I Can't Get Behind This Team
September 15, 2007 at 9:01 AM
By Brett Pahler
Look. I stayed up until 2:00 in the morning east coast time to watch Monday's game. It was exciting. I love the fact that Smith defeated Leinert, the guy most 49ers fans wished we had drafted. I loved watching Patrick Willis get a hand in on virtually every tackle. I loved that, for the first time since the Seifert era, when the opposing quarterback tossed a pass there was some genuine doubt about which team would come down with it. But I'm not going to get emotionally invested in this team. Not yet.
The win came against the 5-11 Cardinals, and it was a last second win that we would have lost if the Cardinals player had knocked the ball out of the end zone. The win is important because there's always that chance that we make significant strides during the season, but as of right now, we're just as lousy as the Cards. For every bright spot, there's a downside. Some of them are coaching decisions. Others are talent issues. But until they're by-and-large addressed, I'm not going to throw myself behind this team just so I can have my hopes dashed and my dreams of a playoff season destroyed.
Here are my reasons. First, it's a shame that Patrick Willis is going to have to spend this season making up for Derek Smith's continuied abominable performance. Remember the play where Willis busted up the middle, sent the running back stumbling backwards, and then chased Leinert into the corner of the end zone? Well, two other defensive linemen joined pursuit of Leinert, and the three defenders all had clear paths to Leinert and were moments away from forcing him to throw it out of bounds. But wait, the running back that Willis sent backwards initially, recovered, and headed to the flat, as though slipping out for a screen. The running back leaked out right in front of Derek Smith, who decided to ignore the running back right next to him and pursue Leinert from 10 yards away, even though Leinert was already cornered. So Smith charged into the end zone, as if we needed 4 out of our 11 defenders cornering Leinert, and of course, Leinert dumps it off to the running back, who runs for 15 yards. Smith doesn't even consider covering the running back until the ball leaves Leinert's hands.
It's ridiculous that Nolan has Smith in there at all. He's been a poor tackler for at least two years, and he's never had good instincts. And as Monday's game proves, he's not even the cerebral player Nolan claims he is. It's infuriating that difference-makers like London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes were available for dirt cheap this offseason and we chose to stick with Smith.
Next, I've just about had it with Vernon Davis. The guy's worse than Eric Johnson. The Teddy Ginn of tight ends. Superb athlete, but not a natural football player. Celebrating your five yard catches is obnoxious whether you're wearing a 49ers jersey or not. He's about three times as likely to drop a pass, fumble the ball trying to break tackles, or get a taunting penalty as he is to get a first down. At this point, I wish we had coughed up the money to sign Eric Johnson to a long-term deal and spent the pick on someone else. Perhaps a middle a linebacker to replace Smith.
Next, what is Ashley Lelie doing on the bench? We finally have three good receivers, and what happens? We bury one of them behind Taylor Jacobs, who is a year away from NFL Europe. Did the coaches watch the preseason tapes? Lelie was unstoppable. He's fast. He's polished. He stretches the field. Do the coaches know that he was a 1,000 yard receiver at Denver? I ask rhetorically, but I'm somewhat serious. Our coaches are very likely the only people in the nation who believe that Taylor Jacobs is better than Ashley Lelie. This is the world we live in.
Next, I think we're overmatched when it comes to the offensive coordinator. One play in particular did it for me. The quick pass out to Jackson, who is not known for his run-after-the-catch ability, so he could go one-on-one with Adrian Wilson, who is widely hailed as one of the more agile, physical safeties in the game. Was there any doubt that Wilson would come up and tackle Jackson for no gain? If you see a safety covering a wide receiver, your coaching instincts should tell you to send the receiver deep where the safety's coverage skills will be exposed. I don't understand how you can be an offensive coordinator in the NFL and think that Darrell Jackson is going to overpower Adrian Wilson in limited space.
Nor do I understand the continued obsession, and it is an obsession at this point, with rolling Alex Smith outside the pocket. You know how announcers always trumpet facts like, "Donovan McNabb actually completes 70% of his passes when he gets outside the pocket?" I'd love to hear the stats on Smith. "Smith completes 12% of his passes on designed rollouts."
This team was so close to being good. Letting Petersen and Carter go because Nolan wanted to switch to the 3-4 was beyond stubborn. Both players are superior pass-rushers to Lawson and Banta-Cain. Imagine a 4-3 defense of Young-Sopoaga-Franklin-Carter, Petersen-Willis-Fletcher, and Clements-Harris-Lewis-Roman, with Spencer, Banta-Cain, Moore, Lawson, and Douglas coming off the bench.
That, my friends, is a defense, and we had the cap space to do it. We might beat the Rams. We'll get slaughtered in Pittsburgh.
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