Colin Kaepernick/Jim Harbaugh/Aldon Smith; Terrelle Pryor; Lew Wolff/John Fisher; Hunter Pence/Tim Lincecum/Barry Zito' America's Cup
SUPERMAN HAS lost his cape. The 49ers have a myriad of problems, but the biggest one is their quarterback. Colin Kaepernick has been totally confused by what he’s seeing from opposing defenses and, frankly, I don’t think he’s smart enough to ever understand what’s happening.
In his college days, playing in a low-rated conference, Kaepernick could just rely on his considerable athletic ability. College teams do only a cursory scouting of their opponents; when coaches have time off, they spend it recruiting, not looking at videos of opposing teams. If he ever got in trouble throwing the ball, he could just run to get the right result.
It was much the same for Kaepernick when he started for the Niners last season. Nobody knew anything about him and the offense the Niners ran with him in there. There were still games where he saw defenses he didn’t expect and which confused him, but overall, he had an excellent first two-thirds of a season.
But in the NFL, defensive coordinators study videos of teams with unusual systems intensely and there are a lot of offensive twists that are short-lived. Remember the “Wildcat”? Teams were talking of using that as a basic offense but now it’s just used occasionally as a gimmick play. When Michael Vick had a big day in the Philadelphia Eagles opener, there were writers wondering in print how long it would take the NFL to catch up with Chip Kelly’s go-go offense. The answer turned out to be one game. The Eagles have lost their last two games. And, of course, Vick is back in the great/terrible pattern that has marked his career. Kelly may soon wonder why he ever left Oregon.
There’s another factor: The NFL defenders are much better than their college counterparts. I remember in the early ‘70s, when run-oriented offenses were the pattern in college ball and I asked the 49ers defensive coordinator why pro teams weren’t running those offenses. His answer: NFL linebackers were so much faster, they’d kill those offenses.
The “read” offense was studied by defensive coordinators around the league in the offseason. That hasn’t hurt Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson who is having another outstanding season. The 49ers have rarely used it so far, because Jim Harbaugh wants to protect his quarterback, but whatever they use, it isn’t working well for Kaepernick. Even in the first game, when he threw for more than 400 yards against the Packers, there were several times when Green Bay showed him defensive sets that confused him. That’s been even more pronounced the past two weeks. Losing to the Seahawks in Seattle was bad but the Seahawks are good and their stadium is the hardest venue in the league but the Colts? This is a team that almost lost its opener at home against the Raiders! And, they had lost two starters in their defensive line to injuries, so Frank Gore had an excellent first half running the ball.
But Koepernick was totally lost. Even last year, he had a tendency to lock in on one receiver, Michael Crabtree. This year, it’s Anquan Boldin, so if defenses cover Boldin tightly, he doesn’t know where to go. One writer noted that Kaepernick was waiting for other receivers to get open but ever since Bill Walsh came into the league, it has become the pattern for receivers to run to a specific spot and the quarterback to throw to that spot. If a quarterback waits for a receiver to get open, it just gives the defense more of an opportunity to cover him. But, Kaepernick waited and waited, then tried to run – but the Colts were ready for him.
Meanwhile, Luck was giving a clinic in quarterback play, throwing precise passes and, when his receivers were covered, bolting up the middle for a 15-yard gain.
Last year, when Alex Smith lost his job for the sin of getting a concussion, he swallowed his disappointment and counseled Kaepernick on the sidelines about what he could expect. This year, Smith is gone and Kaepernick isn’t smart enough to figure it out on his own.
I’ve never known a successful quarterback who wasn’t smart. That doesn’t necessarily mean classroom smarts, though Luck, Smith and Steve Young, who got a law degree, were certainly outstanding students. More of them have been like Joe Montana, an indifferent student but unparalleled at spotting specific situations on the field.
Going back to last season, I think Harbaugh got overwhelmed with his own ego. He, after all, was the one who spotted Kaepernick and pushed Trent Baalke to draft him, with the 49ers trading to move up in the second round. The consensus at the time was hat Kaepernick was a great physical specimen but not an NFL quarterback, a feeling that was supported watching him in practice as a rookie. But Harbaugh never has trouble believing he’s smarter than everybody else, so when he got his chance last year, he got Kaepernick in there and kept him there even when Smith was cleared to play.
Alex is a class act and he never complained. When he was traded to Kansas City, he publicly thanked Harbaugh for what he’d done for him and the team.
And, he may have the last laugh. The Chiefs are 3-0. Denver almost surely will win the AFC West, but Kansas City has a good shot at making the playoffs. The 49ers only hope is to sneak in as a second-place team in an NFC that seems decidedly inferior to the AFC this year. But I think even that is a remote possibility. They’re dead in the water.
THE NINERS, meaning Harbaugh, also mishandled the Aldon Smith case. Harbaugh stonewalled on the news that Smith had been arrested – again – after slamming his car into a tree because he was drunk. His blood alcohol reading was .15, twice the legal limit.
He clearly needed help but Harbaugh couldn’t think beyond the next game and wouldn’t comment on it. I believe that 49ers CEO Jed York stepped in and talked to the young man and persuaded him to seek help. After he agreed, Smith played Sunday but got no sacks.
Many of us have done foolish things in our younger days. I don’t except myself from that. I drank far too much in my early 20s and too often got behind the wheel in that condition. Fortunately, I didn’t hurt myself or anybody else and I soon matured enough to curtail this destructive behavior.
Smith hasn’t done that and, as a topflight athlete on a team that went to the Super Bowl after last season, he is under the microscope. He’s also making far more money than most of us ever have so he’s been able to indulge himself in self-destructive behavior. Being stabbed at an earlier party should have given him pause, but obviously it didn’t. I hope the new program will bring him around.
I don’t pass judgment on athletes who get addicted to alcohol or drugs because I don’t think that makes them bad people. I’ve known some who have turned their lives around. Vida Blue was probably on his way to the Hall of Fame when he got into the cocaine habit but he’s rehabilitated himself and remains a very likeable guy in his work with the Giants. John Lucas also rehabilitated himself. Delvin Williams not only broke his habit but started an anti-drug program for athletes.
At this point, it’s difficult to say about Aldon Smith. I hope he can shake his self-destructive pattern, for his own sake, not the 49ers. He should have a bright future, but it will be up to him.
NOBODY EXPECTED the Raiders to do very much this year, so it was no surprise to see them blown out by the Broncos in the Monday night game. At this point, the Broncos, who should have gone to the Super Bowl last season, are the class of the AFC.
Terrelle Pryor was again a bright spot for the Raiders, but he suffered a possible concussion late in the game. He’ll go through tests today to see whether he can be cleared to play on Sunday or whether he’ll have to sit out a game.
Pryor doesn’t have to worry about losing his job. He’s been a catalyst for the Raiders offense, which needs all the help it can get. His improvement since he was picked in the 2011 supplemental draft has been monumental. He’s no longer trying to make plays he could make in college but can’t against much tougher pro defenses. He’s just what the Raiders need.
As has been obvious for some time, the Raiders are a work in progress. It will be at least a year before they’re ready to contend for a playoff berth. I remain confident, though, that they’re on the right path.
CAL HAS announced that its home game against Washington State next weekend will start at 1 p.m. Omigawd, has the earth stopped spinning on its axis? The reason, of course, is that the Pac-12 commissioner, the wonderful Larry Scott, has determined that this game is the least attractive on the conference menu that day. So, Cal rooters get to see a game at the time it should be played.
No such luck with the Big Game at Stanford, though. That will be played at 8 p.m. or maybe midnight if it fits Scott’s schedule better.
THE A’S are back in the playoffs as champions of the AL West and did it resoundingly, winning on the last day of the season to put an exclamation point on it after actually clinching earlier when the Texas Rangers lost.
Last year, they had an emotional finish, beating the Rangers three straight after trailing by two going into that series, and I think they were drained of emotion going into the playoffs. This year, they’ll have a chance to take a deep breath and think about what’s next, and manager Bob Melvin can set up his pitching rotation.
Of course, owner Lew Wolff had to be his usual spoiled child self, blasting the fans for not coming out in greater numbers in the closing weeks. This is the same Lew Wolff who has regularly insulted Oakland fans, twice sending out e-mails just before the start of a season saying he was still committed to a move to San Jose, the same Lew Wolff who has tarped off areas of the upper deck, the same Lew Wolff who has kept the payroll among the lowest in MLB. And, BTW, A’s players have often said how much they love their fans, who have stuck with them despite Wolff’s efforts to keep them away.
There was also another sewage episode last week. When this happens, the A’s are quick to say that the city and county are responsible for maintaining the facilty. Living in Oakland, I’m very aware of the incompetence of city and county officials, but the A’s have a low lease payment, they have the third lowest payroll in MLB, they collect many millions in revenue-sharing money each year and Wolff’s oh-so-silent partner, John Fisher, is a billionaire. They couldn’t spend some money to stop this? And, BTW, the first time this happened, there was a rag found stuck in a pipe, suggesting sabotage. The whole situation stinks, and not because of the sewage.
MEANWHILE, THE Giants are trying to figure out what they should do for next year. I sympathize with general manager Brian Sabean because there are so many uncertainties.
I believe they should re-sign Hunter Pence, though his price will be very high, because he’s very important to this team. He actually hits home runs, a lost art for the Giants, plays good defense and has a terrific attitude.
The real question, though, is the pitching. Aside from Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, who do you keep? Barry Zito will finally be gone, after they pay the buyout, for which we should all be thankful, but do you keep Ryan Vogelsong, who’s 37 and hasn’t pitched very well this season? Chad Gaudin has serious injury problems. Tim Lincecum?
An even more serious problem is that the Dodgers are now the west coast version of the Yankees, spending extravagant amounts of money to win. That got them the NL West title this year and some of the socalled experts are predicting they’ll win the World Series, forgetting that their record has been amassed against teams in a weak division. I think one of the three teams battling for the NL Central title, one of which will win the division with the other two as wild cards, have a better shot.
But whatever happens in the postseason, I think Sabean has to think in terms of 2015. I don’t believe there will be a turnaround next season. If you’re a Giants fan, I’d recommend staying home and replaying videos of the 2012 postseason.
PET PEEVE: Football writers who use statistics to evaluate players and teams.
Baseball has always had a ton of statistical data – it’s been described as an island of activity in the middle of a sea of statistics – and there are even more now. The new stats are useful to general managers making decisions on players but clutter up writers’ stories. How many fans know what WAR means?
Now, football is the same way. Quarterback ratings are given after every quarter of NFL games in the press box statistical information. Writers continually use statistics about how many passes are completed to one receiver or another, or how many passes are defended successfully by a corner. To me, these are crutches for lazy writers who should be able to tell whether a player is doing a good job or not by watching the games.
Of course, it’s always a possibility that they don’t know.
IS THE America’s Cup ever going to end? It seems it’s gone on as long as World War II. And, the Oracle team has accomplished what would seem impossible: With their cheating, threatening lawsuits, gaming the system, I’m rooting against an American team. Go, Kiwis!
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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