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Never have I seen a more pathetic offense than what I observed this past Sunday. It unraveled yet again inside Monster Park in San Francisco against the New Orleans Saints as the 49ers were defeated for the fifth straight time by the score of 31-10 before their home based fans that are on the verge of rioting. Responsibility is something that should never be carried lightly and Mike Nolan, in his opening statement at his post-game news conference, confirmed that: "I am responsible for our (2-5) record so far this year."
It was a nice opening statement and he tried to find vindication for why the team is where it is and to reflect on these discouraging times both as a coach and as a team in general. He is rapidly losing the 49er fan base as we know it to be and realizes more than ever that his tenure as a head coach, whether he wants to deny it or deflect from it, is on the time clock as of right now. The state of this franchise is at a crossroads when you look at the overall talent base of this team and the enormous amount of money spend this past season to produce logical and realistic results out on the field.
Our 2007 season is on the brink of being lost. In fact, it is my opinion that it is already there, based on the fact that now we face four road games with a team that cannot find its own identity and has been spread-eagled out on a highway for every semi-tractor trailer to run over like we are repeated road kill from one week to the next. Several players, during and right after this game in Monster Park, vented and displayed their utter frustrations with yet another devastating and humiliating loss.
Now we know that the offense is not the only problem with this team. Now we know that the very roots to the team are like a tree dying from the bottom up. Everything that we believed in has been compromised during this season in one form or another. The expectation, or to clarify even further, the goal and/or target are now clearly out of sight.
Mike Nolan has made even more enemies than he ever imagined out of some 49er fans. Some are even calling for his head on a platter, now believing that the season is a clear indication of his inability to win the team's commitment and dedication to achieve excellence. His stubbornness and his strong code of conduct seem to have put him in some very precarious positions on a variety of subjects.
Everything from a lack of offensive production to defending his rookie offensive coordinator in many a public forum to now being questioned about players individually giving up all hope or to sacrifice your premier quarterback of the future to further endangerment of one's health. The entire offense has stunk from day one of this season to being utterly abysmal now. Jim Hostler shows no creativity or any degree of risk coupled with the fact that every offensive player on the roster is either giving up or displaying a lack trust in the entire system itself.
Further more, players exhibited vivid frustration in this game from Frank Gore reacting angrily at his lack of production on the sidelines due to the line and his own personal injury; and kicker Joe Nedney flashing a derogatory finger gesture at an angry 49er home crowd demanding even a hint of optimism from one game to the next.
Acts of frustration are becoming a way too normal a symptom on this team. Agreeing that there is a problem at every post-game news conference and confessing one's sins and promising to do better is becoming far too repetitive in that the questions always seem to override the solutions.
In this game at home against New Orleans, the San Francisco 49ers quickly reinforced the theory that the team is in disarray with a Vernon Davis false start penalty and a Maurice Hicks fumble. The first half of this game was like witnessing a dangerous crime occurring right before your eyes with little options available to you. Alex Smith went on to fumble as a result of a devastating sack and cornerback Shawntae Spencer would be called for a deadly pass interference penalty that set up yet another score for the New Orleans Saints.
After halftime with the score 24-0, it infuriated me to think even for a second that I had any kind of optimism of which I had a little prior to this game getting underway. Every offensive snap was a joke, and even more discouraging was an exasperated defense that highlighted defensive backs actually giving up on plays and not executing to their fullest potential. Nate Clements was caught out of position several times and Walt Harris was clearly not himself as Saints quarterback Drew Brees targeted him.
The New Orleans Saints had secured 16 first downs to our mere seven at halftime and had put up 266 total yards on the field and 24 total points to our 115 total yards and a big goose egg for cumulative points. 222 of those total yards for the Saints came through the air as our secondary was laid out like feeding a lamb to a den of lions. Saints quarterback Drew Brees had complete autonomy while on the field and commanded his offense like a well-trained surgeon in a high-class hospital with instant precision.
Drew Brees completed 31-of-39 passes for 336 total yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions in a flawless game that ended with a quarterback rating of 136.8. Alex Smith for the San Francisco 49ers played through some intense pain that was pretty graphic on too many occasions to even watch. It angered many of the fans including myself to imagine that our so-called medical staff would sacrifice the very future of this season and the franchise by insisting that Alex was fine to continue.
Alex Smith completed just 22-of-43 pass attempts for 190 total yards getting sacked twice for a loss of 13 yards and throwing one meaningless touchdown at the end of the game. He appeared uneasy, rusty and erratic in his throws as many sailed over receiver's heads and failed to meet them at the end of a route. After taking shots under pressure or hitting the ground all together, Alex could be seen grimacing in intense pain holding on to his shoulder like it had been subject to intense radiation.
The San Francisco 49ers continued their penalty like ways by incurring seven of them for a loss of 66 total yards and was only able to convert 83 total yards on the ground with Frank Gore who played on an injured ankle that seems to be getting progressively worse. The failure to execute appeared all over the context of this team as everyone had their collective moments of failure during this game, from Joe Nedney kicking the ball out of bounds and incurring a penalty that set the ball on the 40-yard line to Eric Heitmann incurring an illegal procedure. Mike Nolan claimed the offensive line was vastly improved from what it was a week ago? I beg to differ in that I witnessed Alex Smith being ravaged by a New Orleans defensive front that was foaming at the mouth to re-injure that shoulder.
Left guard Larry Allen played poorly as Alex Smith was sacked while he merely stood back and watched. The line again failed to bust Frank Gore out as he only averaged 3.4 yards a carry and Alex Smith ended the game with a quarterback rating of 70.9. Once again 49er die-hard fans were embarrassed at home against a New Orleans Saints team that clearly came into this game to register a statement heard loud across the league.
Alex Smith played gallantly in some of our eyes and without common sense in others. Had Mike Nolan taken action to remove Smith out of the game in the third quarter with the game very much out of control, would it have hurt to bring Trent Dilfer or even Shaun Hill in to lend a spark to this team? That is the question I can't help but ask myself still knowing my hatred to consider such a move based on Trent Dilfer's track record thus far. I guess it wouldn't have really made a difference other than to give Alex Smith a reprieve from the abuse and time to collect his mental capacity manipulated from the intense pain.
Vernon Davis, the superstar tight end we all envisioned as being the next great weapon as we drafted him, had six receptions for 71 total yards and one touchdown towards the end of the game. However, his dropped balls and struggles to get separation seem to be an occurring cycle whenever he takes to the field. Ashley Lelie, playing in place of Darrell Jackson, had only three receptions for 20 total yards and was ineffective in moving the chains like we all had anticipated due in large part to Smith's erratic throwing arm and shoulder pain.
Is this yet another test of faith for us as fans to sit and endure a season built on promise with a healthy salary cap that permitted a grand shopping spree for expensive and recognized talent? Mike Nolan made reference to all the mistakes being made on this team as a sign of a "youthful football team." Reporters quickly jumped on the assumption that all of the ills of the team are a result of that youthfulness and immaturity, so much to the extent that it has resulted in lack of execution and team chemistry as a whole.
Nolan quickly made it known though that the youth on the team was a talented bunch sprinkled in with enough veteran-like players that results should be showing up on the field. Yet here we stand at (2-5) no better, in fact far worse than last season staring at four road games that are awaiting dead ahead on the schedule. I have to interject and question the coaching aspect of this formula in that penalties like the ones we've been accustomed to seeing are not declining but are in fact rising at an alarming rate that has us on par to be the most inefficient team in the league.
Alex Smith did earn a ton of admiration and respect from his teammates in playing through the intense pain that he did. It was a calculated risk that Smith took to establish some sense of leadership on this offense that is sorely missing underneath a veteran psycho like Trent Dilfer that failed to steer the ship into a state of harmony equal to that of other teams that seem to adapt and circle around when times get tough.
The misery we continue to endure is off the scale in my opinion. Mike Nolan and his staff are very responsible for where we are right now based upon the ability and talent at our disposal right now. A sense of urgency is needed to jump-start this offense and lend new hope to a defense that spends the majority of the time defending against one onslaught after another in that triumph turns into drunken man's stupor slurring his words as if he had been confined to detoxification.
Based upon the loss column, Offensive coordinator Jim Hostler hasn't had any sort of success by being up in a booth overlooking the field. Is his play calling remotely any different from what he had been calling while trolling the sidelines? Can he maintain a balance of rushing and passing that establishes a rhythm on this offense starving to achieve a new identity. Or will it be more of the same in that the offense will only go as far as Alex Smith can take them? And is Alex the real answer to this overall problem or a major part of it?
I hate to say this folks, but I believe we will at best struggle to be a .500 team. We will continue to be a team struggling to find its own identity and make that final evaluation on what is what and who is who? It is a sad state of the union in our 2007 San Francisco 49ers. The Mike Nolan era is being overshadowed with the notion that this could be the repeat performance of the Dennis Erickson era. Never have the expectations been so high and the results so nil.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.