Alex Smith, Jeff Tedford/Jim Harbaugh, Andrew Luck, Tim Lincecum
LETíS SEE, the 49ers fall hopelessly behind Green Bay while operating out of the straight-T. In desperation, they go to the spread offense and almost pull the game out.
What part of this donít the 49er coaches get?
Itís a coaching axiom that you adapt your system to the players, not the other way around. Even Bill Walsh, who had a definite sysstem Ė which worked very well Ė would make changes when players changed. For instance, in the 1981 championship year when he had no standout running backs, he used the short pass almost as a run; when he had Wendell Tyler and Roger Craig, he used standards runs. An even more striking example: When Joe Montana had back surgery, Jeff Kemp became the quarterback. Kempís one talent was the ability to throw deep, so Walsh re-structured his offense to feature the deep pass for the one and only time in his 49er coaching career.
Mike Singletary and his offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye faced a similar test when Alex Smith took over at quarterback for Shaun Hill. They flunked.
Two weeks ago, I wrote that the Niners should go to the spread as their basic offense. Then, they had a short work week, with a Thursday night game against the Chicago Bears, so it was no surprise that they didnít do it for that week.
But, they had extra practice time for the game against Green Bay, so I thought theyíd surely go to the spread. Instead, they played the standard T in the first half and got killed.
Frankly, that should make 49ers management worry about the Singletary/Raye combination. I recommended Singletary originally because I liked the idea of his inspirational leadership, but what is emerging is a stubbornness that is hurting the team. Other coaches saw it early. After he fired Mike Martz, some good candidates for the OC job turned him down, for flimsy reasons. The real reason: They didnít think they could get along with Singletary. The well-traveled Raye was the last man standing. Heís flexible, which is another way of saying he has no real ideas of his own. Heíll go along with what Singletary wants, though offensive thinking is hardly Singletaryís strength.
Singletaryís plan to emphasize the running game was always a nonstarter. Frank Gore is an outstanding runner but if the other teeam knows youíre just going to run the ball and throw short passes Ė the plan with Hill as quarterback Ė they just put eight men in the box. Gore has broken some long runs, but mostly, heís been bottled up because thereís no place to run with so many defenders there.
The offensive line injuries, with Joe Staley out and David Baas injured in the Packers game, have complicated the situation. When Smith takes the direct snap, he often has opposing jerseys in his face when he turns around. Heís lucky if he has time to spot one receiver.
From the spread, he doesnít need as much time because he can spot his receivers quickly. Heís also more comfortable playing out of the spread because he did it in college.
Iím not advocating just going to a pass-only offense. It is possible to run out of the spread. Lining up beside Smith, Gore could take a direct snap, in a version of the ďwildcat.Ē Smith could hand off to him for an inside run or pitch out to Gore running wide. Or, he could throw a short swing pass, which is basically a run. Those are much the same as what Gore runs out of the straight-T but if Smith is more effective passing out of the spread, as he would be, the defense canít concentrate on stopping Gore. So, heíd probably be more effective running out of he spread.
At this point, frankly, I donít see what the 49ers have to lose. Their faint chance for the postseason vanished with the Green Bay loss; at 4-6, theyíd have to win their last six games, and thatís more of a longshot than CalTrans finally getting the Bay Bridge fixed.
Itís up to Singletary to change his thinking, because Raye will just go along wih the program. Can Singletary make that adjustment? Iím not optimistic.
RAIDERS TURNAROUND? Donít bet on it.
The Cincinnati Bengals were coming off a bruising win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and were bound to have a letdown. Iím told, they didnít arrive in Oakland until Saturday evening, for some unexplained reason; usually, NFL teams get in two days before a game when they have to travel across three time zones, so theyíll have more time to adjust to the time difference.
Even so, the Bengals got off to a 14-0 start and had multiple opportunities to win the game. It wasnít so much that the Raiders won the game as that the Bengals lost it. And, the win didnít get the Raiders out of their tie for last place in the AFC West because the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Steelers.
The Raiders play the Cowboys in Dallas in a Thanksgiving Day game, and the Cowboys have had trouble scoring lately. But the Raideers have had that trouble all year. The win over the Bengals was the first time since the opener that they had scored two touchdowns in a game. In most NFL games, three touchdowns are the minimum for a victory.
There is one bit of good news for the Raiders: To rent Richard Seymour for a year, they traded away their No. 1 draft pick in 2011. Given the recent draft day decisions by Al Davis, that will save them a lot of money without costing them a good player.
BIG GAME LEFTOVERS:
--Something I really liked: The way the Cal Bears hung in there when they fell behind, 14-0, in the first quarter. Given the way the Stanford Cardinal had steamrollered USC the previous week, as well as their 51-42 shootout win over Oregon, it would have been easy for the Bears to collapse, but they didn't. They closed the gap to 14-10 at halftime and dominated time of possession. They wore down the slower Stanford defenders and established control with three long scoring drives in the second half. That showed a lot of composure and character, which is a tribute to the coaching staff.
--Something I really didnít like: Jeff Tedfordís caution in late game when the Bears were in the red zone, holding a three-point lead. Tedford has a tendency to become ultra-conservative in these situations nd he outdid himself this time. I was watching at home and screaming at the television set, ďForget the clock, go for the touchdown!!Ē Instead, Tedford called two unsuccessful runs and, on third down, had Kevin Riley take a knee in the middle of the field, setting up the field goal which put the Bears six points ahead.
Tedfordís reasoning was that he didnít want to risk a turnover because he didnít want Stanford to be able to tie the game with a field goal. My reasoning was that Stanford had the capability of scoring very quickly, as the Cardinal had earlier. It almost happened again, before Mike Mohamed intercepted a pass to seal the Cal win.
--The Cal supporters who have been screaming for the head of defensive coordinator Bob Gregory should be embarrassed by the strong showing of the defense in the wins over Arizona and Stanford.
Football is not a chess game, and defensive and offensive schemes are only as good as the players. Gregory knew it would be futile to call for a lot of blitzes because he didnít have the outside pass rushers to put on the pressure. He also knew he had some defensive backs who could be exploited, so he played a conservative defense so they could be protected to some extent.
Some lineup changes had to be made, but mostly, it was a matter of maturing by the younger players, and their improvement has shown in the last two games.
I would hope this would teach the internet exerts a lesson, but probably not. A little knowledge is a dangerous ting.
--Andrew Luck looked like the redshirt freshman he is for perhaps the only time all year, fumbling twice, completing only 10 of 30 and throwing that final interception.
Luck clearly had a case of Big Game nerves, but there was another factor: By taking the lead and using up so much time, Cal was able to force Stanford into thinking pass-first, run-second. All season long, Luck had benefited from having Toby Gerhart as the focus of the offense. This time, he had to be the focus, and he wasnít up to the challenge.
But the best players learn from experience, and I fully expect Luck to go on to have a great collegiate career Ė and probably, a great pro career. The only qualification I have on his NFL career is that heíll be a high draft choice, very possibly No. 1, so heíll go to a bad team. Sometimes, that can be a devastating experience. Jim Plunkett was a Heisman Trophy winner when he was chosen first in the 1971 draft but he took a terrible beating behind a weak offensive line with the Patriots and it wasnít until he emerged with the Raiders that he lived up to his potential. Archie Manning, taken in the same draft, never had a chance with the hapless New Orleans Saints, though heís now enjoying the success of his sons, Peyton and Eli.
--It was the best Big Game in many years, and should mark the re-birth of the rivalry. Both schools have been cursed by a run of bad coaches, first Tom Holmoe at Cal and then Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris at Stanford, but with Tedford and Jim Harbaugh on the opposite sidelines, both teams have excellent leadership.
JIM HARBAUGH: I canít believe that Harbaugh is still being harangued by the L.A. media for going for two points when his team was leading USC, 48-21 Ė especially since they never write that Pete Carroll left in his starters for the whole game in a lopsided win over Stanford the previous season.
Letís be realistic: This is not the playground. Itís big time football, and a coach should not be criticized for decisions which do not affect the game.
I put this in the same category as the ďunwritten ruleĒ in baseball that you donít steal a base when your team has a big lead. Why not? They havenít stopped the game and declared a winner.
There should be only one standard: Do the rules allow it? Clearly, the two-point conversion is always available as an option. Harbaughís critics should grow up.
TIM LINCECUM; Emcee Bob Sarlatte had a great line at the Guardsmenís Big Game luncheon last week. Noting that Lincecum had been charged with having marijuana in his car, Sarlatte said, ďCould he have done anything that would make him more popular in the Bay Area?Ē
Thereís no doubt this area is more tolerant of marijuana use than other areas of the country, which is one reason Iím glad I live here. Iíve never smoked marijuana but I find it totally illogical that marijuana is an illegal substance and alcohol is not.
I was reminded that others donít feel that way when I was asked on a national radio show if the fact that Lincecum is now known as a marijuana user would affect his chances for the Cy Young. My answer: Why in the world should it?
Of course, Lincecum won the award. I certainly hope that wonít corrupt youngsters who look at him as a role model and, yes, Iím being ironic. Any parents who let a 25-year-old determine their childís behavior deserve what they get.
NEXT WEEK: Iíll be back on my Wednesday schedule. Happy Thanksgiving!
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