The Season That Was – Playoffs!!! Playoffs?!? Playoffs!!!

Well, for all of us that thought this year would be a fight for respectability, and a dogfight to win the weak-kneed NFC West, this was an eye-opening season. I certainly knew the team had talent, and I had thought that the team had playoff caliber talent since 2007, but I really thought they would be hamstrung by the lockout, the shortened preseason, and yet another coaching staff that was brought in to try and right the ship. As it turned out, my fears of an 8-8 dogfight to win the West were unwarranted as Jim Harbaugh and company did what the previous three head coaches couldn’t do. And that was to reach the playoffs. And on his first try, no less.

The problem really is, the 49ers did it in too grand a style. I figured at best the Niners to be a 3 seed, or more than likley the 4. Instead, the Niners went 4-1 on their brutal east coast schedule (the only loss being the ridiculous scheduling nightmare that was the Thursday night game in Baltimore), beat perennial powerhouses NYG and Pittsburgh at home, took care of their division foes to the tune of 5-1, and finished the year 13-3 and the #2 seed. One of the more brilliant moves by Jed York was to have the team stay in Youngstown, Ohio between the Cincinnati and Philly games to avoid travelling back and forth between 3 time zones 4 times in 8 days. Players unanimously said it was a team bonding moment that they felt they didn’t get with the abbreivated training camp. They felt it helped develop a sense of purpose and unity. All that being said, expectations, which were a hell of a lot less grandiose at the start of the season, are off the charts. 

Team MVPs are scattered all over the roster. Alex Smith gets obvious props for throwing 17 TDs against a measly 5 INTs. Smith’s last INT was in the Balt game to close the 1st half when Smith and Edwards got crossed up on a deep pass to the end zone. 22 quarters without a pick. Gore had a strong, albeit inconsistent year rushing the ball. Still and all, 1,211 yards on 282 carries for a 4.3 yard average, and 8 TDs is a solid season in anyone’s book. Rookie Kendall Hunter showed very well with his opportunities, gaining 473 yards on 112 carries for a 4.2 average, and 2 scores. For all the unevenness of the wideouts, Michael Crabtree had a very strong season. His numbers (73 catches for 880 yards) aren’t spectacular, but they are a considerable improvement over 2010. Vernon Davis, for all his drops, was the only other pass catcher to remain healthy over the course of the season, and put up decent numbers (67 catches, 792 yards), though they are a drop-off from his previous few years. All the other recievers sent significant time on the sidelines. Joshua Morgan was lost in week 5, Braylon Edwards struggled through knee and shoulder injuries and never got untracked, Ted Ginn, a surprising Kyle Williams, Delanie Walker, and Bruce Miller all missed playing time. Drops by all these guys were a nagging issue as the season went on, but all in all, for all of the injuries and substitutions, they showed fine.

The defense? Well, they are one of the top units in the game right now. The 4th quarter meltdown vs StL notwithstanding. The Niners D was 2nd in points allowed (eked out by Pittsburgh by 0.1 ppg), #1 against the run, #1 turnovers with 36, and #1 in turnover differential with a +26. The biggest changes were to the defensive backfield. CB Carlos Rogers, who was maligned in Washington for not being able to hold on to INTs, led the team, and is tied for 2nd with 6 INTs (along with S Dashon Goldson).  Tarell Brown added 4 INTs, S Donte Whitner and CB Tremaine Brock added 2 each, and S Reggie Smith and rookie CB Chris Culliver each had one pick. A vast improvement over the previous 7 seasons. Rookie of the Year candidate Aldon Smith had 14 sacks, and was a big difference in this defense between this year and last as well. Justin Smith once again had an outstanding year. And the front office was rewarded for signing Ray McDonald to a multi-year deal with a strong season from him as well. Soap did fine holding the nose, and letting the others make plays. The LB corps was the strongest group on the team, with NaVorro Bowman leading the way. Since the pass rush was usually done with 4 rushers, the LBs were free to attack on the runs and stuff just about everything heading their way. Willis was his usual dominant self, and even his backup, Larry Grant had a few great games when Patrick went down with the hammy injury. Haralson? Ehhh. All in all, though, the defense as a whole is regarded as one of the toughest in the league to play against. A sea change from the bend-and-break defense of recent years under Manusky/Sing/Nolan of recent years.

Special teams were just that. Very special. David Akers set the 49ers single-season scoring record,  previously held by Jerry Rice. One of the only non-kickers to HOLD that distinction. And Akers added a TD pass last Sunday. He had innumerable 50 yard + FGs, and did very well to keep opponents from running kicks back. Andy Lee was outstanding in pinning opponents deep in their territory, and led the league in gross and net punting average. The return game was outstanding as wel, with Ted Ginn providing the excitement. His returns help the 49ers consistently win the field position battle game after game. Which led to shorter scoring drives.

So, the playoffs. The 49ers will more than likley face the New Orleans Saints. A high-scoring hard charging team that is playing very well right now. Better than GB even. Matt Flynn’s heroics notwithstanding (GB gives up 41 to Detroit at home? Ouch). The caveat being that the Saints game is going to be at the quagmire known as Candlestick Park. A definite home-field advantage for the boys in red and gold. A win, and the ensuing trip to the NFC Championship game would be a gigantic leap in the fortunes of the 49ers. A loss? Well, as disappointing as that would be, it would still be a hugely successful season in the grand scheme of things. The team is headed in the right direction. The team can only improve with another draft and a full training camp and preseason schedule under the prospective coach of the year in Jim Harbaugh.

 

 

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About unca_chuck

Lifelong SF 49ers and SF Giants fan
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33 Responses to The Season That Was – Playoffs!!! Playoffs?!? Playoffs!!!

  1. unca_chuck says:

    Skeebs wins the predicting game with his 11-5 prognostication.

  2. twinfan1 says:

    While it may be likely that we face NO, Detroit is more than capable of making their game against the Saints a shoot out with the last team with the ball winning..it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we got the NY/ATL winner.I’ll make my calls for this weekend when the injury reports are in.

  3. unca_chuck says:

    Jason Cole’s (Yahoo Sports) comments on the upcoming playoffs. He says every team has a fatal flaw. The Niners being their yards per play average is lower than the yards per play they give up (5.0 to 5.1). Excuse me for not being too worried about that stat. Yeah, the red zone offense is a concern, but I think the Niners should be well-prepared for the nexst game.

    What he neglects to mention about the 49ers is the 4-1 record against playoff teams. With 2 of the wins coming on the road.

    http://tinyurl.com/6s7wked

  4. snarkk says:

    Very good season recap, Chuck. The only bone I have to pick is that the receivers showed “fine”. Not really. The receiving corps is the achilles heel on this squad, even if Josh Morgan were healthy. Balke can upgrade over the offseason, and most assuredly will, whether draft or FAs. I had the Niners at 6-10 or 7-9 at best before the season, I too, thought that the lockout would be an insurmountable hurdle to yet another new coaching staff. Boy, did Harbaugh prove otherwise. I hope he can keep most of the coaching staff intact for next season. This has got to be one of the top 5 if not 3 staffs in the NFL…

  5. twinfan1 says:

    They had two receivers with more than 20 catches, making Smith’s numbers even better. And Camp Alex went a long ways in helping get past the problems with the lockout…this is a team that tied the NFL record for fewest turnovers. That’s a pretty awesome feat in a new system. At least some of the credit goes to the QB…( that’s a general comment, not aimed at anyone) .They’re talking 2 or 3 years at 8 or 10 million per year for Smith. It will be interesting to see how that changes depending on playoff success or faliure.

    • twinfan1 says:

      I think they should start by giving him his 20 million back and go from there…

    • unca_chuck says:

      ‘Fine’ may be too kind a word, but Crabs did impress down the stretch. He minimized his drops, and did well when most other options were taken away. Davis, for all his missteps and drops, remains a weapon. As they don’thave many other options at this point, they got to go with what they got.

  6. unca_chuck says:

    Roman may go, and I’m not too worried about him. Harbaugh knows enough guys to fill his spot, I’d think. Fangio more than likely stays. He’s been around long enough to realize that he’s a better DC than HC.

    • snarkk says:

      I’m with you on that Chuck. Niners org is on the upswing. Harbaugh has righted the ship, it’s sailing in the right direction, a new state-of-the-art stadium looks probable now, the whole thing “smells” pretty good for the foreseeable future, as Ronnie Lott might say. OCs would probably be happy to come in, maybe bring a receiver with ’em. Roman would be crazy, hell, anybody would be crazy to be the HC of Penn State. I wouldn’t touch it…

  7. twinfan1 says:

    I would think that many men might find the Penn State job a noble challenge…

  8. unca_chuck says:

    And many many more would just be horrified just setting foot in that locker room.

  9. twinfan1 says:

    Whatever. No reason to try to clean it up ?

  10. unca_chuck says:

    Well, it would be too much like buying John Wayne Gacy’s old house. Or BTK’s house. Too much bad shit happened there.

    I sure don’t envy the guy who comes in and tries to take that program over.

  11. unca_chuck says:

    Heh heh. Luck sounds like he doesn’t want to go to Indy, but he’d live with it.

  12. unca_chuck says:

    With the Polians out, will Irsay dare cut Manning? Manning’s $28 million bonus comes March 8. Way before the April draft. Both Manning and Luck are grumbling that they can co-exist, and Indy gets the break of a rookie cap, so the money isn’t really the issue. But they COULD be on the verge of getting another franchise QB. And the extra added fun of a QB controversy between the 2.

    • snarkk says:

      How could ANY organization with the golden ticket NOT draft Luck? Especially one where its current QB has fused neck vertebra and is heading towards 37 years of age. I can’t see how any sane football person would not order the Colts equipment manager to already start sewing “Luck” on some jerseys…

    • Nipper says:

      They will not cut Manning. Sure it makes business sense but sports is a poor business model. The PR hit would be too much to bear.

  13. twinfan1 says:

    Well, the Rams would trade the pick ( or Griffin ). Some of the dimmer bulbs here say that they wouldn’t, but they don’t pay attention. The Colts will draft Luck and the Rams will trade Griffin. Or vice-versa. Griffin may over take Luck as the 1.
    http://tinyurl.com/6tk9rk9

  14. Kevin says:

    Who cares about Luck or Griffin!! They are not coming to the Niners. with that said I was very happy to see the niners score 30+ points in the final game. I was/am worried about the ability to score more than 19 points a game. With that said I think the Niners make it to the NFC championship game.

  15. unca_chuck says:

    Nip, cutting Manning very well might happen. I’d be very leery of paying a guy a $28 million bonus after going through all those neck surgeries. Especially a 37 year old guy. Luck looks very capable of stepping in and doing well. yeah, it’s a gamble, but to lose out on Luck would be like Portland drafting Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. An epic failure of gigantic proportions.

    Neither Manning or Luck wants the situation to play out where they are both on the team, but it very well could. As it is, Indy has until March 8th to decide.

  16. unca_chuck says:

    IF Manning gets cut and is thus a free-agent, AND Smith decides to seek his fortunes elsewhere, then it is in the realm of possibility. Not probable, but posssible. Weirder shit has happened in the NFL.

    As it is highly unlikely that it plays out that way, then no, Manning won’t wear a Niner uni any time soon. Smith has had amble opportunity to scoot out of here, and hasn’t taken them.

  17. Kevin says:

    Actually, the Niners might be a good team for Manning to go to for his last 1-2 years. Balanced runnng and passing attack. don’t know much about Indy’s running game. Manning was so good at the pass. And a better defense.

  18. unca_chuck says:

    Yeah, but he wants a 5 year deal . . .

    • Kevin says:

      Not happening in SF!!

    • unca_chuck says:

      Yeah, that’s the rub. Plenty of teams would love to have the guy. For 3 years tops. Indy is on the hook for $28 mill after March 8, and Manning wants a 5 year deal to boot. He may end up a man without a team in a little while.

  19. twinfan1 says:

    Mannning holds all the cards- they can’t move him until he gets his 28 million…
    http://tinyurl.com/7pjnztv
    I’m sure Chuckles has covered this.

  20. unca_chuck says:

    He’s either cut or signed by Indy. If the March 8 deadline passes, he gets his $28 million. I don’t think they’d pay him $28 mill and then trade him, as his value and health is a big fat ? and they won’t comew close to getting back what they just paid him. Unless someone like Jerry Jerk-off throws a ton of picks and players at Irsay. I don’t think teams are going to line up to sign a 35 year old guy coming off neck surgery for what Indy is going to want for him.

    Hence the situation I mentioned above where he’s cut, and balks at the short-term offers he’s getting from other teams.

    The curious thing is Irsay gutting the front office over one bad year. It’s not like they’ve been scuffling around. They’ve been the top team since Manning’s arrival. Yeah, they are getting old, but with Luck, they can pretty much resume being a relevant team. They can build another team around him. For how bad the season went, the Polians have done a very good job in Indy.

  21. twinfan1 says:

    Probably the scariest prospect in years is that Denver actually has a chance against a real banged up Steeler team.

  22. unca_chuck says:

    NEW POST
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