Game Day – Mr. Smith Goes to Santa Clara

Haven’t heard too much chatter about the return of Young Sir Alex to his old stomping grounds, but then again, he hasn’t played here, and no one seems to really care that much. KC is a team that is a bit scattered. They beat the bad teams (Miami, NE) and lost to Denver. Without Jamaal Charles, they lost badly to Tennessee, as Alex was pressured all day and threw 3 picks.

And therein lies what we all know. Alex Smith does not do well under heavy pressure. Really. no one doss well, but you get the point. Kappy was under pressure about 70% of his passes last week and managed to pull off some spectacular plays. So, to me the formula is pretty simple. Stop Charles. Pressure Alex.

On offense, I’d do what we did last week, and establish the run. Roman still hasn’t really grasped the concept of what play-action is, and when/how to use it. Nuts, I know. At least he hasn’t with Kappy. Anyhow, still a little giddy from that 18 inning epic Giants game last night. Woo hoo! This would be a good win against a decent team. One that would hopefully shut up the likes of tin star Deion.

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The Prodigal Son Returneth

Nothing like the words ‘Alex Smith’ to light up the bloggolands. Our hardly, strictly bluegrass quarterback, Young Sir Alex, makes his return to his old stomping grounds (well not really) to the team (anyway) where he suffered some painful seasons, recaptured his mojo, and was then concussed to a back-up role. All through no doing of his own (insert incendiary posts below).  He returns, leading the 2-2 KC Chiefs against the 2-2 49ers. Both teams coming off impressive wins against tough opponents.  Smith’s Chiefs ran roughshod over the NE Patriots, who appear to be juuust a little bit past their expiration date. The Niners of course pitched a defensive shutout, yet still nearly found a way to lose to the Eagles.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was a dark and stormy might. Call me Uncachuck. The Alex Smith drama has been played out over and over, so I’ll just say, thanks for the picks, KC. For the Niners at least, we have a team searching for an offensive identity. They have played well in stretches, but have yet to put anything resembling a complete game together. The new offense isn’t blocking well enough to unwrap their shiny new WRs in Brandon Lloyd and Stevie Wonder. They have made plays, but there still isn’t a deep game to speak of. VD is likely at least hurting and may not provide much, but these other guys need to step up. Carrier has waltzed past VMcD on the TE depth chart and has made a couple tough catches.

Our defense looked a lot more cohesive than in recent games. The DBs especially played very well against a fast Philly team. Bringing in Aaron Lynch in place of Corey Lemonier seemed to light a fire under the defense. They were in the Philly backfield all day, and forced a lot of bad passes from Nick Foles. That being said, Philly was starting 4 backups on their O line, so I’m not sure if the same pressure will be there. KC has a similar underneath passing offense to Philly, so we match up well with them. The defense should continue to shine in this game.

KC? Stop Charles. Pressure Alex. Game over.

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A Rat! A Rat! My Kingdom For a Rat!

In what should have been a jubilant head coach answering questions about a gutty win by his tough team over an undefeated opponent yesterday, instead turned into a presser full of talk about a broken locker room and players supposedly bailing out on their head coach. Funny thing is, didn’t we all see this before? Wasn’t there talk of rats in the cupboard during the death-throes of the Singletary era? Talk of a broken locker room? Talk of players giving up on the antics of their wild-eyed head coach? No communication between the coach and the front office? Leaked reports of trouble inside the walls? Leaks, rats, fingers in dykes. There’s suddenly an eerily similar tone around the team.

Strange how all these reports are happening AFTER the front office kicked the tires on trading their head coach to Cleveland before backing away from it in a cloud of misinformation. Funny how this stuff is percolating around the headquarters AFTER the coach and front office decided to table the contract extension conversation until after the season.

So, the big question here is, who is engineering these rumors? Is the front office trying to undermine their head coach to hedge their bet for a contract extension? That sure seems like the strategy. Throw a little blood in the water like ‘locker room turmoil’ and the bloodsucking leeches come out of the mud to attach their name to a story of players tuning out their head coach. Deion Sanders, who is a good friend of one Michael Crabtree, has been running with this story for a few days now. As have a lot of national press guys. Of course, Deion’s response was  “it isn’t Crabs” but his talk mirrored the words from Ian Rappaport of SI,  Harbaugh’s an overbearing task master who treats players like children.

Local hack Tim Kawakami has been all over Harbaugh for the last few years, but his bone to pick is for the RayMac situation, and many others, but not a peep about this so-called dissatisfaction and tuning out. He, and all of the local media, have <strong>nothing</strong> to share regarding the locker room and the supposed tensions. Very curious to me. Trent Dilfer went on to use the word ‘toxic’ to describe the locker room, but after the Monday night game he was backpedalling faster than the French in WWII. He said (paraphrasing here), I know players in the organization , I know the owner, and the coaches as well, but I have no inside knowledge of what is really happening. I haven’t talked to anyone in the organization. I just think they are in disarray based on what I see on their sidelines. Lousy communication, dumb penalties, yadda yadda yadda. Right, Trent. Way to weenie out.

Harbaugh for his part called the talk ‘a load of crap’ and went on to get off a great line, saying “I haven’t seen Trent or Deion around here much.” Sanders went on to tweet this: “I never knew the Truth hurts that much. Sorry San Francisco 49ers fans but it is what it is. Ask yourself why would I lie!” <strong>To me, this is the biggest red flag in all of this.</strong> It sure feels like Deion has the mouth of someone in the 49ers front office whispering in his ear. Someone with direct knowledge of the situation willing to float the premise that the front office is undermining their head coach as the season unfolds. Deion’s never one to shy away from controversy, and as a member of the NFL through its TV station, it baffles me that he’s allowed to be such a shit disturber. But he wouldn’t be this adamant regarding the 49ers without someone feeding him this information.

The players, for their part, appear to be united in supporting Harbaugh. Newcomer Antoine Bethea, Alex Boone, I mean, who really knows what goes on on their flights? No cards? No music? The team has people monitoring players’ behavior on flights? Beyond the lunacy of treating grown men like that, it smacks of utter bullshit. Would these national reporters know this? No. The locals have never mentioned it, and they are the ones who travel with the team. Something like that would be patently obvious.

So, the national media, and glory whores like Deion (who WORKS for the NFL), and wannabe journalists like Trent Dilfer,  glom onto innuendo from the front office, and report it as fact.

This is starting to look like Young Sir Jed is grinding the wheels under his head coach. He did it to Singletary with veiled leaks and unsubstantiated rumblings from unnamed people, and he’s cranking the propaganda machine again to discredit Harbaugh.

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Valley Boys Win!

Well, it took two games, but the Santa Franciscoclara 49ers of silicon valley won their first game in their new digs. In what should have been a 35-0 beat-down turned into a near-tragic loss as the defense pitched a shutout, yet the special teams unit gave up two touchdowns on a blocked punt in the end zone, and a 60+ yard punt return by continual pest Darren Sproles.  Throw in a pick 6 by Colin Kaepernick, and you have a Niner team down by 14 midway through the 2nd quarter, and down 21-13 at the intermission, despite having outgained Philly 197 to 77 yards. The lone TD in the 1st half came on a supremely strange play in which Kaepernick rolled left to buy time, and threw a 35 yard sideways pass to Frank Gore while running left. A throw that maybe 5 QBs in the league can make, btw, and Frank, who was all alone, took the rock and okey-doked ‘n’ stiff-armed his way into the end zone for a 55 yard score.

The second half was highlighted by Antoine Bethea smoothly taking over as the enforcer of this defense. His hit on Zach Ertz early in the 3rd quarter forced a fumble that Perrish Cox recovered, and that set up Kappy’s laser throw, and Stevie Wonder’s tippytoe 12 yard TD catch to cut the lead to one for Philly. 2 possessions later, Bethea, on a pass thrown under heavy pressure by the ageless Justin Smith, Bethea picked off the underthrown bomb. Bethea, making his 100th consecutive start, despite an ankle injury that threatened to sideline him, made a huge tackle late in the game, as Philly tried to score late in the game. He shot through the line on a Gerald McCoy run to tackle him one yard short of the end zone. On the next play, he came on a blitz and pressured Foles into a 4th down incompletion to end the threat.

For all the struggles to pass-protect, the run blocking was solid, as Gore hit many big runs on his way to a 119 yard effort, and the team totaled 218 yards on the ground while giving up only 22. So, despite outgaining Philly 407 to 213, and winning the TOP battle 42 minutes to 18, the 49ers were in real danger of losing this game. The defense stepped up in a huge way, and you have to tip your cap to Vic Fangio for shuffling his lineup to get real pressure on Nick Foles all game.

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Game Day IV – The Philly Shuffle

As in the 49ers may need an IV after this one, to keep them on playoff life support. This is either the beginning of the end of the Harbaugh era, or the end of the beginning of this shitty start to the 2014 season. I, along with many others, saw these early games as mere tests to our depleted defense that would be overcome by our newly retooled offense. Funny thing is, though, the NFL, in all it’s glory, decided to institute new rules around line play and WR rules. Which was seemingly designed to slow down Seattle’s constant harassing of WRs, most notably, Denver’s in the Super Bowl, Seattle had the temerity to slow down Pyeton Manning’s passing attack.  Verboten, in the eyes of Herr Goodell. The fallout from that was the apparent referee revenge on a 49er team that is extremely physical and hard-hitting. Recent case being two 15 yard penalties on Dan Skuta and Patrick Willis, which both proved to be legal hits as neither were fined. Anything remotely close to being a penalty has been called on us. Harbaugh redux, or merely kicking big dog when he’s down? Don’t know. Don’t care. But these penalties have been a BIG hindrance in these last two losses, and they need to figure the boundaries and stay within them. If not, this team could very well see themselves looking at a very tough road to even reach the WC. 1-3 and the division is pretty much gone. And we’re on;y at the quarter pole.

Beyond that, this is the second opportunity to win a game in their shiny new stadium. Philly comes in seemingly matching the Niners style of play by falling behind early, and zooming back to victory. The Niners of course have zoomed ahead to leads while coughing them up late. Philly surely doesn’t defend the run or pass well, and is having trouble running themselves due to a decimated O line, so one would think the Niners can attack on the ground and in the air. The key for the local team is to keep the ball away from Chip and Philly’s offense and score TDs when they get the change. I woud love to see the Niners get on top of a team and then keep the hammer down and win going away, but I just don’t know. I think we turn the page back a little and stop ;the 5 WR formations and get back to a more traditional 2-3 WR offense that doesn’t telegraph our intentions.

Tell ya one thing, Philly loves to attack with 3 WRs all day, so our safeties have to do a much better job of communicating downfield. Could be a barnburner. Course that usually means a 12-9 game.

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The Eagles Have Landed . . . in Santa Clara

Chip Kelly and his lean green machine come a’calling to the friendly confines of the Great America parking lot this weekend to try and run roughshod over our leaky and suddenly ineffective defense. A defense that is a solid 6th in yards given up per game, but 17th in scoring allowed. Not good when facing a team that is pretty much pedal-to-the-metal when it comes to how the play. Foles and Co. do a very good job of no-huddle and quick-attack plays, much like Kelly did on Oregon. They run out of multi-WR formations, but it’s mainly pass pass pass. Short quick routes that are hard to defend and hard to get pressure on. Foles himself. Weirdly though the Jacksonville Jags, of all teams, sacked Foles 5 times in their first game of the year. However, Foles hasn’t been sacked since. He is, however, questionable for Sunday’s game after getting blindsided by Washington’s Chris Baker in the 4th quarter last weekend, which led to a brawl and some ejections. That being said, Foles played after the hit, and I fully expect Foles to play. For all their success passing, LeSean McCoy, last year’s rushing leader, is off to a slow start, averaging less that 60 yards per game so far. Seeing as the Niners have struggled with the run, I’m a little worried about this. Then again, their passing game worries me as well.

So, how do  the Niners stop the attack? Well, by getting back to what they used to do. I’m still not entirely clear as to why the braintrust seems to have gone from Ground Chuck to Air Coryell in a single offseason, but the 49ers are throwing a lot more than usual. It has worked at times, and failed miserably at times (see 3 picks vs Chicago). But I would hope that some of the offense is dedicated to keeping the Philly offense on the sidelines. The 49ers have had some long impressive drives, including the 2 in the 1st half of the AZ game, and they need to keep that up for 4 quarters to pull out a win. Philly’s defense is 26th in yards given up (30th in passing yards), and 20th in points, so one would think that we could get some traction there. They also are struggling to get pressure on opposing QBs as they only have 3 sacks. Certainly something the Niners should be able to exploit. But I would not like to see this turn into a shoot-out.

Beyond that, the run game should be bolstered by the return of the Davises, Anthony and Vernon. Defensively, I just don’t know. The Niner defense is struggling wildly to get pressure, even with blitzes last week, and blitzing the Eagles is not a good idea seeing how fast they get the ball out. Not sure who they will stop the Eagles, but this is a very important early game. Lose this, and they suddenly have a lot of teams to climb over just to reach a wildcard spot.

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Penalties, Replays, and Officiating

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the NFL is becoming a game not determined by the 22 men playing the game of football, but the 7 officials on the field enforcing the rules.  This last offseason, it was determined by the league that physical cornerback play should be modified. Apparently, we can call this the Peyton Manning rule, as his Broncos were smothered by the big physical Seahawk corners. The contact area is still 5 yards, as before, but the difference is there is absolutely no contact allowed now. A hand check as a WR runs by draws a flag,  whereas before, a certain amount of contact was allowed.

The other new fun rule being strictly enforced now is illegal use of hands. Plays in the trenches, and DBs on the line frequently get in the grill of the guy in front of them to gain leverage. It was usually ignored, unless fairly blatant, like seeing the helmet pop off.

The biggest warning sign of the flag-fest we now see came during the 2014 preseason, when there were 97 illegal contact penalties, 165 defensive holding calls, and 212 illegal use of hands penalties. Now compare those numbers to 10, 39 and 28, respectively from last year’s preseason, and you’ll see why there is a huge outcry among coaches, players and fans about the flag-fest.

This issue is even more relevant now because some teams are seemingly targeted for these penalties, while other teams don’t get called. In the Seattle/Denver game, Wes Welker was blasted to kingdom come on the late interception. He was a ‘defenseless WR’ who got blasted with a hit where the DB left his feet to hit him high. No call. In the Chicago/Jets game, the Jet WR catches the ball, takes 2 steps, and gets blasted at the goal line on a shoulder-to-shoulder hit. The ref calls it hitting a defenseless WR. Huh?

The 49ers have had countless penalties called on them. None more terrible than the illegal use of hands vs Chicago on a 3rd and 9 from Chicago’s 21 yard line. The penalty was very minor. Very ticky-tack. But it altered the course of the game. Even worse, the Niners held Chicago to another 4th down on the same drive, only to get a 5 yard illegal contact penalty.

The problem is these minor infractions result in automatic 1st downs. The Bears got 7 1st down on penalties. And this doesn’t even address the wildly inconsistent personal foul rules that the 49ers have been dinged with. Anquan Boldin’s head-butt was stupid, but is that equal to blasting a QB with your helmet? Chris Culliver’s taunting call appeared to me to be Cully standing up too fast. Stupid ticky tacky calls, but this is the new NFL. Don’t play with emotion, or heart, or have fun, or celebrate a TD, or you will be penalized and possibly fined.

Which brings me to replay. The hit by Dan Skuta on Drew Stanton was a big hit that was vicious, and brutal. But, it was legal. Stanton hadn’t reached the ground. He was just starting to slide as Skuta came in for the hit. Due to the violent nature of it, he was flagged. On the very next play, Patrick Willis comes in amid a bunch of blockers and hits Stanton as he’s releasing  the ball. Willis has his head up and does not use the crown of his helmet. A clean hit on the QB. He’s flagged for a personal foul. 2 blown calls. 30 free yards for AZ. I know we will get an apology from the league saying “Ooops. They got it wrong.” So, I suppose we will restart the game from that point in time. Right. Just like the NO game last year that ended up costing the 49ers home field. Gee, did that blown call change anything?

These egregious blown calls should be reviewable. Why? Because they alter the games and seasons. Will it drag out the length of games? Probably a little, but who gives a shit! The LEAGUE mandates 3 minute commercial breaks on every change of possession, every punt, every kickoff, and every turnover so we can get our fill of beer and boner pill commercials. Or that stupid-ass Geico lizard. Besides, if the games went on 15 miunutes longer, who would care? Not the fans. Shouldn’t it be about making the right call instead of flagging every goddamned play?

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