I have a number of posts I'm going to be getting up for y'all within the next week to keep things active during our bye. This first post is a concoction of several subjects, but rather than publish several different articles over the next few days and take up tons of spaces all to myself in the FanPost section (mwahaha!!), I decided to mangle these together.
Oh, and let me also apologize for not being in the game thread for Monday night against Arizona. I was at a local bar. It's the first game thread I've missed over the past two years, other than the NFCCG, when I was in San Francisco drowning my misery in beer (yes, alcohol is a major theme in my life).
I hope someone else managed to pick up on my usual PAT duties for our three awesome touchdowns!
Mad Scientists Posing as Managers
Giants' manager Bruce Bochy has a tendency to leave you at times frustrated and other times enamored. It often feels like he's out-thinking himself.
When the Giants' star closer, Brian Wilson, went down in April to an injury that cost him his season, people were in doubt about how the team would recover. Bochy decided on a bullpen-by-committee approach and six different pitchers recorded a save by mid-August.
At times, the Giants would throw one pitcher out there to face one batter, and then switch him out for the next batter. Then they would double switch during the Giants' turn at bat, and replace their pitcher once again.
Convoluted, yes? A team might see three different pitchers in a span of two innings - all based on match-ups and splits that Bochy felt advantageous about ("All hail the micro-splits!").
Needless to say, it didn't always work; and Bochy felt the backlash from fans. But then the Giants started winning games, emerged victorious in the NL West, and their bullpen pitched superb throughout the playoffs, with Sergio Romo earning the primary closer position and refusing to allow even one man on base during the World Series. Even Tim Lincecum, who was struggling as a starter, found success coming out of the pen in relief - a move that Bochy otherwise would have been much criticized for.
The Giants swept the Detroit Tigers to win their second World Series in three years, with Bochy's bullpen-by-committee getting plenty of work. It's hard to argue with the results.
On the other end, 49ers' coach Jim Harbaugh leads a team that takes a similar committee approach to everything from rushing to passing to receiving. He will throw in back-up quarterback Colin Kaepernick after Alex Smith completes one of his biggest pass plays of the season in a game where momentum is desperately needed. Or run seemingly random wide receiver sweeps. Even when it works, everyone will shake their heads and wonder what the heck him (and/or Roman) are thinking.
But then we remember absolutely ridiculous, ballsy play calls like this one against New Orleans, or the Kaepernick run that led to this magical moment, or even the beautiful-yet-complicated runs executed in the most recent game in Arizona, and it's hard to argue with the results - however convoluted.
Other times, Harbaugh will start a game throwing the ball - a lot - even though the 49ers are the best rushing team in the league. If the throwing is successful, he might randomly switch it up for another CK7 appearance, or a fly sweep; and if its unsuccessful, he might say screw it and keep running play action all game anyways.
But then I look at 20 wins through his first 26 games, and I try to see the bigger picture.
Yes, there are some crazy managers in San Francisco right now, doing crazy, crazy things: dual-quarterback experiments; committee bullpens; using a 35-year-old Randy Moss; double switches; fly sweeps; taking Timmy out of the rotation and sticking him in the pen; featuring 29-year-old running backs (Gore), or hitters and pitchers in their mid-30's (Scutaro, Zito, Vogelsong).
But then Scoots hits .500 in the NLCS, and hackety-hack Panda does the same in the Fall Classic, with three home runs in one game. Zito looks like the 24-year-old kid who won a Cy Young and Vogelsong blooms with two All Star calibre seasons after spending three years in Japan. Pence gets one hit for the price of three and Theriot DHs for the first time in his career and scores the Series-clinching run. Then some energetic, child-like closer not named Brian Wilson records the save by striking out the American League MVP looking, with a fastball right down the middle of the plate.
Oh. And Alex Smith won the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award.
Madness, I tell you.
My Alex Record Sense is Tingling!
Ahhh yessss. Here we are again. Last year it was the 4th quarter road comebacks, a few weeks ago it was his ever-evolving lack-of-interceptions streak, and after the Monday night game in Arizona there's two more possible records to confront.
We'll also check back in on Alex's low INT% streak.
The first one I cannot properly claim to be something my 6th sense picked up. It's the one everyone's been talking about: the NFL completion percentage record, currently held by Kurt Warner when he completed 24 of 26 (92.3%) against the Jaguars on September 20, 2009.
The news came out earlier today that the 49ers' challenge to have the 8 yard catch-and-run lateral to Crabtree reversed into a forward pass attempt was denied. Because of this, Warner still holds the official completion percentage record, as Alex - 18 of 19 (94.7%) - did not reach the 20 attempt minimum.
However, as noted elsewhere, if we arbitrarily change the minimum to 15 (hey, 20 is just as arbitrary as 15, anyways), that changes things. Alex comes in at first place, 0.3% ahead of Craig Morton and Fran Tarkenton
And if you go further and make the minimum just 10 attempts? Alex comes in with the second best completion percentage behind Warner yet again when he went 10 for 10 in 2005 in a loss to Houston. Personally, I see no reason why the minimum would be 20 to begin with, when 10 or 15 achieves the same effect: namely, keeping non-QBs, or QBs who played one great quarter and were injured/subbed, off the list.
Record or not, the field day he had against a stout Arizona defense helped prop his completion percentage up to 69.4, making it the best in the league through eight weeks. Smith also ranks top five in passer rating and yards per attempt.
Interception Percentage Streak
When we checked in on it originally, #11 was at a 0.87 INT%, having thrown just 7 in 802 attempts. The closest anyone else had come to Alex's 7/802 was Brady's 6/625 from 2010 to 2011 - almost a full 200 attempts behind.
I noted that Alex's streak involved 29 games and was three games short of two full seasons worth of data. Well, as it happens, he has now played those three games. So, where does The Phoenix stand now after two full seasons since that 2010 loss to Philly?
1.26%; 11 interceptions in 874 attempts. Not bad. The Giants game is looking more and more like a crazy anomaly. Let's hope it takes another two years for it to happen again.
Great Rated Games
So this is where I thought Alex might have achieved some kind of historically impressive feat. Smith's 157.1 rating against Arizona on Monday Night made it his second game of the season with a rating of over 150 - the other being Buffalo (156.2).
It allowed him to join a pretty exclusive list of ten other men who posted at least two 150-or-higher rated games in the same season - including our very own Steve Young.
Sadly, it's not quite a record, as Roger Staubach in 1973 managed to become the only man in NFL history to do it three times. Very impressive considering it was done when the season was still 14 games, and he even threw in another 148.9 rated game for good measure. Damn Cowboys.
On the bright side of things, only half the season is over, and Alex still has the Cardinals again (but at home this time), and the Rams twice. He also gets to play the Saints and the Patriots. One of those match-ups could prove magical for #11.
And given that the much-criticized passer rating metric favors efficient play over gaudy numbers, it benefits a player like Smith and a system like Harbaugh's. Going 15 of 19 for 220 yards with 2 touchdowns is good for an exact rating of 150, and is it really that difficult to imagine such a line for Alex Smith against one of the above opponents?
Time will tell.
Thoughts on Delanie Walker, Receiving Corps
With all the increased weaponry on offense, is Walker getting less practice reps in the receiving game this year than last or what? He has been dropping a pass every game in which he is targeted, it seems. Just this last game, Smith's only incomplete pass was intended for Delanie, and the miracle ball that deflected to him may have otherwise been intercepted. It does not appear that the two are on the same page.
The lacklustre results of most his targets makes me question whether we could perhaps use him even less in the passing game than we already do?
Last year, out of the 47 qualified tight ends, Walker finished 39th in DVOA (-19.5%), with a 56% catch rate. Not exactly superb; but then this year, out of 50 qualified tight ends, Walker is currently sitting 47th in DVOA (-34.1%), with a 44% catch rate, good for second worst.
His catch rate is the primary thing to look at here, as I assume it is one of the main reasons for his negative DVOA. For comparison, Vernon Davis is first in DVOA (39.1%), with a 69% catch rate, and Crabtree and Manningham are among the league leaders in catch rate, coming in at 8th and 4th, respectively, out of 82 qualified receivers.
Also, our two wideouts are among the top 16 in the league in dropped pass percentage.
This is all great news, as our offense does not throw as much as other teams, so we desperately need our receivers (and our quarterback) to make the most of every target. This means we need accuracy and a lack of mistakes on Smith's end, and we need catches and YAC on the end of our receivers.
High pressure stuff, and not easy to do when you cannot get a feel for the game through frequent targets. All the more credit, in that case, to our receivers.
So given our 9th ranked passing offense, and the positive value of every single other weapon on our team - from Moss to Hunter to K-Dub - I wonder how much longer Delanie will be used at all. It seems to me that some plays are actually designed to go to him, or that Harbaugh/Roman at least go out of their way at times to get Delanie the ball.
Perhaps Walker is a necessary evil? Even if he is not really a threat, it does give defenses something else to game plan for. I don't really have any answers on this, so I would enjoy hearing some of your thoughts.
Randy freakin' Moss
Before the season began, I tried to make the case that Randy Moss would be a positive contributor to this team. There were two main criticisms of him coming in that needed to be addressed: the first was his age (35), and the second was his perceived "attitude" problems.
I pointed to other receivers who played at that age who had success, tried to argue that his presence on the field could open things up for other play-makers, and pointed to Moss' past success with strong franchises as an indicator of his future success with the Harbaugh led 49ers.
Now, half-way through the season, are there still any Moss skeptics left? He has said all the right things when put in front of a microphone, he has done all the right things in class and in practice, and he is producing in all the right ways come game-time.
Moss is a future Hall of Fame receiver. First ballot. The team has rallied around the classy veteran (yes, I said classy). After his YAC-laden touchdown on Monday night, Harbaugh commented that everyone on the sidelines was cheering and jumping around. You could see the joy in Crabtree and William's faces as they pointed at the name on his shirt.
And how 'bout that block he threw for Crabtree three plays earlier? Seriously. Can we get some Randy freakin' Moss love going? The guy deserves it.
Moss is averaging 18.1 yards per reception, good for the 3rd highest average of his entire career. In 2012, out of receivers with at least 10 receptions, Moss is one of only six to be averaging at least 18 yards per reception.
And he's the only one doing it over 30.
The whole team is elated to see Randy succeed. That tells you all you need to know about his chemistry, his talent, his work ethic, and his reputation. It also tells you what his legacy will be.
Yes, think about this fact potentially becoming the truth, 49er fans: through all that he has done in his career, through all his highlights and all his success, through 18 - 1, through Minnesota, through Oakland, through Tom Brady, through 2010... through the highs and lows...
Randy Moss will be remembered as a San Francisco 49er.
Who's got it better than us?
San Francisco: Where Old School Football and Old School Small Ball Live
It is rare that a franchise you support wins a championship (unless you bandwagon on the Yanks or Lakers), and even rarer that a potential dynasty is born. Yet in two of the last three years, with two teams full of an odd cast of characters, a wide array of talent, and enough torturous mad-hattery to put it all together in the right order, the San Francisco Giants emerged as the World Series Champions.
I like to think the football team we've slowly built ourselves here in the same city is of a similar mold.
The Giants aren't the prettiest team. They play small ball when they need to; they surprisingly power it, if they must. And, in the mean time, they play great defense and have an outstanding rotation and clutch bullpen. The Giants do all the little, fundamental things right. And when you patch all their oddities together, all their unlikely heroes and non-house hold names, you get a real, actual TEAM. And you get a World Series.
The 49ers aren't the prettiest team, either. They play a tough, yet cheeky, run game when they need to; they are surprisingly efficient passing, if they must. And, in the mean time, they play great defense and have an outstanding front seven and ball-hawking, big-hitting secondary. The Niners do all the little, fundamental things right. And when you patch all their oddities together, all their unlikely heroes and non-house hold names, you get a real, actual TEAM.
And maybe you get a Super Bowl?
Let's suffer through this bye week quickly and get back to the 49er football we suddenly know and love.