The Key - Going into the season my #1 concern with the 49ers defense was that they had no consistent pass rusher. This still seems to be the biggest issue. I realize the secondary is inexperienced and thus prone to mistakes, but it really feels like when the going gets tough, the game hinges on the defense's ability to get pressure ( and they don't ).
They seem to exude the feeling that IF the 49ers offense comes together for a game and scores 28, that the opposing offense will start throwing more, and more aggressively, and the defense will be exposed further. This causing people to have that "Oh God when the offense has it, the defense doesn't" type of feeling. When in reality, the defense never had it.
The 49ers do not pressure the opposing QBs enough, their 2 OLBs are not pass rushers and I see no way for this to turn around as long as they are the 2 "every-down" guys ( I realize they bring in LaBoy in 3rd and longs and Brooks rotates in at times ). Brooks lack of serious playing time this year has been disappointing, I don't have a play counter, but I hope to see him in for more plays for Haralson.
Slow Hips - I can't believe I'm saying this, but Mays is playing much much better than I thought he was going to. I will eat my crow on this one ( obviously I still wish Nate Allen fell to 49, but the 49ers could have done much worse than Mays ).
Juke Box - Bowman, my god, if he gets juked out of his shoes trying to make a tackle 6 yards short of the first down on 3rd down one more time I am going to punch through a wall. Can someone please tell him to just accept 3 more yards on the end of the run when they have to get 3 more than that. I liked what I saw from him in the pre-season, and I really hope he can develop quickly this year as he will be getting a ton of playing time later this year and in the future, regardless of scheme.
Grasping at Air - It's frustrating that on at least a dozen occasions this year, our defensive players have beaten their blocker, had a shot at the QB, only to jump at the QB from 2 yards away and miss. This happened twice against the Raiders, once by McDonald that caused a roll out by Campbell that I thought for sure was going to result in a big play, but thankfully did not. Last week Lawson had a sack in the red-zone on 3rd down and came up with air, allowing Kolb to roll out and throw a TD. Huge mistakes you can not make. I consider this to be a symptom of the "need the big play," disease that has infected the 49ers for the past few years on both sides of the ball. Guys just coming out of their comfort zone a bit too much because they feel like the team needs them to make the big play, when everyone just making the ok plays would be plenty. It causes fumbles, missed tackles ( see Bowman above ), dropped passes, etc etc
The Straw Wall - Franklin is not playing at a pro-bowl level this year. I don't know how it's going to affect his next contract, but I never thought he was going to get a huge offer at his age and niche ability.
Sopoaga has also struggled at his very strong run defense ( though he had a good game against Oakland ), he hasn't been horrible, but the difference between Franklin and Sopoaga has been noticeable and has lightened their run defense enough to no longer be dominant against the run.
The Seive - Going into the season I knew there were going to be consistency issues on the line. In all the optimism most fans had they thought they were going to roll into this season with a top 5 OL, but many were ready to watch some bad play for at least the first half of the season. It has been worse than I expected. Baas has been a pleasant surprise at Center, he hasn't played great, but he's played well ( similar to how Staley has played in the past ). Staley has looked injured out there, but he's had no injury listed ( that I've noticed ). Iupati and Davis both look promising despite rookie mistakes. And then there's Rachal.. Rachal has no business starting for an NFL team. Now, maybe Snyder doesn't have any business starting either, but Snyder played better than Rachal when he was out there. Why is Rachal still in?
I know there's a camp that thinks Heitmann is a sack of ****, but I've always thought he plays at a consistent ok level, and that that is good enough for now. I hope he gets back on the field and Rachal can sit on the bench for a year before the 49ers cut him lose. Bust.
The Gazelles.. err.. the Donkeys - It's really hard to judge the receivers on the 49ers, more so than on just about every other team in the NFL. They tend to run the same patterns, out of the same formations, leaving them tightly covered. On top of this Smith is usually a little out of his comfort zone, and isn't a on-the-spot-accurate QB. I've come to the conclusion though that Crabtree is a 1a/1b receiver, and Morgan is a #3/#4 receiver. Crabtree can't consistently beat #1 corners, and Morgan can't consistently beat #2 corners. This causes a HUGE problem with how much they can scare the defense.
The Engine - Frank Gore is a really good running back. He does everything really well. My only complaint with him is that when is getting stopped he gets the "need the big play" syndrome and stays up too long or carries the ball a little loose in order to get that big play. He lacks the patience that you only really get when you've won or you're winning. The whole team does.
I'm not as frustrated as some people were that Westbrook hasn't seen much action,
The Pistons - Vernon Davis and Delaine Walker are the two players on the offense that make it something unique, something potentially powerful. They abused this with Walker for about 5 minutes before he was injured, and have just now ( in the 4th quarter in week 5, and 2nd half in week 6 ) started to attack with VD. The latter is RIDICULOUS. There is absolutely no reason why VD should not have 2 targets a quarter AT MINIMUM. VD should get on the phone to Mike Johnson every time the 49ers go 3 and out and he doesn't get a target, or go an entire quarter without a target and say *** ARE YOU DOING. They should have a half a dozen plays in their playbook that are specifically designed to get him a mismatch THAT WEEK. Good coordinators make use of their mismatch causing unique talent, the 49ers fail at this on a weekly basis.
The Deep Ball - Ginn and Williams were supposed to be the deep threats this year. Injuries have slowed this from occurring yet this year, but I'm still glad they bought Ginn in ( see special teams ), and I like the Williams pick, I hope he can see the field as a slot receiver at some point. They absolutely need someone to develop into a deep threat on this team, the opposing secondaries are allowed to be far to aggressive near the line of scrimmage.
The Zombie Horse, Continue Beating - Alex Smith had what I would consider to be a mediocre game today, but got the win. There's a sort of sad statistic that floats about that is something along the lines of, Alex has never won a game in which he passed for 250 yards ( IE, the 49ers have never won a game with Alex under center when the other team was putting up points ). I've said this before, going into the season, and I'll say it again, Carr is not better than Smith, nor is Smith #2 or even Nate Davis, but you don't necessarily replace a QB because you think he's going to be better. You do it because he WILL be different, and when everything is failing, different can't be any worse. It appears that Singletary is of the mindset that, once he replaces Smith that is it, he can not put Smith back in unless there are injuries. I don't consider this to be the case. If the offense is completely impotent, and he puts Carr in, and it stays impotent, and he puts Troy Smith in, and it stays impotent, he can go back to Alex. They don't have to cut him. He's not going to demand to get traded or cut. I see no harm in trying things if the offense is just dead.
Back to his play though, I've thought Smith has played ok, but the offensive system makes everyone look 25% worse than they actually are. I want him to throw the ball deep and leave it to Crabtree and Morgan to make a play on the ball, I want him to force some balls to VD and have him out muscle to get the ball. That is what good teams do, let their skill position players make plays. I don't blame him when he throws it deep and Ginn keeps running and allows a free int. In fact, I get more upset when I see him try to make a pin-point pass that the receiver has no chance at, today Morgan broke in and had 2 steps, Smith thought he was breaking back in and threw a dart over his head. He cold have just thrown a soft lead straight ahead of him and let him run under it. ( Not that I'm saying that's EASY, but should be a higher percentage throw for an NFL starter. )
What I HATE, absolutely HATE, is when he makes really dangerous throws that offer absolutely no chance of gain. Case in point, on Sunday he had a 3rd and 7, waited too long, then threw a 2 yard out to VD who was already so close to the side line that he had NO CHANCE of getting a first. So what is there to gain on that play? 2-4 yards. What is there to lose? Well, it could be a tipped interception, a pick 6, a fumble, it could get tipped at the line... That is just a bad bad decision.
Also, for all the pressure there was today, much of it came from the outside and Smith kept trying to roll out around it instead of stepping up in the pocket and just making a throw. I thought he had gotten over this, it's sad to see him revert back to it.
The Nails are in the Coffin - Singletary is done as 49ers head coach unless they both make the playoffs AND win in the playoffs, and do it with good play and not slug-fests. I see no chance of this occurring, so in my view, he is just done. Is he a lame duck coach? That I don't know, lame duck to me is someone who has no power in the locker room, and no matter what happens, I don't see these players giving up on him until they are mathematically eliminated, which shouldn't happen until deep into the season regardless of what happens.
Fysical with an F - The 49ers offensive philosphy that divided the fan base could, to me, be re-written as "We run through brick walls, not around them." It sounds cool, but is ultimately a style that will cause you to be easier to slow down, and easier to stop. A football team needs to be able to gain 1 yard running when they need 1 yard, they do not need to gain 5 yards on every run. There's plenty of modern evidence for this. I realize that if you can run for 4 yards a carry then you need to take less "chances" and can have a higher winning percentage over long periods of time, but it is rare in the modern NFL that a team can do that, particularly with non-veteran offensive lines.
I just don't understand why they aren't in shot-gun spread most of the time. They are much much better immediately after they go shut-gun and get into a rhythm. They just continue to pound that square peg into the round hole.
One Score Game - When the 49ers got the ball back in this game with 4 or 5 minutes left, up by 8 ( 1 score ), they decided to shut it down completely and run-run-run-run-run. It worked this week, they won. It took a handful of 3rd down conversions ( 1 3rd and 10+ ), but they got it done. Usually, they do not, and it results in the other team having one more, two more, three more chances to beat them. I hate that they do this. Hey, we could have two chances to beat you, one with our offense and one with our defense, but we don't, we're going to put it all on the defense, that can't pass rush and has a weak secondary. We'll see how it goes ( see New Orleans, Atlanta this year, a bunch of games last year ). It appears this is already the approach they're going to take in the Carolina game.
The Season - I think someone in the division is going to find a way to win 8 or more games. So, if the 49ers want to be that team, they need to rip off the first 6 game winning stream since.. well, probably the 90s. No matter what happens, Singletary will not get fired during the season, he will be the coach the rest of the year. I also wouldn't be shocked if Smith is the QB until they are eliminated, but I do hope HOPE that once they are eliminated, Nate Davis gets a shot to come in and show the fans, his teammates, and the future coach ( whomever he may be ), what he can and can not do.
The Future - I'm really interested to see the approach Jed takes to fixing the coaching and general organizational issues the 49ers have experienced the past 7 or 8 years. Do they really need a strong President personality to hold a position above Baalke and below Jed? Not really, if anything it would merely provide another punching bag for the fans. They're not going to hire someone like Parcells, get that out of your heads now. It's unfortunate they couldn't have landed someone like Holmgren, mais c'est la vie.
What's interesting to me is that the beat writers and pundits are describing the 49ers next head coach as someone with experience as an NFL head coach. I don't know why they'd think this, the only time in the last 35 years the 49ers have hired a head coach with prior NFL head coaching experience was Erickson. It is a franchise that generally focuses on hiring young new head coaches and promoting from within. Obviously the latter isn't going to happen. I can't imagine that Jed goes to Eddie to seek advice and Eddie tells him to pay Gruden 8 million a year ( not that I'd be upset with Gruden ).
One things for sure, they will be an offensive mind, which could net some immediate gains next season regardless of personnel changes. And just a throw in, some good defensive coaches could be on the market to be coordinators again ( Fox, Phillips, Mangini ).