Sometimes one of the most difficult lessons you learn in life is how to actively listen to someone else. This is especially true with families. Mike Singletary's second family is the San Francisco 49ers. He wants this team to be successful and a winner in the NFL. Together with offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, Singletary listened to a group of offensive players give their perspective on why the offense is endlessly stuck in neutral.
Many companies have an open door policy so employees can voice grievances or suggestions to management without feeling intimidated. Several offensive players (including Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree) presented a case to their coach to rejuvenate their inconsistent offense. Singletary and Raye seemed to receive the message, since that communication set the stage for a surprising performance in the Jacksonville game.
In the article I wrote after the Green Bay defeat, I made references that it was time for the ownership and management of this teem to identify the real source of the cancer plaguing the offense. While Coach Singletary's goal is to develop a stellar running game and control the line of scrimmage, it requires an offensive line that has girth, size, intensity, continuity and consistency. We never had it when the season started and we still don't have that today. This last game it was the closest it ever came to that with two veteran linemen sidelined due to injuries in Tony Pashos and Joe Staley.
The thought of opening it up and becoming a passing team went against Mike's instincts. Yet, here were his players voicing their beliefs openly like the team leaders he wanted them to be. He was ready to listen.
We had lost five out of six games, and were coming back home to face the playoff contending Jacksonville Jaguars after a tough loss in Green Bay. Alex Smith was suddenly on a bubble after being compared to his counterpart in the 2005 NFL draft, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers success was vividly apparent while Smith's was still preadolescent due to injuries and coaching throughout the game. Alex became the scapegoat of the team's ills, and drew direct fire from fans looking to quickly place blame. Despite his frustrations, Alex took this negativity and turned it into an opportunity to evaluate how he could make a change.
Cooperative spirit now reins inside the San Francisco 49er locker room and in the halls of the Santa Clara complex. Players are rediscovering what is important to them and what is beneficial to the team as a whole. Mike Singletary is a motivational oracle that instills value in those around him. He makes you evaluate yourself and try to make positive changes.
Flickers of a breakout offense appeared in several games, from Houston to Green Bay, as Alex Smith found key selective offensive weapons with his eyes and arm. He flourishes in spreading the offense out and surveying the field in front of him for selective morsels of yardage eaters. His only prayer is that he has just a few seconds of protection to make a decent throw. He completed 27-of-41 passes against Jacksonville for 232 total yards. He was never sacked and threw for two touchdowns. He threw a long accurate throw of 30+ yards and earned a quarterback rating of 96.8.
Frank Gore, the known centerpiece of this offense for so long, was not the star yet again due in part to an offensive line that has not been able to find its own niche. He carried the ball 16 times for 33 total yards averaging a pathetic 2.1 yards a carry. In all the 49ers only rushed for 52 total yards, casting this part of the offense into the classroom to evaluate what needs to be done to create more opportunities for Frank.
Alex is gradually becoming the focal point of the offense. His job is to establish the rhythm and create first down opportunities. What made this offense so effective last Sunday was its ability to stay on the field and convert manageable third down situations and win time of possession with the ball. This allowed the 49er defense to come out limit the playoff contenders to just one field goal in the entire game.
Although the defense did bend it never broke as the Jaguars put 357 total yards of offense on the field. Jacksonville Jaguar running back Maurice Jones-Drew carried 15 times for 75 yards, averaging 5.0-yards per carry. Several Jaguar receivers including former St. Louis Rams wide receiver Tory Holt were able to dissect our secondary at times. However, Jaguars quarterback David Garrard was sacked an astonishing six times and fumbled twice to assist in our quest for victory.
Defensive tackle Justin Smith and linebacker Parys Haralson led the sack attack with three combined. Linebackers Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes and Manny Lawson dialed up some heat of their own. Veteran cornerback Dre Bly proved to be a more stable presence after the demotion of Tarrel Brown, and Dashon Goldson continued to show why he is so valuable in the middle of the field.
Converting 8-of-16 third down attempts showed an improved and versatile offense willing to put the ball into the array of playmakers that exist on this team. I was proud to see tight end Delanie Walker used more as an option rather then just a reliable blocker. He touched the ball five times for 52 total yards, showing a tremendous versatility that has been underutilized all season long. Josh Morgan continues to show why he is so special with 6-of-9 receptions for 43-yards. Michael Crabtree continues to be someone who radiates brains and brawn all in one with an intensity of a Terrell Owens.
Obviously I am excited to revel in a victory for once as all 49er fans are. I've accepted the fact that establishing and moving forward with our new identity is now more important than the playoffs. The cohesion of this team stands to be tested over the next five games. Realizing we still need cultivation of what is proving to be successful with the addition of some new personnel and a new team consensus of openness and reason are already victories.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.