Niners Weird, But Won’t Stop Winning

Nov 1, 2011 at 1:34 PM


Author's Note: The following article is not intended to be, in any way, negative. The author is completely aware that the 49ers are six-and-one, a lock for a division title, a near-lock for a playoff bye, and easily the NFL's most shocking success. The author is thoroughly conscious of the fact that the Niners' coach will almost certainly be the Coach of the Year (and he is equally cognizant of the engraved apology that he is likely to owe the Niners' general manager, who just might be the Executive of the Year). In short, the author knows how good he's got it, and he isn't about to complain. We now join our regularly scheduled article, already in progress.

What on earth was THAT?

Over the course of the last three weeks, it seemed like we had discovered ourselves. After a few games of early-season timidity, we'd blown the doors off the Eagles and Bucs. Sure, in Detroit, a tough town with a tough team, the Lions had forced us to grind one out. But at home against the abysmal Browns--and coming off a bye besides--our new, crushing identity would surely reemerge.

Then again....

Running on our first four first-downs, we showed that we were still under the influence of one Frederick P. Grindy, if not his less popular cousin. Of course, with Frank Gore and an increasingly spectacular defense, this still was enough to secure a quick lead. But with first-and-goal at the seven, and a chance to deliver an early KO, a coach who had earlier called for a pass to the left tackle went with Gore up the middle on four straight plays, coming up a few inches short.

A touchdown on the next series pushed our halftime lead to 14, and the Browns seemed to pose little threat. Still, we'd let an opponent hang around, though we'd thought those days were gone for good.

In the second half, the offense just bogged down completely. Running Gore again and again--except when Alex Smith was missing wildly--we picked up one first-down (on one deep pass) through the middle of the fourth. Eventually, and somewhat predictably, at last our defense broke, giving up a deep touchdown pass that brought the Browns within seven.

Now needing a drive to salt the game away, this was the time for Jim Harbaugh's legendary combo of creativity and aggression. In a similar spot in Cincinnati--with the significant difference that we were behind--Harbaugh conjured up a well-schemed drive that put some light into an otherwise dismal offensive day. This game felt so much like that one, it was as if the script was already written.

Then again....

First down, Gore for one. Second down, Gore for six. And third down, Gore, up the middle, for one.

Seriously, what on earth was THAT?

Whatever it was, it wasn't a reason to panic; for in this increasingly magical season, nothing seems able to stop us. So OF COURSE there was a facemask penalty on that awful third-down, giving us a second life that we managed to convert for the clinching field-goal.

In the end, all you could do was shake your head, wondering what to make of these guys. Our go-for-the-throat, pass-first O seemed to vanish, though it must be noted that Smith's second-half play, for the third straight game, showed a substantial decline. Even our running game, which had seemed so energized by the infusion of Kendall Hunter, now reverted to its bell-cow monotony, as Gore's carries outnumbered the rookie's by a final count of 31 to 3. Certainly, these developments are puzzling, renewing the doubt about our "identity." But more importantly, they don't seem to be particularly good harbingers of long-term success.

Then again....

If there's one thing we're learning about Harbaugh, it's that he's surprisingly resistant to pigeonholing. Though I tend to like a clean, consistent offensive approach--pass to set up the run, in the grand tradition of the West Coast Offense--it's almost as if Harbaugh is determined to prove that every week he can win a game in a different way. Pass-first or run-first. Shootout or slugfest. New Alex or Old Alex. Harbaugh seems perfectly willing to mix and match, to devise game-plans so varied in style as to defy easy categorization. Or even, in the case of Gore up the middle for the better part of an afternoon, easy logic.

I've gotta admit--though not by way of complaint, mind you--this kind of bugs me. I'm all for keeping a defense off balance; indeed, I suspect that the invigoration of Smith and the offensive line is chiefly due to the fact that the D has no idea what's coming. But I remain unshakable in my conviction that the passing game must lead the way. Sure, sometimes your opponent is good enough that you're left with no option but grinding it out. But when you CHOOSE to grind it out, when you willingly subject yourself to "bar fights" (as Harbaugh himself described games like these, with evident testosterone), eventually you'll take the last punch. Facemask penalties will save you for only so long.

Then again....

It's been seven games, and the Niners, at least in regulation, have yet to lose. Harbaugh is riding a mystical wave, where every button he pushes works. This team is flying with supreme confidence, knowing that it can win in any of various ways, and knowing that it WILL win in any event. Harbaugh's methods might seem, at times, illogical. But there's no question, he knows what he's doing, and what he's doing is working better than any of us had dared to dream.

We've got plenty of reason to trust Jim Harbaugh. But an all-new measure of his greatness is this: even after this kind of game, where reason sort of drops away, the trust itself remains--a trust that exists, even in the absence of reason.

According to some, that's called faith. And in this increasingly magical season, faith is what Jim Harbaugh's earned.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


49 Comments

  • Ryan
    I KNOW we'll hear from you soon, bro. Alex Smith stepped UP. #Faithful
    Nov 15, 2011 at 8:51 AM
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  • JamFu
    The team has been in a position most games where Alex Smith couldn't possibly amass ridiculous statistics. It's not rocket science that when your team is ahead in the late 3rd & 4th quarter you're more likely to minimize risks and run the ball. In the few games where we needed a late comeback Alex Smith has been The Man! In Cincinnati he made several key throws leading the Niners down the field for Kendall Hunter's go-ahead score. In Philadelphia, he jumpstarted the team with monstrous TD passes and 291 yds passing. In Detroit, again making several key throws, not wavering under pressure, and executing when it mattered most. Alex Smith is not being minimized or hidden. Alex Smith has one of the highest 4th qtr passer ratings in the league, and a top 10 passer rating in general. Imagine if Vernon Davis hadn't dropped that amazing TD pass in the Washington game. Imagine if Michael Crabtree's TD against Cincy was actually ruled a TD. Don't forget he completely dismantled Tampa Bay.
    Nov 11, 2011 at 10:48 AM
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  • Ryan
    Hey Jeffy K, no column this week? We MISS it, man. #Faithful
    Nov 10, 2011 at 6:55 AM
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    Response: Thanks for saying that, Ryan. The thing is, my reaction to the Washington game was the same as my reaction to the Cleveland game. I'm wrestling with the same contradiction: I think we need to open the offense, yet I have faith that Harbaugh will win anyway. Right now, as I wrote last week, my faith is trumping. But Sunday's game will test it nicely.
  • Jeremy
    Dallas, the problem with your latest argument is the fallacy of the appeal to authority. It can basically be summed up thusly: if a smart person says a stupid thing, it's still a stupid thing. That's the thing about stupid things; they're stupid no matter who says them. But your particular appeal to authority is truly odd for a number of reasons. First, you're not quoting an MIT statistician or anything like that. No quote from anyone who knows anything about stats. No, you're quoting an NFL QB. Because we all know an NFL QB would never say a stupid thing. For some reason I'm flashing to an image of Ben Roethlisberger in that nightclub bathroom, with his member hanging out of the front of his pants, telling that poor girl that she could "do anything she wanted to it." Second, you're actually quoting the very QB under discussion, the one who is riding an elite defense to a winning record while still exhibiting plenty of red flags with his play. Gee, do you think Alex Smith might have a slight bias in saying that the only thing that matters in evaluating a QB is wins? Here's another hypothetical for you. You're the GM of a new expansion franchise, and you can pick any one of these QB's to build your team around: Michael Vick, Cam Newton, Tim Tebow, Christian Ponder, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, or Sam Bradford. Who would you choose? Applying your formula, there is one clear and obvious answer: Tim Tebow. He's the only one of the above QB's with a winning record this year. Now do you see why no one who thinks like you would be allowed anywhere near an NFL front office? Next, let's look at the case of Alex Smith again. He was a big loser when he had a knucklehead for a coach. Now that he has a very bright coach, he's winning. Do we draw the conclusion that he was a terrible QB last year but a great QB this year? No, he is what he is: a mediocre QB you can win with IF you have an elite defense and IF you have a coach who can figure out a way to minimize his impact on the game. I'll say it one last time, and if you can't grasp it now, you never will. Wins are a TEAM STAT. They are not a good measure of evaluating individual players, because too many things go into a win that are out of any one player's control. There are 10 other players on your side of the ball and 11 players on the other side of the ball and on special teams. Strength of schedule and which division you play in also factor in. Wins are simply not the best way to evaluate a player. Oh, and one last thing. Please explain to me again why you believe that Graham Harrell would have been a better draft pick than John Elway.
    Nov 8, 2011 at 8:04 AM
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  • Dallas Niner Fan
    I don't have to answer it. You already did, so why bother? I am just challenging your thought process which you have not addressed. To quote you, "is that because you know you're wrong?" Yes, I know this is not rocket science, the problem is you're trying to use rocket science to explain something that is obvious while ignoring the bottom line. But don't take my word for it. Take it from a QB who last Sunday had a 109.7 QB rating. He said that his best stat is his team's current winning record. "I mean, ultimately that's what a QB's evaluated on." So here's one of the top starters in the league who agrees with my conclusion. Maybe you need to borrow his slide rule to figure it out. And who was the QB who was quoted? Anyone? Anyone? Alex Smith. I guess his conclusion was simply embarrassing as well, right Jeremy? I mean what does he know. I mean after all he is just a starter in the NFL.
    Nov 7, 2011 at 11:42 AM
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  • Dan
    @Terry B.: Yes Terry, this coming from a guy who trolls a 49er fan site picking fights with everyone and bashing everyone in the organization. Don't point the finger at me, I made my argument, you are the one who has no argument. Everything you've said about me has been false and contrived. You're a clown.
    Nov 7, 2011 at 10:33 AM
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  • Terry B.
    Ah, Dan, once again you have no argument so you resort to the playground. How to respond at your level?Hmmm... let me think. OK, here goes: "Dan and Alex sittin' in a tree. K-i-s-s-i-n-g. First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes Singletary in the baby carriage!"
    Nov 7, 2011 at 9:31 AM
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  • Jeremy
    Dallas, I see that you refuse to answer the hypothetical that I gave you. Could the reason be that you know you're wrong? Too many players influence a win for that to be an accurate measure of a single player. If you're looking to evaluate a single player, even a QB, you have to look at other things besides wins. This isn't rocket science; it's common sense. Do you even read what you write before you post it? I gave you the QB metric most associated with wins, and your response was "the best QB metric in the world does not mean a thing if it does not translate into wins." What? I can just hear you the year after the Ravens won the Super Bowl: "We've gotta trade for Trent Dilfer! He won the Super Bowl so he's the best QB in the league!" Dallas, my dislike for Alex Smith is not blinding me to the obvious. Your love for him is blinding YOU to the obvious. There is no other way to put this than that your arguments are simply embarrassing. No one who knows anything at all about football would make your arguments. I can just hear you the year John Elway was the number one pick in the draft: "Don't draft him! He had a losing record in college! He can't possibly be good!" May you never be allowed anywhere near our front office.
    Nov 7, 2011 at 9:24 AM
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  • Dallas Niner Fan
    Ahhh, so now the truth comes out Jeremy. This is really not a debate about QB stats, this is really an Alex Smith bashing party. Sorry I can't help you there since I don't claim to be an Alex Smith apologist. I knew you were going to come up with some esoteric stat that you learned about in physics class or from reading John Clayton. I am just a bottom-line guy who looks at QB wins. But I am not going to go there. I will just quote your own words: "It is the QB metric most assocated with winning." Let me emphasize "most associated with winning." As you yourself just pointed out, the best QB metric in the world does not mean a thing if it does not translate into a win. You keep pointing out that if you put Alex Smith on a bad team he is going to lose. I don't know if this is your attempt to put down Smith or to emphasize that football is a team sport. I understand that football is a team sport. I also understand that the QB position can affect the outcome of a contest more than any other position in all of sports, thus wins for a QB is an important stat and your comparisons to Patrick Willis and mlb starting pitchers are invalid. They are not QBs. Maybe your dislike of Alex Smith is blinding you to the obvious.
    Nov 7, 2011 at 7:55 AM
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  • Dan
    Terry please stop including me in your Drew Brees fantasies, I don't care about Drew Brees and I think you're an idiot, yeah I called you an idiot. If you try to act like that kind of confrontational talk is beneath you, just remember, I consider you beneath me. That's why I called you an idiot. Anyone can see you just twist words and try to piss people off. You only try to bash people 24/7 and I think that makes you worthless. I'm not acting like I'm trading Alex Smith for Drew Brees. No one wants to make that trade and you look more like an idiot for making it up. Good Bye.
    Nov 6, 2011 at 10:17 PM
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  • ahhhhh
    they're only weird to you cause you have your mind set on them only being able to lose. come back to reality.
    Nov 6, 2011 at 6:05 PM
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  • Terry B.
    Terry B.: Dan, would you trade Alex Smith for Drew Brees? Dan: No. Terry B.: Dan said he wouldn't trade Alex Smith for Drew Brees. Dan: That's not fair to bring that up because Drew Brees wasn't available for a trade.
    Nov 6, 2011 at 4:14 AM
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  • Dan
    @Terry B. I can count on you to take something you took out of context over a year ago and try to pass it off again. In what universe was Drew Brees available for a trade straight across for Alex Smith the year after the Saints won the Super Bowl? In case you didn't notice I was making fun of you for jumping on the Saints bandwagon and trying to use an impossible situation to defend your 49er bashing agenda, which still persists today I might add. 6-1 and you still have nothing good to say about anyone.
    Nov 5, 2011 at 8:30 PM
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  • Terry B.
    Jeremy, if Dallas does prefer Alex Smith to Tom Brady, that wouldn't be the first time on this board that someone had expressed a sentiment like that. Last year, Dan said that he wouldn't trade Alex Smith for Drew Brees.
    Nov 5, 2011 at 5:12 AM
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  • Jeremy
    Come on Dallas, you're not going to make arguments like that are you? So Tom Brady lost last week and Alex Smith won. I guess Smith is a better QB. Wins are a measure of how well a team is doing, not an individual player. The Niners had a losing season last year, so I guess Patrick Willis is a bad middle linebacker. If you want to know, the best metric for measuring a QB's performance is adjusted net yards per attempt. It is the QB metric most highly correlated with winning. Let me give you this hypothetical. You're starting a new franchise in the NFL, and you can pick a QB from one of two teams. The first leads the NFL in almost every major passing category, yards, yards per attempt, completion percentage, etc., and his team is 4-12, largely because of the league's worst D. The second QB is in the bottom quarter of the league in virtually every passing category, but is riding a league-leading defense to a 12-4 record. Which QB would you select to build your franchise around? Please don't embarrass yourself by saying you would pick QB 2 because he "just wins." As for Peyton Manning, the Colts win because he's a good QB. He's not a good QB because the Colts win. They didn't start losing because they lost a "winning" QB, they started losing because they lost a great QB, one of the best to ever play. So, you really believe that if you plugged Alex Smith into the Colts this year, they wouldn't have missed a beat? Also, you seem to be ignoring the fact that Alex has been a loser for the vast majority of his career. He didn't start winning until the D became so good that he couldn't lose. As Greg Cosell said, they're coaching to minimize Alex's impact on the game. That's not what you do with a good QB.
    Nov 4, 2011 at 6:02 PM
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  • Lucky Phil
    Dallas / Jeremy the stat that is most important in determining a QB's value is TD's. The best QB's throw them. The worst QB's hand the ball off. Brady threw 50 in one yr. Smith is lucky if he throws 20 this yr. I like Smith, he works hard, rarely gets hurt no matter how hard you hit him. Makes good decisions with the ball but is inaccurate. He is good in this offense because most of the throws are short. You ask him to throw the long ball those same short (inaccurate) throws that are caught are 10 ft off target. This is not the new and improved A. Smith, same guy but much more confidence in a much improved offense. Give Harbaugh time with Kap, he's gonna make this kid look like Superman.
    Nov 4, 2011 at 5:01 PM
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  • Dallas Niner Fan
    Jeremy, I totally disagree with you and I stand by my point that wins are the most important stat of a QB. Here are a couple of examples. First let's take the Colts: when Peyton Manning was their QB the Colts were a playoff, potential Super Bowl team. Exit Manning and their win column is nothing but Goose Eggs. You don't think that QB wins are important in Indy? Look at Dallas and Tony Romo. I have not checked out Romo's stats lately, but I will bet you that they are much better than Smith's. But Romo has actually lost games for Dallas by making miscues at critical times in games. I have a friend that is a big Dallas fan that would trade Romo for Smith in a heartbeat if these QBs' trends continue for the rest of the season, that's because of Romo's win-loss record. You also leave a large void in your position which leads me to my next question Jeremy. If win-loss is not the most important stat for a QB then what is? Let's hear the rest of your argument. What do the rest of you think? I'll tell you what, you take the Tony Romos of the NFL that are glamorous gunslingers with pretty stats and I will take the Alex Smiths with more wins and let's see how our teams do. What's important is the bottom line and that is where QB wins come in. I will again quote the late Al Davis who would probably agree with me, "just win baby."
    Nov 4, 2011 at 1:56 PM
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  • Terry B.
    Here's what Greg Cosell had to say on the matter: Q: I see. Smith is a top-ten rated QB, but of those top QBs his pass attempts per game are by far the lowest. COSELL: That gets back to what I just said. I don't have to tell you what [Harbaugh's] doing or what he thinks of Alex Smith, he's telling you what he thinks of Alex Smith. But he's his quarterback. You dance with the girl who brung ya. That's his quarterback, so what he has to do is he has to game plan every week and line up with Alex Smith and this offense. He's doing a phenomenal job. Q: It'll be interesting to see what happens with Smith down the road if he keeps winning. His contract is up and they have Kaepernick waiting in the stable. COSELL: We'll have time on that, because this team, barring a major meltdown, will make the playoffs and then we'll see what happens. Normally in the playoffs you get in a game somewhere along the line where your offense has to make plays and your quarterback has to make throws. We'll see what happens. Q: It would be difficult to imagine Alex Smith losing his job if he led this team to 12 wins though, wouldn't it? COSELL: Trent Dilfer lost his job after being the Super Bowl winning quarterback for the Ravens years ago.
    Nov 4, 2011 at 7:56 AM
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  • Shane
    This has been the funnest time to talk 49er football in a looooong time!! I love it... I love the optimism Jeff, maybe we can trade our next 4 first-rounders, that sounds insane right, I'm not sure it would be. There are 6 other rounds! haha..... i do agree with Ed about the carries tho. Let's see some more Hunter this weekend, keep Gore fresh. and BTW Hunter is GOOD.
    Nov 4, 2011 at 5:34 AM
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  • ja margain
    after 10 years of nothing, and I mean nothing to talk about, now everybody just wants to talk about how bad our QB is???? really???? I mean right now we're the 2nd best team in the NFL not by yards or TD's or nothing, just cuz we're 6-1 and you wanna talk about our QB and how is he doing??? really??? I don't understand why u can't enjoy what we the 49ers' true fans are living????? we're part of some history right now and u r wasting it talking about yards and td's and stuff that really doesn't matter, get a f ing life and let everybody else enjoy what's happening with our team.
    Nov 4, 2011 at 12:49 AM
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  • Edd
    I believe Jim Harbaugh should win "coach of the year". He is a QB genius that has squeezed every last drop of efficiency from Alex Smith. That said, just not enough there to last the entire season, let alone the playoffs. I am worried that he is wearing down Frank Gore too much to cover for Alex. Alex did show enough to finish off Detroit, but otherwise doesn't produce enough to balance the running attack with a credible passing attack. Nobody expected the 49ers to do so well, but now that they are I wish they would give Kaepernick AND Tolzien more practice reps (I understand they get none). Bottom line: the 49ers peaked before getting the right QB.
    Nov 3, 2011 at 6:44 PM
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  • Shane
    Jeff, Terry: i wld also agree. It's very similar to the Dilfer situation. That team won with a great D, a very strong running game, and a QB who didn't lose games (remind you of a team?). Obviously we are a long way from the SB but it's an interesting scenario. i actually believe an upgrade would be more important now than it was in 2000 due to rule changes and today's league. You need a QB that can win games, not just "not lose" them if you want to repeat. More realistic, if we win 12 games and even a home playoff game before losing, we still will need to upgrade to take the next step. Question is, will Kap be ready or do we look at other options?
    Nov 3, 2011 at 12:52 PM
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    Response: I'd like to think that Kaepernick will be ready. If not, you look at other options, though I concede that Smith might still be the best one available. (And even if Kaepernick IS ready, we oughta have a veteran backup, and Smith would be a good one, though he'll likely be able to get a starting job elsewhere.) Then again, and nothing against Kaepernick, I still have this fantasy about Luck declaring that he'll play for no one but Harbaugh....
  • Terry B.
    In that scenario, you just have to ask yourself one question: did we win the SB because of our QB or in spite of our QB? If the latter, why not upgrade?
    Nov 3, 2011 at 8:52 AM
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  • Shane
    Jeff, I'm right at your side brother! I have argued, screamed (in typing), and pleaded for a pass first pass early and pass often style because it's 2011 and that's what wins. I feel we are a QB away from being special, from dominating. unfortunately i think we are a year away (of course if Kap pans out) but i'm starting to believe if harbaugh wanted him, he has to work out. Harbaugh is too good for it not to. However, as a player i believe you never look ahead, as a fan i say of course you do, it's fun. because of our remaining schedule our tough D strong special teams and harbaugh magic (and despite our inconsistency at QB) i believe we will get a bye and cld win a home playoff game. Then be @ GB in Jan where it cld be horrible weather which actually plays to our favor. we run and play D, GB plays the spread, can't run and their D has been suspect. say we win that game (for fun) and beat our AFC opponent. Do we really dump a SB winning QB... are we the 2000 ravens? haha? just for fun, if you get a moment, your thoughts.
    Nov 2, 2011 at 8:39 PM
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    Response: Amazingly, that question doesn't sound as crazy as it did in the preseason, does it? My goodness, would I just love to face that issue. (I'm not sure that Green Bay won't go 19-and-oh, but it's fun to imagine.) As of now, though, I've gotta say that indeed I would follow the Ravens' lead and dump my Super Bowl winning QB. Even at the top, you never stop trying to get better. Still, I'd dump him with sincere gratitude....
  • Lucky Phil
    Here is brief excerpt of the interview between Grant Cohn of the Press Democrat and Comeback Jim Harbaugh. Enjoy ..... Who got game balls before? "Pardon?" Who got game balls before? Was there an addition to that? "Before what?" You said he suggested offense, defense, and special teams game balls, right? "We had been giving out game balls." So the scout team was the addition? "Correct. A demonstration player of the week recommendation. Offense, defense and special teams player." (Who is this a$$hole asking Jim Hardbumgh about game balls? And where was this guy when Sing was looking for his? The next time one of these guys gets Comeback Jim in an interview, ask him about how to achieve World Peace, how to end famine in Africa or how to solve the Greek debt crisis. This guy is a #[email protected]%&* genius! Give us a break on the $%^#@$ game balls, ok?)
    Nov 2, 2011 at 7:21 PM
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  • Jeremy
    Dallas, wins are not the most important QB statistic. That's just ridiculous. Teams win; players don't. Just like how you know you're talking to an uneducated baseball fan when he claims that wins are the most important statistic for a pitcher, you know a football fan doesn't know what he's talking about when he claims that the most important QB stat is wins. Remember when the Broncos traded Jay Cutler for Kyle Orton and picks, and the only thing that people could say for Kyle Orton was that, unlike Cutler, he "just wins." Uh, no, he just had a terrific, league-leading defense. Sound familiar? Look what happened when Orton went to a bad team. Some winner, huh? Do you think that Alex Smith would be a winner on the Dolphins, Colts, or Broncos? Please.
    Nov 2, 2011 at 6:55 PM
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  • gormless
    Spot on. We've gone from the roadrunner's anvil falling shortly after the preseason to 2011's nervous optimism approaching week 9. Still can't shake the fear that the bottom will drop out "on any given Sunday" but am enjoying the moment for now. Long time coming. As you, I would love to see the offense explode and bury more teams. Alex S. manages capably - most games - but does not himself dominate or reduce defenses to rubble. Be nice to see that once in a while.... a real field general, not a cautious bird colonel technician. Oh, well, one can but hope for fireworks. The coaches and the def. are saving our butts (A). The OL is playing to its best level (B), the O's backfield and receivers are being elevated by Gore (B to B- overall). Baalke keeps a low profile, seems vigilant, and has given the team some gems (B). The senior Yorks seem to be stadium-fixated - or possibly just getting bored - but at least staying out of the way this year (A). Got hope, REAL hope, for the first time since that little Berkeley sprout Mariucci worked wonders. And for once, Thanksgiving football may not be irrelevant... ... a fan since '55
    Nov 2, 2011 at 6:26 PM
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  • Bob
    All this talk about the Niners and football is great. But let's talk about something real. Black Walnuts ... When is the last time a black guy talked to you about Black Walnuts? That's why I'm voting for Cain. He makes Black Walnut ice cream sound goooood. So get out the vote. Black Walnut for Washington! And Dingleberries for VP.
    Nov 2, 2011 at 6:09 PM
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    Response: See, Terry? Things aren't so dull around here after all.
  • Dallas Niner Fan
    Well this is the first time I have seen a sports article with a disclaimer on it, which is interesting but is not what I want to talk about. Some comments were made that Alex Smith will "never win a game for us." Now I am not an Alex Smith apologist by any means but I ask you: who was the guy playing QB for the Niners when they came from behind and beat Philadelphia and Detroit? Let me specifically point out the pass to Walker that won the game for us in Detroit, that was one of the best game-winning plays by a QB (whoever that guy was) that you are ever going to see. So I ask you, do we just want to see fancy stats from our QB? Do we want to ignore the most important stat of all? That's wins, Alex is 6-1 as a starter, that's the most important stat of all and right now in the league you can count the QB's with as good a win-loss record on one hand. Just win baby. Your thoughts?
    Nov 2, 2011 at 4:28 PM
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    Response: I agree, Dallas; Smith already has won games for us, and more importantly, he hasn't lost any. I still think that eventually we'll need more sheer production (yards, TDs) than he seems able to give, so I still don't see him as more than a bridge. But even as a bridge, he's doing much better than I thought he could. (That said, I still would like to have seen what Hasselbeck--whom Harbaugh wanted, remember--would've done with this offense.)
  • 3 1/2 inch
    I do.
    Nov 2, 2011 at 3:34 PM
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  • M. Horner
    One thing that's becoming increasingly clear is how much Mike Singletary sucked. My God, he couldn't do ANYTHING with this team? Just big, classic, epic suck. I wonder if any of the Singletary apologists will ever admit that. Man did that guy suck.
    Nov 2, 2011 at 2:13 PM
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  • Shane
    Jeff, i had many of the same thoughts you had during that game, mostly in the second half. At one point i was like what the hell are we doing here. even in the first half when it felt like we had 17 tries at the goal line and we ran every time, i was thinking, hmm no shot at a play-action where 95-100 times there is a guy standing wide open in the endzone?? I think some pride got mixed in, and we certainly went a bit vanilla in the 2nd half. However i would say this: there does seem to be some method to the madness and personally i feel if Smith cld, for God's sake, hit a deep ball to crabtree the final score is prob 33-3 and we are even more the talk of the league, this article is prob different, and these convos are different. to me this game was a reminder that Smith is an avg QB at BEST and Harbaugh squeezes every last drop out of him and then some. I know some will say look at his QB rating, look at his comp % but come on, let's be real. (also cleve has the number 2 pass D, ya, those WRs were wide open) That's Harbaugh, that's the WCO, every time the guy goes long it's off. Hell every time he goes to crabtree it's a mile over his head! I agree the gameplan was a bit weird but i also think it's interesting, if Smith hits those deep balls and busts the game open a bit, the conversation is different this week.
    Nov 2, 2011 at 12:14 PM
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    Response: No question, Shane: despite our caveman philosophy, Smith still had big opportunities in the passing game, and he didn't execute. But you know me, man. To me, spotty execution in the passing game isn't a reason to abandon a pass-first approach. Keep that offense open, and if your QB can't cut it then find one who can. But my point here is that my convictions about what wins and what doesn't are somewhat at odds with the fact that Harbaugh is winning no matter what the hell he does. I'm not sure that such magic can go on forever, but in the meantime it's pretty spectacular.
  • Deborah Downer
    I saw your disclaimer, and I knew you were back. I missed you SO much, Honey Bunny!
    Nov 2, 2011 at 9:24 AM
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  • 2 1/2 inches.
    Who's Got It Better than ME?!!!!!!......(Great Article Jeff, I thought you were going Freddy Peckers Soft on me last week. Nice to see the Jeff that is pushing this team to be great back on board.)
    Nov 2, 2011 at 9:15 AM
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  • Terry B.
    The inevitable (but acceptable) consequence of the 49ers becoming good: WebZone has become dull as dirt.
    Nov 2, 2011 at 7:41 AM
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  • Dan
    The score could have just as easily been 31-10 in that game. The Browns shouldn't have been able to keep us out of the end-zone, but they did. That was actually a pretty good defense we were up against. I'm not bothered by the way it went down, the Browns were never really close in that game. I like the use of misdirection to the big guys picking up crucial first downs. I know to some those seem like cheap tricks, but they get us a first down, and they keep the defense honest. It seemed to me Alex was trying to get the ball downfield, but it was so far out of his comfort level he just couldn't drop it in. Maybe if he keeps trying he'll start dropping those in. Nice article Jeff.
    Nov 2, 2011 at 12:34 AM
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  • Wow
    Wow yet another terrible article. Blown the doors off the eagles? I'm pretty sure the final score was 24-23. Smith missing wildly? 63% completion is great. There's a reason for the run-pass ratio of 39-24...browns are now ranked 26th and 2nd rush/pass yards allowed. So would you rather run against a trash rush defense or pass against an elite defense? Seems the farthest thing from illogical if you ask me. F- for the article.
    Nov 1, 2011 at 9:04 PM
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  • InJHWeTrust
    I kind of expected this kind of game, coming off the bye and being so wary of Freddie Soft this is the kind of game we needed, a grind-it-out ugly win, honestly I think we could have blown out the Browns, i think JH knew that and he also knew his guys would be a little soft coming off the bye and needed a close game to keep Freddie Soft from coming in. The 9ers ran out of 33 formations in the entire game, 26 of them came out in the 1st half, the last 9 in the 2nd half...... was this because of the Browns' stellar defensive adjustments? Maybe it's possible they do have a top 4 defense, I think that JH and GR saw they could beat these guys and knew our D was stout so what did they do? Go back to the vanilla, running FG into a wall, boring plain short throws, no versatility or unique plays, just get the guys out there, chew up the clock and give upcoming defensive coordinators less to work with. What is more likely? JH limiting the offense playing a bad team (Seahawks, Bengals) to give other teams less to gameplan or JH and GR suddenly losing their creativity and playcalling ability altogether? P.S. Bucs differences, 1) they were a good team 2) we NEEDED that kind of game.
    Nov 1, 2011 at 7:33 PM
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  • Dan B
    I feel a lot of the second-half failures are squarely on the shoulders of A. Smith. I like our Q.B. but I don't trust him to not bring us to our knees. I was at training camp and his deep balls were almost always off as they are in games. So I believe Harbaugh is trying to force wins through any means necessary. If it means playing ugly, if it means revealing that we really don't have a good offense I believe he'll do that. I trust Harbaugh completely. I'm aware of his fallibility but he's done everything right (so far). Until his decision to NOT open up costs us the game, then I'll question it. But Alex is and always will be Alex. The guy we took instead of Rodgers.
    Nov 1, 2011 at 7:27 PM
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  • Pierce
    Jeff- Don't worry about it. I have complete confidence in Jim Harbaugh; the reason why we are inconsistent on offense is because of only one reason whether we like it or not: Nolan and Singletary simply screwed up Smith's capability to win on his own. You have to feel for the guy and by the end of the season I imagine maybe Comeback Player of the Year or something to that effect. However, my firm belief is this: When Colin comes into the game he will know the playbook, he will be the complete quarterback and he will be a stud whenever that is. AS is just the short-term solution. Smith has been taught to throw like a caveman for years now and if you get taught for so long utter crap you're eventually going to play like it. That's not an insult to him, it's just the truth. I used to be a firm believer in Smith but I just now realize that he's not Montana and he never will be. ;( However, when Kap comes into the game you will get what you want... Don't worry about that... :D
    Nov 1, 2011 at 7:12 PM
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  • BT
    I am thrilled with the niners' success, yet question their ability to achieve the elite status that some have labeled them. Here is how I grade them against the rest of the league, along with the teams that I do not think they can beat. Running game-very good, as the O line is stable and the backs superior. Defense-excellent, with great schemes and personnel. Special teams-very good, with Pro Bowl kickers and motivated coverage personnel. Passing game-weak to average, as they have very good tight ends, but limited depth with the flankers and Alex is just average, i.e. he likely cannot win games for them. Coaching-very good with infectious attitude and teaching focus. I would objectively rank the 49ers below the following teams: Green Bay, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New England. They will make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs. I want them to continue improving and my reservations, despite their success to date, are based upon their inexperience, my evaluation of Alex as an average QB, and their lack of depth at the wideout position.
    Nov 1, 2011 at 4:36 PM
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  • Hearstfan
    Have to agree with the article completely. And anybody that is honest with themself has to agree that the way the 49ers are winning games -- with great D and innovative but inconsistent O -- raises some doubts. All we can hope for is steady progress on offense such that by week 10 - 11 we are winning convincingly in all phases of the game. On the positive side -- CONGRATS to JH and the coaches for turning this team around so quickly. The mentality of this team is 100% improved -- they play together, play tough, and play smart. That is a huge accomplishment to achieve with a roster that could have been poisoned and unsaveable after the past coaching debacles. Wow, what a great job!
    Nov 1, 2011 at 4:28 PM
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  • overthemiddle
    Welcome back Jeff. All teams have bad games, good teams win the bad games. Bad teams don't. Let's see, this past week Brady lost, Brees lost, Rivers lost, Romo lost, Newton lost. All those QBs are known for their prowess of throwing the football. They all failed. Passing the ball doesn't mean you're gonna win the game. Vick won this week but has lost 4 games already this year. A balanced attack is needed. Need to throw the ball when you're way behind and you need to run the ball to keep the opposing team off the field. I too thought a pass down there on the goal line was needed. However maybe it was all those runs that led to Crabtree being wide open for his touchdown. Maybe just maybe if Crabtree would make it to pre-season then he and Alex could improve their connection. All in all we are 6-1 and there is a remote possibility that we could go 15-1. I personally like a punishing run game but I also understand that being able to pass is important also. And in no way do I think the Niners don't have problems, they do.
    Nov 1, 2011 at 3:35 PM
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  • Fresniner
    I really don't know what to make of the Niners right now. When the season started, I was just hoping to get a little improvement from the disaster of the 2010 season. And now, my wildest expectations have been surpassed by miles. Who would have thought that the Niners would be ranked second to the Packers, not in the NFC, but the NFL. It's an awesome feeling, a feeling I haven't felt in a really long time. Buuuut, now that they are winning, I want them to win it all. But I don't see how they can do it with the offense playing like it is. It seems like a car that runs ok, but then stalls on the side of the road. And of course the defense is like a tow truck that carries it the rest of the way. Alex Smith clearly has been playing much better than he has in his previous seasons here, but it's also clear that he is the reason why the offense seems to stall. Yes yes, I know Crabtree seems to run his routes wrong from time to time, and there are dropped passes here and there, but a decent QB makes up for those mistakes, and makes his receivers better than they are. There are nine more games for Alex to prove all the naysayers wrong, and I really hope he does, because he seems like a great person and someone who works his tail off. But I don't know how much longer the Niners can maintain. But if they take two out of three against the Giants, Ravens, and Steelers, then I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, a championship can actually happen.
    Nov 1, 2011 at 2:53 PM
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  • Adrian
    The brownies are actually respectable against the pass, that is why i believe they did not pass more. But there sure were a lot of yards left out there between Crabs and Al. Good win, good article, no negatives from me.
    Nov 1, 2011 at 2:44 PM
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  • napoleon
    i love the new niners, the first half against the browns had me and my friend pounding beers and cussing with joy. the niners' new "bar-room brawl" identity is fun to watch, and makes the other team's attempts to game-plan look silly. but having been a REAL niner fan all of my life, i strongly agree with the author of this article. the niners still have problems, and we can't just ignore them. even the best of the best sit down sunday night and review every mistake, so they can fix them in the future. fools and born losers take pride in sloppy victories against poor opponents.
    Nov 1, 2011 at 2:42 PM
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  • Matt
    The sad truth is that when you start an article saying you are not complaining, it is a very good indicator that you plan to complain quite a bit and just don't want to be held accountable. That pretty much sums up your article.
    Nov 1, 2011 at 2:00 PM
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    Response: There's a distinction, Matt, between a complaint and an observation. Though I admit that the distinction is fine enough to be lost on some.
  • Bill Bird
    Some whine with your cheese & crow crackers Mr. Kaplan? My God, you would have called for the replacement of Joe Montana after he finished the 81 season with only 19 TD's to go along with 12 INT's. Shaddup already and enjoy the ride. Tell me why the Browns were successful in stopping the run, when the Lions and Eaglets could not. Those teams knew the power was coming, but were powerless to stop it. But, the Brownies did. Tell me why. I'd really like to know.
    Nov 1, 2011 at 1:59 PM
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    Response: Come ON, Bill, please don't let my reputation precede me; I'm not calling for the replacement of anybody (at least today). As for your question, I'm sure there are various possibilities, but my theory is that in the second half in Philly and even in the Lions game, we did more passing than running on first down. Put another way, I think I respectfully disagree with your premise that the Eagles and Lions "knew the power was coming." The Browns, by contrast, certainly did.
  • Ted
    It was a head-scratcher in the 2nd half, but I'd like to think that Harbaugh's ego may have been at play. The comments that Shurmur made the week prior may have triggered this stop-me-if-you-can or I-can-do-anything-to-your-defense approach that Harbaugh took. I was baffled about the adjustments at the half or lack thereof, but it may have been due to our success in the first half. As for Smith, I'd like to think that he and Crabtree need to get together and get the timing down, on the long completion to Crabs I thought the pass was behind and the incompletions were too far forward. Harbaugh did say in an interview that the play on the completion was designed as a stutter, not sure if the incompletions were likewise.
    Nov 1, 2011 at 1:55 PM
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