The Bye week could not have come at a better time for the 2007 San Francisco 49ers. It gives Tight End Vernon Davis and Quarterback Alex Smith an opportunity to heal from their injuries. It gives Alex Smith a chance to watch the game from the sidelines and get a fan’s perspective on the offense. It also gives Smith a chance to watch extra film, of himself as well as the Giants, and watch some great QB performances like Tom Brady against Dallas. It afforded time for the team to air their thoughts and feelings in a fairly open forum. It allows Mike Nolan and Jim Hostler to figure out what they could be doing better.
Most fans have had nothing positive to say about Jim Hostler, and now the criticism is going straight on Mike Nolan. People say this is the year he needs to save his job, and I don’t know if that’s the case. Time will tell as the season progresses whether that is so. Look at Scott Linehan with the Rams: they returned nearly their entire team from last season, and they are 0-6. After five games, the 49ers are one game below .500, and they missed their starting quarterback for two of those losses. The team isn’t hurting nearly as bad as they might seem considering they were a Field Goal away from winning one of those games.
The biggest issue for the fans and media critics is the woefully inept offensive performances, and it seems that playcalling has been the biggest pariah. The media loves to jump all over struggling teams and make blanket statements about coaches and quarterbacks not getting it done, or not realizing potential. With two close victories against Arizona and St. Louis, and a tight three quarters on the Steelers’ home field, it seemed that things were steadily moving forward. The 49ers moved the ball effectively through the air against the Steelers, and just couldn’t succeed in the red zone. The Steelers, by the way, have one of the best red zone defenses in the league, and to come out against them the way they did, the offense began to build momentum.
One shoulder injury and two Dilfer starts later, we’re back to people believing the season is lost, our playoff hopes are squandered, the coaches are a bunch of conservative chickens, our number one draft pick quarterback is a bust, and only Norv Turner could save us now. Our biggest divisional rival beat us handily at home, in a game in which we were to make a big statement, and the team’s draw play on 3rd and two which set up a field goal try damned our season. There is no hope of them righting the ship because Mike Nolan is stubborn and Jim Hostler doesn’t know what he’s doing, and afer all, didn’t Norv say Alex Smith wasn’t ready to be a star in the NFL yet? I don’t know when Norv made that comment, and I don’t really care. For a man who was spoiled with Troy Aikman, I can’t blame the guy.
For the other criticisms, one needs to look at the big picture. Number one, Smith made some fine throws in the Arizona game that were dropped by typically sure-handed Darrell Jackson and Arnaz Battle. Not to mention the two would-be TD’s on the final drive, a drop by Jackson and fumble by Battle. The same held true against St. Louis, where Jackson caught a ball, all alone, that would have gone for a 65-yard touchdown had he not stepped out of bounds. Numerous times Smith’s receivers let him down, many times on a critical third down play. From the beginning I saw this as the most glaring problem they had. Then, we witnessed the complete meltdown of the offensive line against Seattle when Smith got injured, and as Dilfer attempted to do something with the ball. For this game and the Baltimore game we were subjected to Dilfer and his ‘management’ style. Cries of rampant conservatism toward the head coach should have been answered thusly: “Trent Dilfer was the quarterback! What did you expect?!”
Honestly, Alex Smith was never the problem, and is not the problem. He showed great poise in the 4th quarter against Arizona, he showed toughness against Pittsburgh, and he’s showing toughness now as it appears that he’ll be ready for New York. The rest of his supporting cast has let him down, and I lay that first on the receivers, secondly on the offensive line, and thirdly on the coaches. By that I would suggest that keeping Lelie on the bench has been a HORRIBLE decision! Whether or not he runs precise slant patterns is beside the point. The guy averages 17.6 yards a catch. He spreads defenses, and if Rex Ryan is to believed, Baltimore would have double-teamed him, and per Ray Lewis, Vernon Davis would have been double-teamed.
In Mike Nolan’s short tenure, he has shown one particular knack: The guy puts his finger on the problem and fixes it. People will say that he has had five games so far to fix it and hasn’t yet. They will also hold up the example of Ashley Lelie’s absence as proof that Nolan is the most stubborn coach ever in the history of ever. Regardless, Mike Nolan is not stupid. Whether he’s slow to see it or not, he sees problems and fixes them. He knows he needs to let Hostler call the game, but it’s also his job to see that the game gets won. If he puts them in a position to win, ala Joe Nedney with a 52-yarder, which is well within his range even at Candlestick, then his job is done. Nolan is not as stubborn a guy as he appears, honestly.
Football is also a game of luck, karma, whatever you want to call it. That’s the reason that Super Bowl runners-up fail to make the playoffs. That’s the reason the Madden Curse works every time. The season is young, and so is Vince, if you know what I mean. This week saw preseason favorites return to form. The Patriots actually won big against a playoff-caliber opponent, and don’t even mention the Browns. Larry Johnson finally eclipsed 100 yards, and would have added another TD if not for that fumble. The Saints finally showed up and played well. LaDanian Tomlinson at last showed why he was league MVP. Brett Favre looked pedestrian, and a step slow. Adrian Peterson dominated the Bears. If everything comes true to form, the 49ers offense will finally wake up and score points on Sunday.
We are pretty sure that Davis and Smith will be back. They were upgraded to questionable as early as Friday. We saw them wake up against a very good Pittsburgh team, and there are no teams in front of them that are close to their caliber. The offensive line played a lot better against Baltimore’s active 3-4, and the Giants play a more grinding 4-3. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Philadelphia gave up 12 sacks because McNabb had no one to throw to with Westbrook out, and most of the sacks were actually coverage sacks against Philly’s woeful receiver corps.
The 49ers proved, on all facets of the game (minus Rossum’s Kick Return TD) that they could come out, on the road, against a tough AFC team, and be competitive. Pittsburgh’s fans do not give up on their team, and they are solid all-around. There have been serious questions regarding the Giants, and unlike Pittsburgh fans, New York fans are WAITING for the chance to boo their team. Giants crowds have always been easy to take out of a game. They’ve had lackluster defensive performances, a game against the Redskins that they should have lost, and one great performance against a battered Philadelphia offense. I love the 49ers chances on the road in New York. With Smith and Davis back, I see good things happening. Last time Davis came back from an injury his first play went for a TD, and the 49ers began their great run to 7-9.
1 – Won v. Arizona
2 – won @ St. Louis
3 – Lost @ Pittsburgh
4 – Lost v. Seattle
5 – Lost v. Baltimore
6 – BYE
7 – Win @ New York – Lelie shows up, no one can cover him or Davis.
8 – Win v. New Orleans – Bush is overrated. Our D is strong, theirs sucks.
9 – Win @ Atlanta – Defense, defense, defense. We got it, they don’t.
10 – Loss @ Seattle – ‘Hawks revenge for the sweep.
11 – Win v. St. Louis – Not in our place, not this year.
12 – Win @ Arizona – Kurt Warner is back, injured again by our pass rush
13 – Loss @ Carolina – tough place to play on the road
14 – Win v. Minnesota – Adrain who? Need a QB to win, don’t have one.
15 – Loss v. Cincinnati – Best offense they face. Hurry back, Manny.
16 – Win v. Tampa Bay – It’s called P-Will QB Spy. Galloway’s not enough.
17 – Win @ Cleveland – Browns will have disappeared already.
10-6, win the Division. Preseason prediction: 9-7, second in division.
1 – Won v. Tampa Bay
2 – Lost @ Arizona
3 – Won v. Cincinnati
4 – Won @ San Francisco
5 – Lost @ Pittsburgh
6 – Lost v. New Orleans
7 – Win v. St. Louis – Rams have nothing, esp. in Seattle
8 – BYE
9 – Win @ Cleveland – Browns begin to fade, Bye week works.
10 – Win v. San Franciso – Revenge at home for last years’ sweep.
11 – Loss v. Chicago – Griese: better than Grossman. Defense is healthy.
12 – Win @ St. Louis – Rams have secured last place
13 – Loss @ Philadelphia – Eagles are healthy and tough at home.
14 – Win v. Arizona – Julian Peterson meets Kurt Warner. A lot.
15 – Loss @ Carolina – Playing for coach’s job, Steve Smith. ’nuff said.
16 – Loss v. Baltimore – Ravens D is too tough. Remember the Saints?
17 – Win @ Atlanta – Close out season with a win.
9-7 2nd in Division
1 – Lost @ San Francisco
2 – Won v. Seattle
3 – Lost @ Baltimore
4 – Won v. Pittsburgh
5 – Won @ St. Louis
6 – Lost @ Carolina
7 – Loss @ Redskins – Tim Rattay? Are you serious?
8 – BYE
9 – Loss @ Tampa – Don’t think Warner’s injury will be completely healed
10 – Win v. Detroit – Need a win at home, Warner returns and D plays well
11 – Loss @ Cincinnati – it’s a tight shootout, who scores most, wins
12 – Loss v. San Francisco – Niners are hot at this point
13 – Win v. Cleveland – Browns starting to stink it up
14 – Loss @ Seattle – ‘Hawks are too strong
15 – Loss @ New Orleans – Saints are playing for life in the division
16 – Win v. Atlanta – Cards need a win bad, and Antlanta is out
17 – Loss v. St. Louis – Rams playing for pride, and SJack kills the Cards
8-8 3rd in Division
1 – Lost v. Carolina
2 – Lost v. San Francisco
3 – Lost @ Tampa Bay
4 – Lost @ Dallas
5 – Lost v. Arizona
6 – Lost @ Baltimore
7 – Loss @ Seattle – They can’t win this divisional game on the road
8 – Win v. Cleveland – Bulger returns and Cleveland begins the slide
9 – BYE
10 – Win @ New Orleans – Saint’s D can’t stop resurgent Steven Jackson
11 – Loss @ San Francisco – 17-16 what? Not on your life, pal
12 – Loss v. Seattle – Div. road game, Seattle angry after Bears home loss
13 – Win v. Atlanta – Can Petrino decide who starts at QB?
14 – Loss @ Cincinnati – Offense can’t keep up
15 – Loss v. Green Bay – Favre is on a mission this year
16 – Loss v. Pittsburgh – Steelers are rollin’ here
17 – Win @ Arizona – Rams playing for pride, and SJack kills the Cards
4-12 4th in Division