With the season officially in our rear-view mirror, there will be an assortment of recaps and reviews of the 2009 season. A lot happened in 2009, and there is a lot to be pleased with, but also plenty with which to be disappointed. And of course, we'll have plenty of time to discuss that over the coming days, weeks, and months. For those that are new since early last offseason, we'll have positional reviews that combines a look back at the 2009 season with a short look ahead to free agency and the draft. Here are examples from last year of wide receiver and outside linebacker. Those will likely start later this week. If you have any suggestions on things you'd like to see this offseason, feel free to comment here or email me at email@example.com.
I thought we'd open things up with a more focused review. After the 49ers were eliminated from playoff contention in week 15 by the Eagles, most of us still recognized that there was value to be gained in playing out the string. The 49ers were facing a pair of atrocious teams in the Lions and the Rams. While it wasn't top notch competition, it still would give us a chance to potentially find some answers amidst the carnage. For the most part, good teams and players dominate against bad teams. Dominant showings in the final two weeks by specific units would at least give some of us more cause for optimism heading into the offseason. Here's a look at some of the players and units and what the final two weeks showed.
(Fooch's Note: We have an "official" FanPost for Alex Smith discussion. Let's keep the Smith discussion there for more general discussion, and here for specifics related to the last two games if possible). Even the strongest Alex Smith supporter would have to admit that his performance this, while an improvement, did leave a bit too be desired in several areas. Over the last two games Smith has gone a combined 37/59 for 452 yards with 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Statistically those numbers aren't too shabby.
However, it's rather fitting that his QB rating in those two games was 97.5 against the Lions and 97.6 against the Rams. His performances against both teams were somewhat similar in the fact that they were rather underwhelming. Smith was facing easily two of the worst passing defenses in the NFL and he simply could not put together big-time performances. Throw in a solid rushing performance against the Rams and an ok performance against the Lions, and Smith probably should have performed a little bit better.
I'm not sure yet whether or not his performances last week and this week were worst-case scenario or not. Initially I was thinking worst-case scenario would be just a hideous performance with multiple interceptions, fumbles, incompletions, etc. And yet that would at least have likely given us some sort of closure and reason to leap off the Smith bandwagon. Instead we get performances that look ok on paper, but as Maiocco once said, don't pass the eye test. I remain convinced that a second offseason with Jimmy Raye will only help, but I certainly won't try and convince anybody that Alex Smith was much more than blah against the Lions and Rams. I do think he still deserves all the starting reps at the beginning of next training camp, but he definitely did not take the bull by the horns in closing out the season.
After absolutely massacring the Seahawks in week 2, Frank Gore went down with an injury and then struggled mightily during the meaty part of the season. Part of that was due to being behind in games and part was due to shoddy play by the offensive line. If one player will benefit from a beefed up offensive line in 2010, it will be Frank Gore. At the same time, there were rumblings in the peanut gallery about Frank Gore running on fumes. And at times he certainly looked nothing like the man who set the franchise single season rushing record.
Nonetheless, Frank the Tank closed out 2009 with some very strong performances. He finished with 3 games of 100+ yards rushing against the Cardinals, Eagles and Rams. He struggled a bit against the Lions in the ground game, but put together some big runs, as well as some huge catches out of the backfield. Over the final four games, Gore averaged 113 yards per game, 4.9 yards per carry and 1 touchdown per game. In fact, a strong finish in the redzone got him a career high in rushing touchdowns.
Although the 49ers face question marks in the rushing game (namely Glen Coffee), Frank Gore showed there is still some tread left on those tires. We'll be discussing this plenty more, but I was probably happier for Gore's close to the season than anybody else.
After the jump we break down a few more players on the defensive side of the ball...
Justin Smith: Smith is one guy who definitely deserves credit for a monster game to close out the season. Justin Smith has always been a blue collar talent that doesn't ring up the crazy stats, but is usually all over the place making plays that don't show up in the stat book. However, yesterday was one of those days when there was no mistaking his dominance. He finished the game with 8 tackles and 3.5 sacks. The prior week against Detroit he only had 1 tackle to his credit, but he was able to bring solid pressure on the Lions QBs all day. The 49ers had to hand over a big contract (and the helicopter ride, of course), but I have absolutely zero complaints about it. I'm sure some folks will find things to complain about with him, but if you watch the game closely, you'll know that Justin Smith is an essential aspect of this defense every single week.
Ahmad Brooks: If anybody finished out the season strong, it was Ahmad Brooks. Like Gore, I think it'd be useful cherry-picking to look over a few more games than just the last two. Ahmad Brooks was a guy always considered immensely talented, but he had never really fulfilled his limitless potential. The second half of this season that appears to have changed. Although he was getting less playing time than Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson, the last five games of the season saw him record 5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles. Throw in some continual QB pressure and even some decent play against the run, and as Ninjames said yesterday, maybe that need for a pass rusher in the draft is not quite so great. Brooks used the end of the season to become a true impact player. The question now is how he carries this over into 2010. Given that he'll only be 26 next season (and likely resigned as a restricted free agent with no salary cap), if he can develop consistency we could have one heck of an impact player.
Dashon Goldson: Goldson was always viewed as a big hit, "impact" player who needed to generate a whole lot more consistency if he wanted to make it as a starter in the NFL. Goldson has one season under his belt as a starter, and he used the final few games to close out with some style. The consistency is still an issue, but I do think he showed a bit more of it over the close of the season. He finished the final four games with 17 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, and 3 pass deflections. He still has trouble whiffing on tackles and it will be interesting to see how he improves on that next season (if he even does). However, I would say he closed out the 2009 season strongly.
These are just a few of the players with something to prove closing out the season. Feel free to discuss these guys, or add some of your own players who had something to prove to close out the season.