ESPN's NFC West Preview - Bruschi, Hasselbeck Confused

Over at ESPN, Tim Hasselbeck and Tedy Bruschi discuss whether the San Francisco 49ers are favorites to win the West:

Based on the feel of the clip, both seem to silently (read: reluctantly) agree in the beginning that the Niners are favored, but they then proceed to find reasons (out loud, this time) for why it's not a sure thing.

Savior in Seattle: (no, not clipboard Jesus, but rather...) Matt Flynn

Hasselbeck and Bruschi start it off by doing what most mainstream journalists have been doing since at least January 1st of this year: buying into the Matt Flynn hype. Flynn has had significant playing time in three games in his four-year career - two in 2010 while relieving an injured Aaron Rodgers, and one this past season in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Lions. No one seems to really remember the first of those three games - where he took over for Rodgers and went 15 of 26 for 177 yards and an interception in a 3 - 7 loss to Detroit - but they do remember the week after that, where he almost led Green Bay to victory over a somewhat legit New England defense that was giving up 19.6 points a game and creating tons of turnovers in the process. He went 24 of 37 for 251 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception.

The media was impressed, but they'd have to wait a whole year to get a second full-game look at Flynn, who ran all over Detroit's pathetic defense this past New Year's Day for six touchdowns and 480 yards. Nothing to scoff at; but, in context, what does it really mean?

Matt Flynn was drafted in the 7th round of the 2008 draft by the Green Bay Packers. He's spent four seasons there under a continuously-epic Mike McCarthy offense with arguably the most dangerous set of receivers in the league. Before he stepped on the field on January 1st, he had been in the same very-quarterback-friendly system for almost four whole seasons, had access to said amazing receivers, and was playing the 23rd worst scoring defense in the league (24.2 per game; 27.8 on the road). If he threw for anything less than six touchdowns, Green Bay would have cut him this off-season on general principal.

For the most part, then, Flynn's two quite impressive outings over the last two years basically amount to evidence that the system a quarterback plays in - as well as continuity in the system - is just as important as the quarterback himself. Does it mean you could give any quarterback four years in Green Bay and have him look Rodgers-esque by the end of it? Maybe. Does it mean Flynn is over-rated? Possibly. Does it mean that Flynn needs Green Bay more than Green Bay needs Flynn? We can assume, "Yes."

But, at the end of the day, what it means most is that there is at least some cause to be skeptical of all the Matt Flynn hype. I don't think it's all-too-strange to assume that if Flynn stayed in Green Bay, he could produce at a high-level consistently; but I do find it very odd to believe that his success within a Mike McCarthy system he's known for four years somehow translates into immediate future success with Pete Carroll in his first season as a Seahawk.

Can the 49ers Stay Consistent?

The next point brought up is whether San Francisco can maintain their historically great turnover differential, as well as their ability to dominate the run on defense. For some reason, the dialogue begins focus on the 49er defense and its streak of no rushing touchdowns until late in the season - a streak that lasted 14 games. It is at the very least implied that there is no way such a streak could be repeated, but several things seem to get lost here. First off, the 49ers were also in the middle of a 36-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher - that is not a Jim Harbaugh-induced quality that one needs to wonder, "Can it be done again?" The 49ers' ability to dominate on run defense has been consistent for years, and that consistency is well-documented. Would I put money on them not allowing a rushing touchdown for the first 14 games of the season again? No. But I would definitely put money on them re-starting that epic no 100-yard rusher streak, and I would be willing to bet the number of rushing touchdowns they concede on whole will still be historically low.

For that reason it should be understood that the 49ers' lack of rushing touchdowns given up was not a cause of them playing great defense, it was a symptom. When you play solid run defense, and when you play even better in the red zone, you naturally give up less rushing touchdowns. But it's not the 14 game streak that needs to be repeated in order to have continued success, it's the solid, consistent defensive play that needs to be repeated - and it will be. The streaks are just an after-thought.

Any questions regarding the ability of the San Francisco front seven to produce are right out. Questions regarding the high interception total, the subsequently high turnover margin, and questions regarding the offense, are much more valid, of course. Can the 49ers maintain consistency there too? Or even achieve the improvements needed?

And again, it is a question of causes and not symptoms. If the 49ers play well on defense, they will produce turnovers at a high-rate again - but they do not need 38 turnovers to win the division, or the Superbowl. Similarly, if Alex Smith and the offense opens up, and are putting more points on the board, then more interceptions are expected. But they are also accepted - you do not need an NFL record 10 turnovers all year to win games. It helps, of course; and it did help the Niners in '11. But that's because the cost-benefit ratio of their remarkably conservative offensive system demanded safe, mistake-free football, even when it cost them points or yards (which it did, many times). If the Niners do open up in order to create more scoring, and as a result give up more turnovers, then the question no longer is, "How will they keep their interceptions at only five?!", but, "Will the increase in points scored and the increase in 3rd down efficiency make up for any increase in interceptions thrown?"

There's more than one way to win a football game.

Bruschi Is Just Confused; Hasselbeck Doubts Moss

"Now you got these shiny toys out there... you see Randy Moss... and you wonder are they gonna wanna go deep every single play?!" - Tedy Bruschi

Truly eyebrow-raising stuff, here. Bruschi is worried that Moss and the other fancy additions to the offense are going to deter Harbaugh and the 49ers away from their winning ways, and instead force them to give up the run game and under-neath routes entirely!

Yes, Tedy, because now that Moss is lining up at wide-out, the 49ers are going to go empty backfield sets for all 60 minutes of every game and throw nothing but the deep ball - whether it works or not God damn it! And, of course, all the failed long balls to Moss are also going to affect how well Andy Lee punts and David Akers kicks. smh

Then Hasselbeck closes things up with some concern over whether or not Moss will be happy with what Hasselbeck assumes will be limited touches and an increased call to help out blocking. I am not sure exactly what Moss and Harbaugh talked about while they were tossing the ball around before reaching an immediate agreement; but it must have been awesome enough that Moss dove right in and reached an immediate agreement. Randy Moss knows exactly what he's going to get in San Francisco - he knows he has Alex Smith throwing him the ball; he knows the 49ers like to run; he knows there are other receiving threats that are going to take touches away from him. Can we please stop treating Randy Moss like a child and accept that he probably knows what he's doing and just wants to play football on a winning team?

Conclusion: somehow, despite going 13 - 3, almost reaching the Superbowl, and being favored in Vegas and by the bettors as Superbowl favorites for this season - mainstream media outlets still view our San Francicso 49ers as a huge question mark. When Brady has a career year in '07, no one asks before '08, "But what will happen when he can't repeat it?!" But the 49ers have had a consistently talented defense and special teams for years - and people wonder, "But what happens when they give up that first rushing touchdown in Week 2 instead of Week 15?! How will they still win games?!" Ridiculous.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.

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