I am really glad that 49ers won on Sunday. Yay! Re-read that first sentence and imagine me spraying champagne into falling confetti as I scream it from the depths of my soul. Also, in this imagination, I am played by Brad Pitt. Or somebody else you think is more attractive.
I say this because I am about to get critical. I love winning - and so Sunday made me happy, but, quite frankly, what we saw on Sunday is not going to cut it. Not at all. Especially in the red zone. The Niners had quite a few goal line opportunities, and they only scored a touchdown with one of these opportunities because Alex Smith decided that he would literally die by blunt force trauma rather than kick another field goal.
This is all fine and dandy when playing a team that really sucks, like the Seattle Seahawks for example. Oh, we just played them? Yeah, well then we are going to have to get better because the Niners cannot expect to play against a team that is coached by a douche-bag with legs who gallops up and down the sidelines My Little Pony style (by the way, I'm not a huge Pete Carroll fan).
After the jump, I break down my thoughts on goal line stands in general and why I think this team struggled on Sunday specifically. Moreover, I argue why the struggles are probably the side-effects of something good. I also ditch the ambiguity.
Now that you have followed me past the jump due to my enticing ambiguity, I will get way more specific.
But first, let's speak generally.
I think that a field goal is a nifty way to score three points. In a football game with a good defense (like the Niners have) three points is quite a lot. Thus, I am in favor of scoring field goals. But the fact of the matter is that any field goal that is kicked from less than 30 yards away is really just a missed opportunity. What I mean to say is that I am in favor of field goals, but this is a lot like saying I am in favor of a slice of cheese pizza. It's good and all, but if the slice of cheese is only a consolation prize because I am fifty cents short from getting the meat combo, I'm going to be pissed all day that I didn't raid my piggy jar in the morning.
Missed opportunities, man. That's what a field goal is inside the red zone. And what is so frustrating is that the Niners had a defensive line man return an interception to the nine yard line (!). That never happens! The number of times that happens is a number that just does not belong in a denominator. Going with the pizza example, this is like a guy giving you two dollars (1.46 Euros for our friends across the pond) for fun. Or because you look homeless. Either way, it's free money.
That's a gift. That needs to be a touchdown. Elite teams turn that into seven points. I understand that this isn't an elite team, right now, but we sure have a lot of talent and I really think that this team, if we get our ducks in a row, is playoff caliber. One duck flying out of V-formation this week was the red zone offense.
So, yes, it's a missed opportunity. I have spent a couple paragraphs hammering this home not because this is a complex concept, but because I am tired of consolation field goals and you should be too. So where do we lay the blame? Well, I know this has been discussed already and will probably be discussed much more this coming week, but I think we missed opportunities because of conservative play calling.
At one point, the Niners had two major opportunities to score thanks to a penalty David Akers drew with an Oscar-worthy performance. What did they do? Frank Gore up the gut, pretty much all the way. I'm not going to bother parsing the entire sequence for you guys because I'm just going to assume you all watched the game, but they were really standard runs between the tackles. One had a touch of misdirection thrown in, but that's hardly think outside of the box.
Now, I don't for the life of me think that Jim Harbaugh paces the sideline thinking to himself, "well that didn't work; but it will this time!" He's smarter than that. No, I think this was conservative play calling for very different reasons than we saw under the previous coaching staff. This was deliberate and calculated.
In a way, these missed opportunities happened for the same reason that Smith threw the ball like only seven times or something. And, as such, even though I think he had a decent game, Alex Smith in general was a missed opportunity.
This, I argue, is the root cause of the conservative play calling, and by extension, the offense's woes in the red zone: it is better to have a solid, though slightly underwhelming, game from Alex Smith than to bet the house and the kids' college education. Alex Smith does not go big or go home. If coaches make him try, he just goes home.
This is why Alex needs to go after this year. We need somebody who can play at a level with more potential. Given opportunities, Alex may do this. And if he does play at a top tier in terms of QB performance, then I will think about thinking about letting him come back next year (like what I think about even matters). If not, then thanks for the hard work and good luck elsewhere. Here's a free Moran Norris. Take him with you.
So, I think the play calling was to protect Alex Smith from himself and the lockout retarded offense in general. When a lockout slows the implementation of an offense like it did this year, one should expect to see more conservative play calling. As such, I think the game plan was a smart one and, frankly, I should shut up about the goal line problems. And because I thought Alex and the offense did have a good game, I will shut up about them.
Or, rather, I will if everybody can agree that while what we saw on Sunday was a side-effect of smart planning, it won't get it done in the future. I can be tolerant now, but if Harbaugh cannot find ways to open up the offense even more with time, then week by week we have a right to get a little more upset. There is simply too much talent and Harbaugh is too smart for things to not start clicking. I know this is a lot to expect after the lockout, but I have been waiting since 2002 and I really think this is the team that can get it done.