The Niners are on the cusp of a .500 season, which would be a major step forward for an organization parked in a near complete decade of losing seasons. The Niners should be heavily favored to defeat the Lions (the line is at 12 points this week...41.5 over-under...bet the over) and the Rams. Although winning is the highest priority for these two games (could you imagine the bloodletting if we lose either game), there is even more at stake for building a possible playoff run in 2010. There are many questions unanswered about the direction of the team, and a lot of guys will be playing for a paycheck next season.
First, the team needs to establish the direction it wants to take offensively. In 2009, we have seen a schizophrenic offensive pattern. We played "smashmouth" football (whatever that means) under Shaun Hill and a Crabtree-less team for the first collection of games, and looked pathetic. Then, we moved to the Alex Smith/Michael Crabtree/shotgun/spread offense style for about 6 more weeks. But, we almost completely ignored Gore. Now, the team is beginning to show a tad more balance running and throwing the ball, focusing more attention on Gore and the running game. So, as the curtain falls in 2009, the team needs to establish what direction we want to head in 2010. Will we run and gun, run the ball down people's throats, play tight to the LOS, spread the field, etc.? This team needs to figure out an offensive philosophy now that the major players (Smith/Gore/Crabtree/Gore) are firmly in place. And, the final two games allows a real opportunity, in game conditions, to help solidify the path we will take next season.
Second, the final two games will allow us to make a final evaluation in player personnel matters. Starting with the DL, how much of a value do we want to assign Aubreyo Franklin? Is he worth the franchise tag, which is currently at $6 million/year? Is Franklin the $6 million man? I'm sure the board will be split on this issue. If not, who comes in to play the position? Do we slide Soap or Balmer into that role, and could either play at Franklin's level? Is Franklin playing at a high level the past year and a half because of an upcoming large payday, and could his play slide after the armored car drops off a large stack of money at his house?
At linebacker, does the team think the Lawson, Haralson, Brooks combo is good enough, better yet, consistent enough week-to-week, to handle the starting role in 2010? I think the jury is still out on this one for most people.
In the secondary, three of the four starting jobs seem on shaky ground. Outside of Spencer, who has been tremendous, there are serious question marks. Does the team have enough confidence in Clements to let him retake his former starting job, at his current contracted amount, and what will the team do with Bly and Brown? At free safety, Goldson hits hard, but has given up a ton of big plays as the deep man on defense. Is he a player the team trusts to start at FS or SS? And, is Michael Lewis playing his final games as a 49er due to the numerous concussions he suffered in 2009? He is a tackling machine, but does the team think he is a liability in coverage?
On the offensive line, the biggest question mark revolves around David Baas. Will Baas prove that he is worthy of keeping as a starter on the OL? He needs to play lights out in the final two games to be considered the starter going into 2010, and even that might not be enough. The Niners may simply let him slide away in free agency, so Baas is going to have to scrap to remain with the team.
Finally, will any of the "lost souls of 2009" come back from the dead? Will any of these guys make a claim for any more playing time in 2010: Jason Hill, Brandon Jones, Glen Coffee. All seem lost in the shuffle, and are nearing the point of being completely interchangeable in value with undrafted free agents, and Arena League stars. Jones, in particular, is signed through the year 2037, or somewhere close, and has made less of an impact than towelboy on the sidelines. He might want to practice hard this week.
So, while we all celebrate the team to victory the next two weeks (hopefully, I haven't completely jinxed the team), beyond the win is the larger picture of where this team is headed in 2010, as they ride off into the offseason. I'm looking just as much for answers as "W's".
[ Edited by MadDog49er on Dec 23, 2009 at 12:52 PM ]