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Tough Days Ahead - By Bryan Hersh Dec 11 2006

THIS CONTENT IS COPYWRITED, REDISTRIBUTION OF IT (including copy/pasting it to a message board, forum or bbs) IS PROHIBITED AND COULD RESULT IN LEGAL ACTIONS - feel free to quote up to 1 paragraph providing a source link to http://www.49ersparadise.com is included

All right folks, I think it is becoming quite clear that we have been disillusioned by the 49ers mid-season winning streak. This team, in a nutshell is a very, very, very far cry from being competitive in the NFL. Maybe it should not have taken me this long to realize it, maybe I am under some sort of mild control curse like in Harry Potter, of maybe just maybe the fact that the 49ers play in the NFC, and specifically in the NFC West gave me reasons for optimism.

Right now, all that hope is gone, and much like the 49ers position before the win against the Raiders, I fear that Mike Nolan may be on the brink of losing the clubhouse. Now I am not a pessimist, nor am I an optimist. I believe quite honestly that I am realistic about the 49ers. When this team deserves to be praised, I praise them. When this team deserves to be criticised, I criticize them. Today, this team deserves to be criticized.

Here is a bare bones assessment.

When Alex Smith took to the field in weeks 1 and 2 this year, I got excited. Here was a much improved quarterback, who looked like he was ready to lead the team. He had guts. With only 3 games remaining in the season, I am beginning to wonder if I am mistaken. Smith has been lulled to sleep in the offense, for whatever reason he no longer leads, he acts as if he is a role player. Is this because his mentor Trent Dilfer is indeed a role player? Or is this because that is all Smith will ever amount to be?

I believe whole handidly that the offenses lack of production over the past few weeks, and actually for most of this season lies squarely on the inert shoulders of Alex Smith. Somebody, get Steve Young to teach this kid about reckless abandon. Now donÕt get me wrong, I appreciate that Smith is learning to Ōmanage a gameÕ I appreciate that there is value in not forcing the ball. BUT GOSH! Smith is still making bad passes, even when his receivers are open Š and that my friends is a problem. Smith needs to find his guts, and needs to take the harness of his mouth and show this team that he can lead it.

Redzone efficiency and third down efficiency are an absolute joke with this team. That isnÕt news, itÕs been a trend or the past 4 years. Quite frankly I thought there would be some relief with a running back who is capable of averaging 5+ yards per carry on the season. I thought this trend would reverse with a compliment of receivers that have down field speed and big play ability. I thought this would improve with an offensive line that gives the quarterback more than 1.5 seconds to throw. It hasnÕt. And there is now only one place left to point the finger Š and that is at Alex Smith.

Speaking of pointing the finger, Vernon Davis expressed his disappointment in Alex after the game. Antonio Bryant, who did not even get to start this game, showed his frustration on the field (once again). These are all early indications that the head coach is losing his feel for the pulse of the team, and that worries the heck out of me.

My intention here is not to hate on Alex Smith. I know he is young, relatively inexperienced and has progressed from last year. But I also know he is nowhere near where he needs to be. I see that he is losing the confidence of his team, I see he is losing confidence in himself, and I see that each week his ability to make plays on his own accord is declining. The 49ers can continue to build around this kid, and expect him to progress Š but they have to build him up, they have to force him to play as if each throw has the potential to make or break his career, otherwise he will never amount to be anything more than a role player.

The excuses simply do not exist anymore:
-offensive line play is at least adequate
-running game is way above average
-offensive weapons are available (though completely under utilized)
-play calling may be holding him back somewhat

So what about the rest of the offense? I can certainly find fault in Frank GoreÕs fumble (though he had a decent day otherwise). I can find fault with a Vernon Davis drop in the endzone, same with a Bryant Gilmore endzone drop, and a few other miss-steps, but when I review this game, all fingers tend to point back at Alex Smith. Vernon though better watch out what he says to the media.

The 49ers defense is very thing. Everyone knew that at the start of this season. With injuries in the defensive backfield and at linebacker I am quite frankly surprised this team only gave up 30 points to the Packers. The 49ers need to build depth in their entire defense. It is really that simple, because with a few players out of the line up, they are left with absolutely nothing. This defense can be improved everywhere.

Schematically, there was no pressure put on Brett Favre. Containment remains an issue. The secondary completely lost track of receivers on a number of occasions, and quite frankly it looked like a bunch of inexperienced players running around with their heads cut off. Then again, thatÕs exactly what it was. So where was the ingenuity of defensive minded head coach Mike Nolan? Nowhere to be found. And that is one more reason I worry that Nolan may be losing control of the club. Are his players simply not playing for him anymore?

Special Teams
All I have to say, is that if you get perform an extra point kick properly, something is very very wrong. Given that this team lacks in so many other areas, it better get its special teams fixed and fast. And someone please tell Brandon Williams not to run backwards when retuning the ball.

In the past few weeks I have had increasing concern for the play calling of Norv Turner. This team is miles ahead of where it was last year, but so what? It was incompetent last year. For whatever reason, Turner believes that the only way this team can have success is with gadget, gimmick type plays. News flash: you donÕt win football with flee flickers. They are exciting sure, but they are not what you want to bank on to win games for you. Turner needs to find a way to get Smith to play better under pressure, to make plays, and to get the ball to the offensive weapons on this team.

What was with the decision to sit Antonio Bryant? The guy has not been that productive, I get thatÉ but is it his fault? I see him open constantly, I see balls over thrown to him, under thrown to him, and quite frankly I do not see him as being the problem on offense. How about getting your top threats, Davis, Bryant, Battle and Gore on the field at the same timeÉ It can and should be done that way. Sitting Bryant may have made sense after his night in jail, but this was clearly independent of that, and simply made no sense.

All week I heard that the leashes would be taken off of Alex Smith. I didnÕt see that. Was that SmithÕs fault or another coaching blunder? Or perhaps Smith has become so accustomed to having the stirrups tied around his neck; he forgot they were taken off.

Losing out home, 5 minutes to go, you just score, and you need more. Your defense is playing horribly, and your special teams have a knack at recovering onside kicks. All logic suggests you onside kick the ball. Not if you are Mike Nolan. I do not understand this call one bit. Nor do I understand why at the end of the half Nolan did not use a timeout to force the replay booth to challenge the play on the field, after a sack and potential fumble on Brett Favre may have given the 9ers one chance at getting into scoring position. The play call may not have ended in a fumble, but Nolan should have at least tried to get the booth to review the call. What exactly did he have to lose?

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