Good Week for 49ers
In the last week, the perception of the 49ers has taken an 180-degree turn because of developments on and off the field.
Off the field, Ray McDonald was cleared of domestic violence charges in a case involving his fianceé at his home, while Aldon Smith returned to practice after a nine-game suspension by the NFL. The only bad news was that star linebacker Patrick Willis will undergo season-ending surgery for a toe injury, but even that was mitigated by the fact that his replacement, rookie Chris Borland, has played so well in his absence.
The McDonald case had brought criticism of the 49ers because they continued to play McDonald and said only that they wanted the legal process to play out. I was one of those who criticized the Niners for their inaction, and I was wrong. They had more information on the case and were correct in thinking that McDonald would not be charged.
The domestic violence issue has become a hot one for the NFL since the video was released which showed former Baltimore running back Ray Rice cold-cocking his fiancée (now his wife) in a hotel elevator and then dragging her out by her hair. Rice had first been suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for two games when the incident, minus the video, became news. When the video came out, Goodell ordered an indefinite suspension and the Ravens released him. (It’s likely Rice will be reinstated for next season and another team will sign him.)
The issue of domestic violence does not stand alone. It is closely linked to the wide-spread use of steroids in the league, an issue which the league is belatedly treating seriously with more testing and more stringent penalties. I have no idea whether Rice was on steroids but his behavior fits the pattern of “roids rage” which was first noted about 30 years ago.
The league also needs to have a policy regarding those who are accused of domestic violence. In playing McDonald while his case was ongoing, the 49ers were only doing what other teams have usually done in similar circumstances. Remember that, after Rice served his initial two-game suspension, the Ravens welcomed him back and coach John Harbaugh praised him.
Meanwhile, on the field, the 49ers returned to their winning formula – a strong running game and tough defense – to beat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Perhaps now we can see some sanity in reporting by writers, TV analysts and bloggers.
The Niners had played their worst game under Jim Harbaugh the week before, losing to the woeful St. Louis Rams, and that had spurred much speculation about the team and its coach.
Some of it was legitimate. Former 49er star Steve Young said the team seemed “broken.”
But, other speculation was ridiculous. Former 49er defensive lineman Dana Stubblefield blamed coach Jim Harbaugh for his treatment of players. Stubblefield is not in the locker room, so how could he know that? In fact, players have enjoyed playing for Harbaugh because he never publicly criticizes them.
Rumors that Harbaugh was on the way out were rampant. The most ridiculous was a story which speculated that he would go to the Raiders next season. The one obvious fact about Harbaugh’s career is that his moves have always been advances, from the University of San Diego to Stanford to the 49ers. Going to the Raiders doesn’t exactly fit that pattern.
In fact, Harbaugh after the season will sign a new contract with the 49ers, which has always been the plan. Has everybody forgotten that his teams have all gotten to the NFC championship game and once to the Super Bowl in his three years? He’s not a media favorite but he is a winner.
One reason for Harbaugh’s success is that he picks good assistants, bringing offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio with him from Stanford. Fangio is especially impressive, not only with his schemes but the way he and his defensive assistants work with new players. There have been some key players missing this year but the 49ers defense has not missed a step.
The problem has been with the offense. I believe Harbaugh and Roman, especially Harbaugh, put too much faith in an all-out passing attack early. General manager Trent Baalke brought in free agent receivers so the Niners had games in which they played five receivers at once. That works against inferior teams but not good ones. In addition, Colin Kaepernick isn’t the kind of quarterback who can be consistent against good teams. He’s capable of incredible plays at times but he’s not a good clock manager, he often thinks he can get away from a rush so he won’t throw the ball away. The result is often a sack and sometimes a fumble.
Significantly, when the Niners went back to a strong running game against the Saints, they played their best game in weeks.
They should continue that process. Limit Kaepernick to 20 passes a game, put the burden on Frank Gore and company and give the defense a chance to shine.
It won’t be easy. Even with Carson Palmer out, the Arizona Cardinals are three games ahead. The Seattle Seahawks have played through their early season troubles and are on a three-game winning streak. Most likely, the Niners will be competing with the Green Bay Packers for a wild card spot and Aaron Rodgers is red-hot now.
However it plays out this season, though, the Harbaugh years have been exciting ones, especially after the dreadful Mike Nolan/Mike Singletary years.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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