Niners Drown in a Sea of Uncertainty

Dec 22, 2009 at 6:18 AM

Here's what we know.

We know that for the seventh straight year, the playoffs will go on without us. And we know that nevertheless, Mike Singletary and Scot McCloughan will stay in their jobs. (I've accepted that, remember....)

But really, that's about it. And it's what we don't know that's so troubling.

If you don't make the playoffs, what you want is proof that you're headed there. You want proof that you're still on the rise. Now with the Eagles in our way, we weren't going to the playoffs, kids; no logical thesis suggested we'd win. But with only the Lions and Rams ahead, this was our last chance to show what we've got. To show that our arrow is still pointing up.

And now that it's over, the worst news of all: we haven't the slightest idea.

Oh sure, we made it a game. We even were six yards away from the lead until Delanie Walker gave it away, another installment of red-zone hysterics. Our defense then backpedaled 94 yards, and then that was pretty much it. True, by the fourth quarter we'd climbed to a touchdown behind; but on a third down at the Philly 19, Donovan McNabb dropped back, made himself a sandwich, hit DeSean Jackson for 59 yards, and then that was pretty much it.

So it's not like we proved that we couldn't compete. But proof that our arrow is still pointing up?

Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't.

After taking a step back against Arizona, New Alex answered by taking two more. Unable to gain even five yards per pass, he put up three picks and a 42 rating. He continued to struggle to keep drives alive, with third-down conversions on oh-for-11. And perhaps most disturbingly, Old Alex's signature play—the roll right and heave out of bounds—made a graphic and horrid return.

Singletary says "I don't have any questions" of Smith as our long-term QB. That of course is a lie. But which is worse? Not knowing yet he's the guy, or not knowing yet that he's not? And we don't know he's not, and the reason we don't is that horrible offensive line. Be fair and consider the rush that he faced every time that he dropped back to throw. Now compare, if you will, the "rush" that was faced by McNabb.

It couldn't be clearer: there was one professional offensive line, and it certainly wasn't the Niners'. So there is one more thing we know: we need a new line, especially an entire right side. But then if we got one—and that's a big if—then would Smith prove he's the guy?

The greatest failure of 2009 is we simply don't have any clue.

And if only the doubt ended there. At receiver, it's easy to get excited about the lawyers at Crabtree, Morgan, Davis & Hill. But it's odd. Two of those guys were top-10 picks, and something still seems to be missing. I mean, did you see DeSean Jackson's pure vertical speed?! Needless to say, we don't have that guy; instead, we've got Kentwan Balmer and Chilo Rachal. To have an elite offense, though, don't we have a need for that speed?

And speaking of Jackson, he'd also have squelched what perhaps is our achiest need, and actually here is a fourth thing we know: you might not have noticed, but God do we need a returner. I mean seriously; if your punt returner loses five yards but manages not to fumble, and if you respond by cheering madly, you must be a fan of the Niners.

So not to rub it in, but just to sum up. Jackson would've satisfied two needs. Instead, McCloughan drafted two guys who collectively satisfy no needs. After watching Jackson run wild through our secondary, methinks 'ol Scot polished off that emergency bottle of hooch.

Let's get back to business, though, and talk about the defense. In successive weeks, this defense faces two division leaders with two high-powered Os. In the first week, the rush is relentless, collecting four sacks, and the coverage is solid, collecting two picks. In the second week, the rush is "nonexistent" (remember that quote from preseason week one?), and the DBs look like they're stuck in cement.

Is this a good D capable of a bad day? Or a bad D capable of a good day? Our fate next year will depend on the answer. An answer that nobody knows.

For a while now, we've been a sexy "next year's" pick. On the eve of the '07 season, one national writer predicted we'd go to the Super Bowl. For this season, Sports Illustrated named us the NFC team most likely to make "a Cardinal-like" rise. Each seemed only natural; the euphoria in '06 in Denver was matched only by the delirium on the removal of Singletary's "interim" tag.

This'll be different. Sure, we'll beat the Lions and Rams—at least we'd better—and eight-and-eight will be nice. But we shouldn't expect to be anyone's "next year's" pick. Those picks are reserved for the "clear" up-and-comers, the teams you could swear are right there at the cusp.

The Niners, though? Admit it. None of us know where we are.

After all the frustration we've suffered this year, the best consolation would be knowing we're there, knowing the pieces are largely in place, knowing we've got all the answers.

The worst news of all, the season is done, and all that we're left with are questions.
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.


  • AncientOne
    Reply to Matt talking @ Matt Maiocco blog. Yes that blog seems to agree that "there are no franchise QB's obtainable." Nonsense. Nobody knows who they are, but they are out there. The smart teams will be more likely to find them. If this team doesn't draft or FA another QB to back up Smith next year it'll be another in a long line of mistakes that have the Niners at the 29th best offense and make half their games unwatchable from the offensive side. Zero for 11 third down tries against good teams - that's the hook that grabs you.
    Jan 2, 2010 at 3:56 PM
  • AncientOne
    As Jeff pointed out, an avg back has 2.6 years. We can't build on Gore, good as he is. We need to draft a top running back - hopefully one with established receiving skills.
    Jan 2, 2010 at 3:48 PM
  • Mark
    I am willing to go with upgrading the OL. Obviously that is a big part of the problem. However if the need to insert Davis arises you would be wise to lower your expectations. Sure, he looked good as the third or fourth choice (for the short time we had Huard) during the preseason but remember at that point the opponents had their third or fourth team in also. Good proof of that is in preseason Glen Coffee looked like the 2nd coming of Emmitt Smith. Well in the regular season during the times he has gotten to play against legitimate starting defenses he has been less than spectacular. My point is inserting Davis will not give you the immediate results you are looking for. Best to see if with a full season and a longer time of this specific offensive scheme Smith can do it unless you want to spend money as Chicago did and get a Cutler during the off season. In case you didn't notice he isn't too popular in the Windy City. Heck they might even be willing to deal him!
    Dec 27, 2009 at 1:18 PM
  • irvving
    romo, warner, brees, garcia, cassel, cutler, collins, shaub. off the top of my head. all backups or have been available through all this bs SF has been going through. i believe management is at fault. do they know what they're doing? i don't think so. this was the year! easy schedule. who knows what kind of schedule they have next year? even if they improve the team, they might get burned by the schedule. my two cents.
    Dec 26, 2009 at 7:19 PM
  • CP642
    Smith is a joke of a quarterback. Too many offensive coordinators, bad offensive line, missed blocks...etc...etc...all just excuses now. I watched the replay of the 1981 championship game 2 days ago. Montana, the same age as our glorious Alex Smith, only 2 years into the starting role, with an offensive line that wasn't blocking either...still made the plays. He moved in the pocket like a butterfly and stung like a bee. That game was very eye opening to how bad Alex Smith really is. For those of you who still have Alex Smith blinders on, I suggest you watch that game to see what a guy with potential at 25 looks like. This team needs to give Nate Davis a look during these next two games. I even called the front office and let them know that. Alex Smith has shown what he can do and it's not much.
    Dec 26, 2009 at 11:31 AM
  • Larry
    Hopefully, having Smith return as the starting QB under the same OC will do wonders for his development. If Smith doesn't make a huge stride in production next season, then it'll be time to scrap this regime IMO. I'm willing to give them next season, but no more than that. If Scotty and Company don't address the glaring needs this offseason, then I'll have some concerns. 1) O-line. At least 2 of the 5 starting spots need to be upgraded. RT and either guard spot, IMO, are a must. 2) Early round PR/DB or PR/WR with insane speed. Battle and Jones let WAY TOO MANY punts hit the ground, WAY TOO MANY negative returns, and WAY TOO MANY muffs/fumbles. After these are addressed, I think the team could use a pass rusher, SS/FS, a run blocking TE, QB, and a NT.
    Dec 23, 2009 at 4:58 PM
  • steven king
    First, I agree with the author about Jackson. I know that hindsight is 20/20, BUT not only did he have a great college career, but Jerry Rice worked out with him and gave the Niners his recommendation. We had two chances at him and passed. We DID need a W.R.! Second, until we get a better R.T. and guard, the jury is still out on Smith. You know what's scary? Gore with a stud O-Line! We must address this in F/A and the draft. Last year we really didn't do much to address our R.T. needs. M. Smith was our big signing who had a really bad back and advanced age. If we don't improve at R.T., guard, C.B., and OLB, say hello to another 7-9 or 8-8 season!
    Dec 22, 2009 at 8:49 PM
  • Dan
    I know I'm responding to a comment in the comments section, but ShaneO asked who were successful No. 2 QB's so I figure I owe him a list. He said Brett Favre so let's start with him. He was the backup for Don Majkowski, who got injured so Brett took over and never looked back. What about Matt Cassel? He took over for Tom Brady and killed it all season long. We barely noticed Brady was gone. The Patriots, there's a team that makes their quarterback look good. Matt Cassel doesn't seem nearly as good a quarterback in Kansas City. You can apparently plug any quarterback into Denver's offense and he will look good, even Kyle Orton. The list keeps going. There are so many greats that took over great offenses and were just as successful. My point is the quarterback doesn't have to be this guy, or that guy. If your offense is solid you can put any competent quarterback in there and you will get wins.
    Dec 22, 2009 at 6:15 PM
  • DieHard
    Our O-line has sucked BAD for the last decade. It's only marginally better then it was when Steve Young was getting hit on every other pass attempt. This is the year they need to FIX IT by any means necessary. Draft players and sign free agents. Spare NO expense to get this problem solved. Alex will be a good QB when he has a reliable pocket to pass from and running lanes for Frank Gore. I also think continuity will help the offense. Some fans expect Alex to play perfect on every snap, which is just flat out unreasonable. It cracks me up when people say things like "He's a bust" or "He'll never be a good QB." We have a lot of "Miss Cleos" on this blog. If you have the ability to look at facts objectively, you can see that Smith has a chance to be very good next year. He'll clean up his game in the offseason and we'll make the playoffs next year. On a side note, I have seen a lot of mock drafts where the 49ers select Joe Haden with their 1st no. 1 pick, then take whatever tackle is still on the board with their 2nd first rounder. If that scenario were to play out, it would seemingly solve a lot of problems for the 49ers.
    Dec 22, 2009 at 4:58 PM
  • Cris_9ers
    The answers my friends are the management. How Young Jed can be satisfied with another losing season baffles me! Even with his uncle EDDIE at the helm, he hired NFL veteran John McVay to help them along the way with Bill. REALITY IS, McCloughan and Sing need help or be fired ASAP and start over again and JED should hire a credible NFL veteran as a team co-president to run the club. All the questions about the team linger because of inconsistencies on both the Offense and Defense. Who's to blame for those?!! The coaches, GM and to some extent JED too, for thinking he doesn't need any veteran NFL help. ONE THING IS FOR CERTAIN FOLKS, MARK MY WORDS!! IT WILL BE ANOTHER LOSING SEASON NEXT YEAR!! HAVE FUN WITH THE TEAM AND WHEN YOU'RE READY TO GET BACK TO REALITY, THEN YOU REALIZE THE ANSWERS ARE THE MANAGEMENT!!!
    Dec 22, 2009 at 2:21 PM
  • ShaneO
    Dan, i have to respectfully disagree. what example do you have of #2 Qbs coming in and doing the job? i can't think of one. are the colts still the colts w/o manning, do the pats win 3 SBs w/o brady? what are the cards w/o warner? Vikes n favre? i wld even argue cinci is that much better with the Palmer of old. we NEED to figure out what we are going to do with smith. i personally think the pieces are there. we have playmakers. Crabs, JM, Hill and Davis, with Gore, and Walker. i'll fly with that anyday. we need to strengthen this line and find an identity. It seems obvious what the answer is: balance. look at the Zona game. prob is can you build around a guy who can only work out of the Gun? IDK, that's why i'm not a GM. the return game, i mean jeff, it's embarrassing. i think i honestly need these last 2 weeks to form a solid opinion going into the offseason but if you care to answer i'll put YOU on the spot (that's why you're the writer haha) 2 first round picks, where do you think we BEGIN to focus? i honestly don't think QB, not with Smith AND Davis. i think ROT and get this: SHUTDOWN corner if possible. Philly proved once again we can handle big WRs, but speed guys kill us. (ex white)
    Dec 22, 2009 at 1:26 PM
    Response: Obviously it depends on who's available when we pick, but right tackle is certainly the best place we can spend a first-rounder. With the other I'd rather go OLB than CB, UNLESS the CB could also be a PR, in which case I could be persuaded. But yeah, the good news about Smith as even still a POTENTIAL option is that we can pass on a QB and give Smith (and, if he blows it, Davis) a chance behind a (hopefully) competent line. Without that, as I say here, I don't think we really know anything.
  • Dan
    Quarterback is not a position where you can only have one guy and you're stuck with him. I've seen a lot of guys step into the position from the #2 spot and win games. In actuality the other 10 guys on offense are what makes the quarterback look good, unless your quarterback just doesn't know how to make plays. We could make a change at quarterback no problem. The 49ers are out of the rebuilding stage now and need to decide what kind of team they are. They can either be champions or a pretty good team that doesn't win the big games. I actually disagree with just about everything you've said in your articles to be honest. I wouldn't mind if the 49ers let Alex Smith go because I think that even if the 49ers do become the type of offense that can make him look good, he will always let those big game moments get to him and fail. I think if the 49ers want to change the quarterback, now is the time to do it, I just don't see who they could go with unless Davis is miraculously able to take over after 1 year on the sidelines. We'll see how it goes. I also think that keeping the coaches in place is important to this team right now. Most of the games were close enough to make them look competent.
    Dec 22, 2009 at 11:11 AM
  • Matt
    I don't know any fan who is happy with how this season is wrapping up, but the problem with fans is they don't live in reality often times. "Cleaning house" and "starting over" are not options here, we have essentially done that with at least one side of the ball every year for the past 7! I have no idea what Smith will be - he drives me crazy how timid and weak he appears as a leader. With that said, we don't have any better options at QB for next season (see Matt Maiocco blog), and I'm very curious how Smith and Raye will develop with another season together. I'd like to know how Smith will play with the same playbook for a 2nd year, plus an offseason with Crabtree and Morgan. We have two 1st round picks coming, obviously OL, Pass Rusher, and a playmaker at any position will be priorities ... let's hope it works out - after all that's all we can do.
    Dec 22, 2009 at 9:48 AM
  • Ninerdawg
    We are lacking at the most critical component...the QB position. The Niners messed up back in '05 when they selected Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers. Since then, the Niners have been trying to tailor the offense to Smith's strengths. (What are Smith's strengths??) This whole Alex Smith experiment needs to be over. Once the O-line is "fixed," he will still be the same QB, no instincts, locks on his receivers, rolls out to the right etc, etc. I wonder how much is the O-line's fault, I know they're not the best in the league, but when Alex is given time, playing playoff teams, he just looks so dismal. For the sake of the franchise, they really need to see what they have in Nate Davis.
    Dec 22, 2009 at 9:43 AM
  • Shaun
    Well if we drop either or both of the last 2 games, then we head into the offseason with all the answers we need. This team should be scrapped and we start over again.
    Dec 22, 2009 at 7:26 AM

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