I'm proud of the San Francisco 49ers for how far they've come in such a short time. I think the excuses for falling short in the NFC Championship game a season ago were, in fact, inexcusable, but this time around, I'm not nearly as upset as I thought I'd be.
Surely, we cannot be happy that, once again, the 49ers showed they were unprepared at the start of the game and dug themselves into a hole that they fell just short of digging themselves back out of. But the 49ers did enough to win that game in the end, and the no-call was absolutely brutal.
But let's go back to the hole-digging. There were a few players I highlighted as "non-MVPs" during the game yesterday, and I stand by those selections. Now I want to take a quick look at these guys and ask: do they warrant immediate replacements?
As in, if the 49ers are to succeed going forward, do they need to move on from these guys, who indisputably had bad games yesterday? We'll take a look at each of the three I've selected individually.
CB Chris Culliver
When he was drafted a season ago, many of us here weren't very familiar with Culliver. I personally didn't have him anywhere near the third round in my rankings, and I spent several sleepless nights putting said rankings together. But Culliver came in, earned himself some playing time in the nickel formation, and is now a regular contributor on defense.
People have been keen on citing specific stats, like the lacking completion rate when quarterbacks throw at Culliver from a certain yardage depth but honestly, that's just looking at things on the surface. What people neglect to mention is that Culliver isn't the most aware of cornerbacks and tends to get lost on extended plays, gets beat deep with regularity and consistently commits pass interference to try and compensate for these mistakes.
In the Super Bowl, Culliver got beat deep multiple times, and made some pretty poor tackles. He was abused by Joe Flacco and the Baltimore receivers, and he committed pass interference, as noted. He was beat deep more than the Ravens were able to exploit, as Flacco overthrew or just missed his guy a couple times.
It's a trend with Culliver, whether you want to admit it or not. Against the Ravens a season ago, he got beat three or four times badly, but Flacco missed his guys. Against the New York Giants every time they've played against Culliver, he was abused by their receivers, but Eli Manning also overthew his guys. Culliver caught break after break after break that bailed him out.
That didn't happen in the Super Bowl. He got beat, he committed penalties, and he looked lost. So that's that.
So what do we do?
I'm very unhappy with Culliver, that much is clear. But he's a young player, and he doesn't need to be replaced, though the 49ers definitely need another cornerback in to compete. If someone comes in and forces Culliver out of a job, then so be it, but he definitely is not a No. 1 corner and he definitely has much, much growing to do.
He needs better awareness, and he needs to get his head on straight. Pure dedication will save him this offseason, and anything less will have him out of a job in the event of a cornerback battle. It's clear that the 49ers need another young, talented body at the position and should turn to the 2013 NFL Draft to find it.
WR Randy Moss
Randy Moss called himself the greatest of all time on Tuesday, and he looked like anything but in the Super Bowl. If you want a more in depth look, I wrote about him here, but we'll just touch up on things in this piece.
Moss was targeted five times, and caught two passes for 41 yards. One target led to an interception, when it was pretty clear that Moss could have jumped up to possibly catch the ball, deflect the ball, obstruct Baltimore safety Ed Reed's view or something along those lines.
Instead, he pulled up short on his route because he deemed it not worth the time and effort for his obvious greatness, and didn't even bother to try and make a tackle on Reed. Another incompletion, Moss didn't go back for the ball and almost allowed another interception. A third was a mis-placed ball, but it was still plenty catch-able for a receiver that cared.
In short, he was useless, and said before the game that he hated how he was being used in San Francisco. So of course, we gave him a role and he squandered it.
So what do we do?
Randy Moss was never supposed to be in that position. He wasn't supposed to be part of a gameplan for any game this season and the 49ers paid the price for turning to him after a couple injuries. He is useless. Let him go to some other team, where he will definitely disappoint, and be out of our hair next season.
SS Donte Whitner
Culliver's lacking play wasn't immediately evident, and that's due to just how bad Whitner was nearer the beginning of the game. The Ravens jumped to an early lead by picking on Whitner in the passing game, over and over.
Whitner wasn't able to defend any passes that were thrown his way when he was actually near the receiver, but more often than naught, the Baltimore wide outs simply took Whitner out of the equation with excellent route running. In short, Whitner was totally lost for the entirety of the first half.
He whiffed on multiple tackles and looked like he'd never seen an NFL wide receiver in his life. First down after first down went right to Whitner, and it was really disappointing to watch. We all knew that Whitner wasn't the greatest pass defense, but it was just bad. Early defensive struggles can definitely be placed partly on his shoulders.
So what do we do?
Well ... Whitner has been something of an anomaly. I think he's been great with us. He's read offenses well and been a tackling machine. Some snaps, I think he looks like a bullet fired from a gun, as he's so fast to go after the tackle downhill. But he had some serious issues in coverage this season.
Are the 49ers using him improperly? Maybe, but it's the way their defense works, and Whitner's time in San Francisco may be up. I think he was a great signing, but he's far too limited a player at this point.
We're looking at one of the strongest safety classes we've seen in years, and I think the time is perfect for the 49ers to draft a safety early on to take Whitner's role. I wouldn't be opposed to him remaining on the team if he's willing to accept a backup role.