Mike Singletary/Alex Smith; Giants-Phillies; Cal Offensive problems; DHB; Brett Favre
A READER made a suggestion this week that I think has merit: that 49ers coach Mike Singletary has his team so much on edge that players are afraid to make mistakes – which, of course, they do.
If you think of the 49ers season so far, the only game in which they’ve really played up to their capabilities was the second game, when they tied the defending World Champion New Orleans Saints before losing to a late field goal.
But in retrospect, even that game is suspect because the Saints are not playing at the same level as last season, losing two games, the kind of post-Super Bowl letdown that often hits teams.
The most obvious case of a player playing tight and making mistakes is quarterback Alex Smith, and even Singletary said Smith has to stop pressing and play his game.
That tightness has caused Smith to make some terrible plays, such as his fumble in the Philadelphia game when he was trying to escape the blitz. That fumble was recovered by the Eagles and returned for a touchdown.
Yet, when Smith has been put in truly desperate situations, he’s played very well. He drove the 49ers to a touchdown and then threw to Vernon Davis for the two-point conversion to tie the game. Against the Eagles, Singletary was ready to yank him and put in David Carr but Smith, supported by Davis, argued him out of it and then drove the 49ers for two touchdowns to come within a field goal. After the game, Frank Gore also supported Smith, pointing out that he had fumbled twice and that it was unfair to point fingers at Smith.
On Monday, Singletary and Davis said pretty much the same thing: Smith has to relax and play his game. If he does, both he and the team will benefit.
He also needs to get more help from his teammates and whoever is calling the plays. Please, please stop running Gore into the middle of the line on virtually every first down. That’s not doing Gore any favors, either, because the defense is ready for him. Bill Walshs always tried to pass when the defense was looking for a run, and vice versa. With the defense geared to stop the run, a quick outlet pass could be a big gainer, and that would also loosen up the defense for the rest of the game.
In the Raiders game on Sunday, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers shredded the Oakland secondary all game long. But on the Chargers’ last drive, he got called for intentional grounding, which took the Chargers out of field goal range and, on the next play, fumbled when hit, and the fumble was returned for a Raiders’ touchdown.
Sound familiar? The point is, all quarterback, with the possible exception of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, make mistakes. The good teams don’t rely on their quarterbacks to be perfect.
GIANTS CHANCES: It’s been a glorious year for the Giants, but it’s about to end. The Giants have outstanding pitching but hitters who only look good against weaker pitchers. The Phillies have outstanding pitching and hitters who can hit even good pitching.
The Giants struggled mightily to beat the Braves, the weakest team in the playoffs. Their offense is basically home run or bust; it was fitting that their first hit in the Monday night game in which they closed out the Division Series was a home run by Cody Ross.
With the exception of Andres Torres (and Ross, when he plays) they have no speed. They not only don’t steal bases but they don’t go first-to-third on singles, either.
They had the courage to leave Barry Zito, who is really the best paid No. 5 starter in baseball history, off the playoff roster, but their other two mistakes, Aaron Rowand and Edgar Renteria, were still there. Renteria is a smart player, and he immediately laid down a bunt when he saw the immobile Troy Glaus at third. But he’s a defensive liability because he has no range to his right. Officially, he turned 35 in August, but I think he’s forgotten a couple of years, or maybe four. He’s had a great career, but he’s not that player any more.
At least, Renteria’s contract is up. Rowand has two more years left. It almost made me sick when I saw him come up as a pinch-hitter in Monday night’s game, with that weird stance. Of course, he did nothing. He was a slightly above average player when the Giants brought him in but he’s sunk below that level since.
Manager Bruce Bochy has to make one more tough decision: Bench Pablo Sandoval and play Mike Fontenot at third.
The Panda needs to make some tough decisions himself. First, he needs to take charge of his own body in the offseason, change his eating and workout habits and get in shape. If he lost 20 pounds, he’d be much more mobile in the field. Then, he needs to drop the right-handed hitting and hit strictly off the lefthanded side. Bochy was basically platooning him at season’s end, anyway, benching him against lefthanded pitchers, so it does him no good to switch-hit.
But, let’s put those negative thoughts aside for the moment and look forward to the first game matchup of Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay. Lincecum is pitching as well as he ever has and all Halladay has done is pitch a perfect game during the season and a no-hitter in the playoff opener against the Reds. Looks like a lot of zeros coming up.
CAL REPORT: When Cal supporters learned that UCLA was running the “Pistol” offense with which the Nevada Wolfpack had ravaged the Bears, they thought, “Oh, oh.” But last Saturday’s game was further proof that it’s players who count, not the system.
Actually, I don’t even think you could call what UCLA was running the “Pistol”, or even an option offense because the Bears didn’t have to worry about Kevin Prince running the ball because he isn’t much of a runner. Not much of a passer, either. I don’t know what kind of offense the Bruins could run effectively with him as the quarterback.
It will be much different this Saturday when the Bears face USC in Los Angeles. The feeling is that the Trojans are down, but as Cal coach Jeff Tedford noted yesterday, “”They’re a few seconds from being undefeated.” Both Washington and Stanford got late field goals to turn a prospective loss into a win.
The Trojans still have considerable firepower, with sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley, who’s completed 65 per cent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions, leading the way.
The Bears have had trouble with offensive consistency, mainly because quarterback Kevin Riley has been inconsistent. I’ve been told confidentially that Riley has a medical problem that is partially the problem. Physically, the problem is that he doesn’t always set his feet right and throws high. (When Walsh conducted quarterback clinics, he spent most of his time on footwork for the quarterbacks.)
The Bears’ running attack is very strong, and they were able to control the game against UCLA by just pounding the ball. “We felt we could do that,” said Tedford, “and if you can control the game with your running, you just keep doing it.”
At the same time, though, Tedford said, “You can’t have consistent success in the Pac-10 if you just have one phase of the offense going. We have to be able to vary it.”
Shane Vereen has been terrific. A writer sitting next to me at the UCLA game said he thought Vereen was better than Jahvid Best. He had a point. Best was more spectacular but Vereen is better running between the tackles and he’s a great pass receiver, with at least one catch in every college game he’s played. He could easily be a wide receiver.
The lopsided win over UCLA should have pleased Cal supporters but there were still some who complained. “You’d think we lost the game,” said longtime radio announcer Lee Grosscup. “The year before Tedford came here, Cal was 1-10 and the win was over Rutgers in what was called the ‘Losers Bowl.” Joe Starkey and I had to do all sorts of things to keep people tuned in. We even had Paul Robeson (Rutgers grad) singing ‘Ol’ Man River.’”
Ah, yes, the bad old days.
COMBINED STADIUM: A few years back, when I was still at The Chronicle, I wrote a column suggesting a way to combat stadium woes: San Francisco should be the baseball city, with both the Giants and A’s playing at what was then Pacific Bell Park and Oakland should be the football city, with the Raiders and 49ers both playing at the Coliseum.
The only person working for the four teams who liked that idea was Pat Gallagher of the Giants, who liked the idea of another tenant for 81 days every year. The A’s wanted no part of it, though. The 49ers told me privately that their fans wouldn’t go to Oakland. The Raiders, naturally, said nothing.
What I heard from readers was dismaying because it went counter to what I believed.
Nancy and I both lived in San Francisco before we were married; I arrived in 1963, she came in ’65. We were married in 1967 and lived two more years in San Francisco before moving to Oakland, where we’ve lived ever since.
We love living where we are; we were burned out in 1991 but rebuilt on the same spot. The weather is much better than in San Francisco. It’s much easier to get around. I can get anywhere I need to go in Oakland within 15 minutes, and I’m only 5-10 minutes away from the places I shop. (I’m the family cook so I also do the shopping.) It’s also very convenient for my business travels because it’s so central. The furthest trip I make is about 45 minutes, to the 49ers headquarters or Stanford.
But we’ve often gone over to San Francisco to top restaurants, from Gary Danko to Slanted Door. (That’s not so important now that Oakland has become a restaurant mecca). We’ve occasionally gone to the symphony or to ACT. And, when we have visitors from other areas, we show them the sights in San Francisco, as well as Sausalito, the wine country and Carmel. We think the Bay Area is a great place to live and we take full advantage of every part of it.
Sadly, I learned from reader response that our attitude is not shared by everyone. I heard from Oaklanders who bragged that they have never gone to San Francisco, which seems absurd. If anything, those in San Francisco and down the peninsula were even more parochial, saying they would never go to anything in Oakland.
Not everybody is that way – the Warriors draw well from San Francisco and the peninsula – but there are enough for me to believe that there is no chance for a shared football stadium in either San Francisco or Oakland.
That’s why I think the only chance for a shared stadium would be in Santa Clara, which is equal distance from both Oakland and San Francisco. The chances of that stadium ever being built aren’t high but the chances of the 49ers ever playing in an Oakland stadium are nil.
DHB: The silly stories about the improvement of Darrius Heyward-Bey have ceased because even the dimmest of writers finally realized that DHB’s production was up only because many more passes were thrown to him.
Unfortunately, he failed to catch most of them. That did not escape the notice of Raiders quarterbacks. Bruce Gradkowski and Jason Campbell threw only three passes his way on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. He went a perfect 0-for-3.
His problem is that he doesn’t have good hands. The passes he catches are ones he can cradle against his body. That means he’s generally useless on deep routes, so his speed is negated.
Ah, well, maybe he can anchor the sprint relay team Al Davis is building.
BRETT FAVRE: This year, the drama queen should have followed through on his threat to finally quit. That would have spared him the double embarrassment of a bad season and a sexual misconduct charge.
The second problem is the worst. At 39 with the Jets, Favre sent sexually explicit messages and pictures to a 26-year-old woman working in the Jets’ front office. The woman did nothing; she probably was afraid she’d lose her job if she reported it. But, all of it is coming out now.
In the past, athletes could get away with this kind of behavior, but society and sports have changed. The NFL can’t ignore this or even pay off the woman. My guess is that Favre will get both a big fine and a suspension. He deserves both.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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