Niners Continue to Confound, But Somehow Continue to Conquer

Sep 22, 2009 at 5:56 AM

Let's say it again, all together now: We will not complain about ugly wins. We will not complain about ugly wins. We will not complain about ugly wins....

No. We won't "complain," as such. "Notice," though? "Point out"? "Express gratitude for the wins but still reserve some concern that once again we're seeing a strong early start that's based more on smoke and mirrors than on the actual strength of our team and thus some deep-seated worry that once again the roof is going to cave in any minute and we'll once again end up getting completely wasted in a haze of drunken despair every Sunday night for three months straight"?

Yeah, we might still do that.

Let's start with the pretty parts, though, and there were certainly a few. First, again, was the defense. The pass-rush was a little spotty, but the rush defense (66 yards) and the pass-coverage (a quiet 224) were just outstanding. More importantly, we held a pretty good offense to just 10 points, and none in the second half.

What's most intriguing about this defense, though, isn't found in the numbers. After years of watching a passive, safe, bend-but-don't-break unit that'd do just well enough to get you beat, we're finally seeing a defense with attitude. These guys attack. They fly to the ball. And most obviously, they hit. There were long stretches of this game where the Seahawks looked like they simply had no idea what to do. They couldn't run, they couldn't throw; it looked like our defense was actually sapping their will. That was truly inspiring, and a real cause for hope.

Even on the offensive side, there was some really good stuff. Needless to say, Frank Gore's homers were the primary highlight. (Anyone else out there reminded of John Taylor against the Rams?) We racked up 400 gross yards. We committed no turnovers. And we controlled the ball for more than 34 minutes.

On the whole, what's really striking about this game is that from start to finish it seemed like we were in total command. Sure, there were some ebbs and flows. But not for one minute did I sense in the slightest that we were in danger of losing. For the first time in a while, we were simply dominant, and that was a feeling both welcome and gratifying.

But we should be getting used to this by now, right? Winning, that is. In case you've lost track, that's seven wins in our last nine games. If we could go seven-and-two this season, we'd throw ourselves a friggin' parade. Yeah, some of those wins were more convincing than others, but in the end it's about winning, period, and by that standard, we're on a helluva roll.

So what is it that's bothering me?

It's the same thing that's bothering many of you. It's this abiding fear that this offense just isn't sustainable. It's this persistent worry, we just can't keep doing this.

Gore had two magnificent runs that produced 159 yards and two touchdowns. They happened twice, so it's not like they were a fluke. But naturally, you can't make "80-yard run" a staple of your playbook. Gore could play another 10 years (and here's hoping he does) and never bust another one again. As the season goes along, we can't depend on homers for either yards or touchdowns.

And Sunday, there was nothing else.

Take those two runs away, and as a team we rushed 27 times for 97 yards, an average of 3.6. Shaun Hill passed 26 times for 144 yards, an average of 5.5. (Let's not even talk about Michael Spurlock's pass, which confirmed yet again that this Wildcat thing needs to end, like right now.) Worse, Hill hooked up with his wide receivers only five times, for only 36 yards. Worse than that, four of those went to Isaac Bruce, the last one going to Arnaz Battle for a single yard. Josh Morgan, our so-called "#1 receiver," was shut out. His season totals? Three for 38. And worse than that? When Gore didn't break one, we were wholly unable to get in the end zone. As dominant as we were, turn those touchdowns into field goals or worse, and all of a sudden...who knows?

I can already hear many of you complaining that I've got no business "taking those two runs away," when those two runs obviously had an impact on our offensive strategy for the rest of the game. Granted, those runs gave us a pretty comfortable (though by no means insurmountable) lead, and we could afford to sit on it a little with our defense as strong as it was. But effective lead-sitting involves consistent running, and you can't let those two runs distract you from the greater truth: we couldn't run consistently, and until we can stretch out the defense a bit, we won't.

This passing game is getting harder and harder to stomach, and what's really disturbing is that it doesn't need just one new part. What I mean is, it's not just Hill. Sure, he's got a below-average arm and an even-worse pocket presence, but he's got enough grit that he'd do just fine if the rest of the pieces would work as they should. Whether it's because he's got coaches who can't quite commit to him, or he's got offensive linemen who can't quite protect him, or he's got wide receivers who can't quite get open (or catch) for him, the problem is systemic. So defenses will continue to stack the line, and despite the occasional 80-yard gallop ("Oh, what a bonanza!"), neither the run nor the pass will consistently work.

But there I go again, bein' a drag. Trust me, I'm thrilled that we're two-and-oh, and two-and-oh in our division. And I'll concede that the thing just feels more legit than it did two years back. But now we're off to Minnesota, to face our toughest test yet, and we'll have to overcome plenty more to get where we wanna be. Is it really possible to win ugly like this, into the playoffs and even beyond?

I can't say I'm not nervous, but I also can't wait to find out.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Chris
    The passing game is working the way it's supposed to. Whether you pass short or long, it's going to set up the run. Matt Ryan has only thrown 6 more passes than hill and less than 100 yards more and the 2-0 Falcons are looking pretty darn good. Their PF to PA is nearly identical to the Niners as well. It's not about big numbers as much as it is game management and ball control, which will keep the momentum on our side more games than none. Perfect example of a team that can't manage a game and relies on big numbers are the Cowboys. This is the exact reason why they choke all the time. So, live with the "ugly" wins this season because the Niners are going to the playoffs.
    Sep 23, 2009 at 3:10 PM
  • Vince
    My only comment is this, I love the 49ers. I miss the superior offense and stifling defense of the past but I have to say, this year's team especially on defense reminds me of those days. The fix for the offense is simple. Fix the O-line, no quarterback, receiver or running back will be effective without one. I agree with Sing on that point. Also, we need a quarterback. I like Shaun Hill and I'll like him even more when we fix the o-line. Fellow niners, Shaun Hill can win a Superbowl for us. And by the way, the Vikings are just as beatable as the Cardinals, Patriots, Cowboys, and Chargers. In my mind we are not anyone's underdog. Niners... let's go get some.
    Sep 22, 2009 at 5:02 PM
  • ninersush
    Kaplan I agree with most of your posts let alone the comments in this post. It's really nice we are 2 & 0. It is. I feel like the national media has also given us some attention. But you are dead on in that it's with some smoke & mirrors. @ the end of the seattle game we should have closed and imposed our will running as Coach Sing says, but we did not do that at all. And i really didn't feel like we dominated. I did not have that feeling that we crushed the seahawks' will and gave them no chance to win. I was gettin a little scared towards the end of the 3rd Q actually. Anyways MN will be a true test for us. If we can beat them then I say we are for real. If we are competitive then I say we should have a winning record this year and possibly make the playoffs. If we get our asses handed to us then you might as well tell crabtree to fug off, tell Shanny to get himself ready for next year with us, and trade what we can to get more picks for 2010's draft. I see no point in continuing with Coach Sing if we can't do something significant this year. If it's another losing season, then his formula isn't what we need. And what we need is a dynamic offense. Not a run first one.
    Sep 22, 2009 at 10:09 AM
  • Dan
    The Seahawks are not one of the best teams in the NFL, the 49ers are. This is obviously something the team is going to be forced to go out there and prove to people every week. I get that. But don't be fooled by "ugly games" and close scores. These still count in the win column when it's time to decide who goes to the playoffs. This is why our team goes out to win by at least 1 point every game. It's natural for most people to look at a pair of 80 yard plays and say that's why we won. The truth is we were going to win anyway. It just comes down to what team plays a better game of football on the field that day. It's that simple, and it's going to be the 49ers all season long. A lot of teams everyone has thought of as "elite" are going to find this out in November. It's going to be epic. I predict the 49ers will win at least 8 of their games this season by less than 10 points because they will hold onto the ball a lot when they're ahead instead of risking giving the ball away. It's sad to see so many broken-hearted fans out there. How are you going to enjoy the beginning of the season if you just keep expecting the 49ers to lose? It's almost as bad as being a bandwagon fan.
    Sep 22, 2009 at 8:52 AM
  • FinerNiner
    Wow. It takes a special kind of pessimism to find fault in a 23-10 game. The 49ers dominated the game thoroughly and crushed the Seahawks' hopes for the season with outstanding physical play. Most of the time that it felt competitive the teams were in their locker rooms. The Seahawks will be lucky to have 45 guys in uniform next week. Also, it doesn't just feel more legit; it IS more legit. In 2007, the opening wins were fluky. This year the wins were bona fide. The 49ers have been disciplined enough to win through obvious growing pains in the new offense. The special teams continue to be in the running for best in the league. And the defense has been top-notch. The D-line has shown marked improvement with the commitment to the 3-4, and Lawson and Haralson have stepped up their games. Goldson, Spencer, and Bly have all been quality additions. What's not to like? Yes, the passing game has been weak but what do you really want to see? Did you want Raye calling downfield passes with a ten point lead in the second half? As long as the 49ers don't need to pass, they won't. I'm fine with that. Hill showed he can do it against AZ and they'll get better over time. RELAX!
    Sep 22, 2009 at 8:12 AM
  • NinerTico
    The bottom line Jeff is that we are winning. We do move the ball when we have to. I think Singletary said it best yesterday, "We need to finish..." Yes, we do. Instead of Nedney FGs, we need TDs! That's where I worry about our team against the big boys. We had an opportunity to absolutely demolish the Hawks, but we let them get back into it at the end of the first half. If we want to be champions, we must stop their TDs and we must score them instead. That didn't happen. Yet, we are 2-0, tops in the NFC West, 3rd in rushing D, 9th in rushing O, and my favorite, NO TOs by Hill. If memory serves, the most successful formula to winning has been run the ball and stop the run while eating time. Sure, we miss the WCO. However, I have always loved our D. Finally, we have a legit D! I like this kind of party. We are headed in the right direction.
    Sep 22, 2009 at 8:09 AM
  • ragomez3
    Good writing. There are ONLY TWO wildcards in your assessment: That Shaun Hill REALLY has been able to will this team to win, in spite of all the obvious warts, secondly, that the team will respond to the coaching, that this team will LEGITIMATELY GET BETTER. Think of where this team would be without SHill - mired somewhere in the last 6 seasons. But stay tuned - weeks 8, 9 and 10 may show a team riding a wave of total confidence. But in each scenario, the catalyst would be Singletary.
    Sep 22, 2009 at 7:51 AM
  • Jon W
    I have to agree with about 90% of these comments. I am cautiously optimistic right now. I remember all too well the start to the 2007 season. My 10% disagreement comes from your assessment of Hill. I think he looks awful back there (no pocket presence and terribly shaky, inaccurate throws) and I'm not at all convinced he can play at "starter" level in this league. I'm not sure Alex Smith can either so I'm not exactly calling for a change at QB. And I'm so sick of hearing, "all Hill does is win." We are winning in spite of Hill's performances, not because of them. We are winning because our D is finally playing up to its potential. That's the only reason....period. I think this position is going to be the bane of our existence until we upgrade from Hill/Smith. I know we have Davis but honestly he won't get a shot this year unless Hill and Smith both get hurt.
    Sep 22, 2009 at 7:41 AM

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