The Bye Week (Black and) Blues

No football this weekend. Normally this is a drag, as this seems to interrupt whatever momentum the team may be rolling on, but this year is a different story. The 49ers are beaten and battered. They have 5 defensive starters down, and just lost lineman Daniel Kilgore Trout to a broken leg. VD has been dinged up (and suffering from the dropsies), and the offense is in a bit of a quandary as they figure out how to use their new WR weapons.

But, as we saw last weekend, even though our D is still 2nd ranked in total defense, they were toasted by Peyton Manning and Co. to the tune of 419 yards. The good news is Patrick Willis is ready for the November 2nd game vs the Rams, and there’s the possibility that Aldon Smith could get a couple games shaved off his suspension for good behavior.

The injured DB corps (Cook, Cox, Culliver, Ward) should all be good to go. And the biggest missing piece, Navorro Bowman, is said to be in stage 3 of his rehab. He has been running for a few weeks, and is now starting to cut. Best case for Bowman is 4 more weeks. NT Glen Dorsey is also about 4 weeks away from his return.

Given all that, it’s pretty hard to gauge how good this team is. Defensively they are doing pretty well, until they aren’t. The coaching to me has been curious at best. In the Ram game, the Niners showed a bunch of stunts and blitzes and played up close on the Ram WRs. One would think to confuse Austin Davis.  Come the Denver game, we abandoned all that. Strange, because this was the exact way the Niners played Peyton tough back in 2009. I thought they’d go hard after Manning and press the coverage as they love to throw quick underneath passes. Instead, we played soft on the outside guys, and tried to simply rush our 4 guys with little stunting. It sort of worked until the killer pick by Kappy.

The other losses have been ugly affairs that the 49ers had pretty good leads, and they succumbed to dumb penalties and mistakes. I get that some of this is due to installing a new offense, and the defense is hurting, but the coaches haven’t done all they could to get things right as well.

Still and all, given the current state of the team, I’m pretty good with where they are at. The Niners had a pretty tough opening set of games, and have handed Dallas and Philly their only losses this season. Losing in AZ isn’t a crime although that game was ugly. The worst loss to me was the Bears game, as they had no business coming back and beating us. However, I think this team will healthy up and get themselves in synch in time for a strong run down the stretch and hit the playoffs. Even if it is as a wild card. As the SF Giants proved, once you reach the playoffs, it’s a brand new season. This team has proven it can win on the road, and that’s the path to travel from the WC spot.

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Colorado Catastrophe

So much for that. Mr. October once again played spectacularly, as the injured and gasping-for-breath 49ers staggered to the bye week with a crushing defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos. The injury-depleted defense offered little resistance as Denver scored on their first 2 possessions, while the 49ers went 3-and-out (highlighted by yet another drop on what would have been a 20 yard gain by Vernon Davis), missed a FG, and Anquan Boldin, after making a spectacular catch on the 3 by a nifty improve by Colin Kaepernick, dropped an easy peazy TD pass. The Niners settled for a FG there, but all in all, after the Niners drove down and scored a TD seconds before the end of the half, the 21-10 score wasn’t too too onerous.

Especially when the Niners forced a 3-and out to open the 3rd quarter. Unfortunately, Kappy misread a slant (something he seems to do once a week as the short guy was wide open), and threw a pick. Next play? TD Denver. The rout was on. All that was left was watching the DBs get toasted and the O line getting hurt.

Kilgore went down with a broken leg and his replacement Darrin Farrell walked off gingerly with a tweaked knee. Chris cook left with a hammy injury, Culliver left with a hammy strain as well, and the DBs were awful in general. I though getting Brock back would help. It didn’t. Culliver is completely dogshit these days. Love to see Cully go, but I ain’t holding my breath either. Dontae Johnson should be sliding up the depth chart right about now.

All that being said, giving Manning time to throw all night is tantamount to playing in quicksand for the DBs. Hard to generate pressure with all the injuries on defense, but still and all, just a piss-poor day all around. The bye can’t come at a better time. Call it a bad day and move on.

AZ, for all their glory, have the Eagles, Rams, Cowboys, Lions, and Seahawks their next 4 games while we have  Rams, Saints, Giants and Redskins (and the bye). An easier task that we need to make hay on. The Niners need to win out and hope that AZ goes 3-2 in that stretch. That would put us at 8-3 and AZ at 8-3. The Seahawks? The Road Worriers? They have the Panthers and Chiefs on the road and the Raiders, Giants, and AZ at home. They go 3-2 and they are 6-4.

These next 4 games are huge for the 49ers. They stand to get healthy and much stronger in the next two weeks, but there’s a lot riding on all these games within our division.

There was also talk of shortening Aldon Smith’s suspension, but I haven’t heard any more. At this point, hopefully they’ll take 2 games off and he can resume playing due to good behavior. Do it. We desperately need reinforcements . . .

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Game Day – Rocky Mountain High?

Haven’t heard too much from the pundits regarding this game, but I can safely say that the Niners aren’t expected to win this game on a short week with 2 weeks of travel involved. Throw in a few more big injuries to Patrick Willis and Mike Iupati and that certainly doesn’t help. Still and all, the game is played on the field, not in the studios. No one expected the 49ers to go to New England in December a couple years back and win.

This game comes down to pressure. Pressure Manning and force some errant throws and all should be fine.  The offense is working out pretty well, and is developing big-strike capabilities. The Niners can take advantage of their secondary I’d think. Provided we can protect. Off that, Gore gets going.

Still and all, not feeling all that confident about this one.

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Get Out of Denver, Baby

Not a huge Bob Seger fan, but I do like that song. I was singing that when I filled up my van with all my shit and drove down highway 50 on my way back to Cali after living there from 1985 to 1988. Not that we (or I) have much of a history there, but the only real significant thing to happen in Denver was the death of Thomas Herrion after a preseason game in 2005. Of course there was that Super Bowl, but I digress. That was in Louisiana. . .

Other  than that, we are 3-2 in the rarefied smog of Denver. A city that resembles a giant dirty bathtub when seem coming down from the mountains during a nice temperature inversion, as the pic shows. Our last game there was in 2006, where we won an OT thriller, 26-23.  Cutler and Alex both threw pick 6’s, and Joe Nedney kicked 4 FGs. The more things change . . .

This game? Well, pressure is the name of the game. Get to Manning early and often. The 2009 loss to Indy serves as a pretty good blueprint. Manning didn’t get going all game. We disguised our coverages and blitzes, and held Manning to 0 TDs (and 347 yards!). Course we lost on a halfback option pass, but that’s beside the point. Point being that was in Manning’s prime. For all his numbers, he isn’t there now.

Play nickel (and some dime), dare Denver to run, and blitz from unconventional places. We stunted very well last week, and blitzed from different angles to flummox Austin Powers. Manning is certainly better than Davis, but neither is good under duress. Manning is off to another big season numbers-wise (1500 yards, 15 TDs, 3 picks), but he did lose to Seattle again amid 36 yards rushing and a lot of pressure and a pick.

So, keep that up. Quick pressure up the middle is paramount. Jam the receivers at the line, and disrupt the quick passes. As long as we don’t follow the trend of falling behind early (against these guys it could be 21-0 before they get it) we should be able to grind this out.

It’ll be tough but it could happen. If not, oh well. Losing in their house is not a sign of anything really bad. We have the Rams at home, and the Saints/Giants on the road. Not easy peazy, but we should be able to get all 3 of those. 7-3 is fine at that point.

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A Win is a Win is a Win . . .

Especially on the road and in the division . . . but I think half the crowd that showed up were Niner fans. Or Giants fans left over from the playoff game the day before. In a game that saw a horrible 1st half punctuated by the longest TD in the last 14 years, the 49ers muscled their way past the hapless Rams in what should have been a blow out, but turned into a tense little ending. After spotting St. Loo 14 points in the 1st quarter, and VMcD fumbling away a great play, the Niners struck on an 80 yard bomb to Brandon Lloyd with 25 seconds in the half. Funny thing is, the last 49er to catch an 80 yard TD? Brandon Lloyd in 2005. Realistically though, the Niners could have been down big by then, if not for a very odd PI call on St. Louis.

After the half, the Niners took control and scored two more TDs, one on another jaw-dropping pass where Kaepernick rolled left and spotted Anquan Boldin dragging across the back of the end zone. He flicked the ball, with perfect touch, over the LB defending, and hit Boldin in the back of the end zone. Later in the 3rd quarter, Kappy hit Michael Crabtree on a post/corner/post move that tied up the DB for an easy pitch-and-catch 35 yard TD. After this, Jim Harbaugh seemed to fall asleep and let the Rams inch back into the game. It wasn’t sealed until Dontae Johnson, in for in injured Jimmie Ward, picked off Austin Davis for a pick 6.

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Game Day – Rilence of the Sams

Talk about an unraveling. St. Louis was supposed to be the next up-and-coming team in the vaunted NFC West. They had some coaching continuity with Jeff Fisher and co, Sam Bradford was set to shine, they have a stout defensive line that only got stronger with the addition of Aaron Donald, and they added O line depth with 2nd overall pick Greg Robinson.

Unfortunately, Sam Bradford’s season was ended with another knee injury, Chris Long is out with an ankle injury, Erstwhile backup Niner Shaun Hill came and went with a quad injury (no, not like Ozzie’s), and the Rams are down to their 3rd string guy, Austin Davis, a guy who looked good against Dallas (30-42, 327, 3 TDs) til he threw two 4th quarter picks, including a pick 6, to salt it away for Dallas. Speaking of Dallas, thanks for the tarnishing of the 12th man and beating Seattle in their house.

St. Louis, with all their defensive line firepower, has a total of ONE sack in 4 games. Curious at best, but that makes me a bit uneasy.  Wonder if they miss Michael Sam. Still and all, if the Niners are going to progress offensively this season, they need games like this to put an end to the offensive woes. Score early, score often. Win by 21. Dallas did us a big favor, so we need to take advantage of that. Go 4-2 and get 1/2 a game up on Seattle is a good thing. We need to keep pace with AZ. Lose this one, and it just makes everything harder.

But as the SF Giants proved, it isn’t how you start, but how you finish. This team is actually doing much better on defense than I imagined. Time for the offense to step up.

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Meet Me in St. Looie, Loo Dog

In a crazy bit of timing, the San Francisco Giants, winners of their divisional series last night, will be travelling to St. Louis today. If they planned it any better, they could share their plane with the 49ers, who are travelling to St. Louis for a Monday night matchup with the Rams. They could also possibly rub shoulders with them to get a sense of how a real team is supposed to act. All baseball season, all you heard about was the Dodgers and their ace pitchers, their ginormous payroll, and their Cuban psycho player Yasiuel Puig. Or the Nationals and their superstar players, pitcher Ryan Strassburg and major-league douche-bag Bryce Harper. Or the A’s and their scrappy play, or the Angels and their enormous payroll, Yankees, Red Sox, blah blah blah.

The Giants? No one had them on the map. Even after their hot start. They didn’t complain about their myriad injuries  that threatened to derail their season, their anemic (for months) hitting, and their lot in life as they went from 21 games over .500 and a 10 game lead in early June to 5 games over .500 and 6.5 games back in late August. They just kept battling as new pieces were picked up from the scrap heap, and untested rookies stepped up and contributed huge. No one getting arrested, no fights, no front office turmoil (self-generated or otherwise) no crazy distracting antics, and no headline-grabbing bullshit. Just playing the next game on the schedule.

The Giants mantra was, just get in. Play October baseball. Reach the playoffs and everyone has a 0-0 record. A new season. A new beginning. In one short week they have knocked off the favored wild card Pittsburgh Pirates, and the best team in the National League Washington Nationals. The Giants did it through strong pitching, solid defense, and a bullpen tough as nails. They may not reach the promised land and win it all, but a lot of people are going broke betting against these guys.

Jed York, Trent Baalke, and Jim Harbaugh can learn a lot from this Giants team. They need to stick to the business at hand and neither create, nor flame, any distractions that could derail what they are trying to accomplish. Ignore the tornado of bullshit flying around the HQ and just play football.

Truth is, the 49ers ARE on a bit of a roll. Much like the Giants, they struggle mightily to score, but play solid defense, and are slowly minimizing the God-awful penalties that plagued them the first couple games. If this team eventually figures out that what works between the 20s can work in the red zone, they just might be on to something. PLEASE ditch the trick plays and just play sound football.

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