball will be ruled uncatchable because the referees will conclude that an unconscious player couldn't possibly catch the ball anyway. PANTHERS.
Diego: The Football Girl quoting Cam Newton: https://twitter.com/thefootballgirl/status/402656752564314112 ... PANTHERS.
Steelers at Browns (-2):
AJ: I cannot pick the Browns to win a game. Even against a team dressed in uniforms that make them look like prison inmates that have been crossbred with bumble bees. STEELERS.
Diego: Am I still the only one that digs the bumblebee unis? Haters gonna hate, I guess. I don't hate the Browns, I think they matchup well defensively against the Steelers, and I think Cleveland's offensive offense at home may do just enough to pull this off. BROWNS.
Vikings at Packers (-5):
AJ: There are actually 49er fans that miss Scott Tolzien. To all three of them, I say only that the great Tolzien managed to outsuck Eli Manning last week. That's quite a feat, kids. VIKINGS.
Diego: I don't miss Tolzien. I do think he is a capable NFL QB. Something about this game just screams Adrian Peterson going off though. VIKINGS.
Colts at Cardinals (-2):
AJ: Yes, I still think Jim Irsay is a douche flavored milkshake with a side of toe jam...but the Colts are a far better team than the Cardinals, and it will show this weekend. No matter how big a putz their owner is. COLTS.
Diego: If I'm gonna give the 49ers grief for winning against teams with a combined losing record, then I'm not going to be impressed with Arizona's three-game winning streak over the Falcons, Texans, and Jaguars. COLTS.
Titans at Raiders (-1):
AJ: The Raiders are favored again? I don't buy it. Especially with a QB making his second career start. TITANS.
Diego: Tennessee looked pretty good at times a week ago vs Indianapolis. I don't think Matt McGloin is as good as his stat sheet last week makes him out to be, but I do think he can pull this off and stir the pot up even more across the Bay Bridge. RAIDERS.
Cowboys at Giants (-2.5):
AJ: This game has the potential to create a rip in the space-time continuum...the ultimate choke artist meets the ultimate turnover machine. The potential for unintentional slapstick comedy makes this a can't miss game. COWBOYS.
Diego: The blue men will win this game, because it makes perfect sense that they would and make a bigger mockery of the NFC East than it already is. GIANTS.
Broncos at Patriots (-2.5):
AJ: Tom Brady can still bring it. It's a crying shame that his defense can't. BRONCOS.
Diego: Now here is a team that should have legitimate beef with a flag being thrown ... and then picked up. Like AJ, I can't see Brady being able to keep up with Peyton. BRONCOS.
49ers (-5.5) at Redskins:
AJ: The last two weeks have been anything from ideal for the 49ers. Some think they'll never win another game. Some think Kaepernick is a giant cornucopia of suck. Still others believe that Greg Roman couldn't coordinate a pee wee league scrimmage. The truth lies somewhere between the aforementioned and the unrealistic expectations foisted upon the 49ers at the seasons outset. This weekend, the 49ers will find their feet, get a win, and the bandwagon will begin to fill up again. 49ERS.
Diego: It's becoming really difficult to pick San Francisco to win games based on the concept that they can do the things needed to beat their opponent when they don't them. Off they go to Washington, which is a bottom-five team in both yards and points per game. They are bottom-10 in pass defense and rank a modest 19th against the run. Will the 49ers win this game? Yes. By more than a field goal? ... REDSKINS.
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