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Evaluating The Success Of A Season
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Hello everyone!
Editors Note -
It seems this off-season I have been opening too many of my articles with an explanation as to why there haven’t been more of my articles… It is sad, but true. The truth is I am trying to get back into the habit of writing. I really want to up the exclusive content on the site, and so I should be writing more… of course, all that being said, there are only so many hours in a day, week, month, year and off-season. And so I have tried to balance improving the site with writing articles, and to some degree I think I have been having success.

Before I begin writing I do want to highlight some of the changes that have occurred recently on this site. Several months ago 49ers Paradise switched from ‘automated updating’ of the Hot Off The Press articles, back to the bread and butter that made this site famous, ‘manual updating’. This of course is more work for me, but I think my efforts are appreciated, so I do want to keep this up. Thankfully, a little more recently I have added a script that allows me to update the links on the main page, and pda/mobile site as well as in the Hot Off The Press archive all at once! Few what a relief that was! The Hot Off the Press section on the main page of the site has recently undergone a minor style update, that allows visited links to get ‘crossed out’ after viewing them. This change is not compliant with every browser, but certainly will be seen by most of you! Also in the recent re-design, I have included a list of “Active Forum Topics”. This and some stylistic changes should make it easier for all of you to access the information you want. In the forum, I have recently made it possible for “new posts” to remain marked as new until they are actually read (ie they don’t become unread just by leaving the site). Of course the forum now requires registration, a move I was compelled to make because of too many spammers and ‘troublemakers’. There are more updates to come and some great new features to be added, but it all takes time.

Aside from some new features to the forum, I am as I mentioned working on improving the amount of original content on the site. This will undoubtedly help increase the popularity of the site. I am also trying to get search engines to improve the ranking of the site, particularly the URL 49ersparadise.com. You may notice that the .cjb.net is being eliminated and links being updated to point the .com URL. I would suggest updating your bookmarks if you have not done so yet. Additionally, accessing URLs that begin with par49.yoll.net will no longer be possible as these pages will be designed to automatically reload to 49ersparadise.com’s main page. I know this may be an inconvenience at first, but in the long run, it should really help 49ersparadise.com become fluid and complete again. So anyone who can link to this site, or refer a friend etc, it would be greatly appreciated! Finally I am still working on refining the main page a little. I want the site to be completely user friendly and geared up for the approaching regular season. As always, any and suggestions are welcome… and now, onto the real article (thanks for reading my ramblings).

The real deal!
The 49ers are now 25 days away from the start of training camp. Questions about the team’s chances this year are abundant. As 49ers faithful we all hope for the best with this team. We hope that the talent and coaching staff assembled will be exactly what this team calls for to trigger a winning season. But inside most of us, we know that this season will be an uphill battle. A battle where success may not be evaluated by the numbers of wins and losses, but rather in the progress of the offense, defense, special teams and play calling; or more specifically in some young players who have little to know experience in the NFL, and in a coaching staff lead by head coach who has never had much success in the NFL.

The reality of it may be a bit of a downer, and it is for that reason that it is important to evaluate this season based on the following criteria:

  • Has the coaching staff proven they are who this team needs to lead the 49ers into the future?
  • Has the team been able to find a quarterback they can depend on for years to come?
  • Does the team have two good starting cornerbacks and a better than average nickelback?
  • Has the team improved on third downs and in the redzone on both sides of the ball?
  • Establish reliable special teams
  • Can the team depend on running back Kevan Barlow to stay healthy and carry the load at running back
  • Is an offensive line in place that can provide much better protection for the quarterback than it has in years past?
  • Has the team established a very good starting two receivers?
  • Has the team addressed its pass rush woes of the past few years?
  • Does this team have what it takes to beat teams with winning records?
  • The above criteria is how I will measure the success of this football team this year. I will be, over the next few articles I write, examining each of these criterion, starting with the evaluation of the coaching staff. It would be nice to win 10 games, and make the playoffs. I hope that this team can do that, but unless most of the above criteria fall into place that simply will not happen. Many fans may argue that a better field goal kicker may have meant this team was in the playoffs last year. But when I look at how the team actually performed last season, it did not deserve to make the playoffs. A few lucky bounces will not do it for me. Kicking field goals is important, but this team has to be good enough not to rely on its kicking game if it seriously wants to contend for the playoffs, in the playoffs and into the Super Bowl. I am not dismissing the importance of a good kicker and special teams unit. In fact, those of you who are perceptive will notice that this is one criterion that I am evaluating the team’s success this year; rather I believe that this team has to be good enough to overcome missed field goals, and good enough that it is not just squeaking out wins in the last seconds of a game. Sure, it may happen on occasion, but if the team really wants to be great, in the vast majority of the games, it is not and should not be decided in this manner.

    I was not a big supporter of firing Steve Mariucci. Now that you all know my bias, I want to go on and say, that I attempt to analyze everything I do fairly, by acknowledging my own biases. Even if I had been in support of firing Steve Mariucci I would not have been in support of hiring Dennis Erickson to be this team’s head coach. Simply, I think there were better candidates (some of whom turned down the 49ers and some who were not even approached by the team). Still when I sat down to watch the season unfold last year, I was willing to give Erickson a fair chance. I was not impressed. The team was rarely prepared to face the opponents it faced, penalties soared, offensive play calling was unimaginative, and in many cases I did not think the coach was making the best use of his talent. Dennis Erickson has not fully lost my faith though. I have not thrown my hopes for the team and him out the window. I believe one season is hard to judge any player, coach or team, and so this season I will again give Erickson a fair chance to earn my respect and admiration – this time thought it will likely be his last chance.

    Those that support Erickson as a coach make a big case about his offensive play calling in the final four or so games the team played. They propose that the problem was in the offensive coordinator and that Erickson’s success in taking over the play calling should demonstrate that. Erickson supporters will also argue that without his own coaching staff in place, he like any coach would struggle. I remain unconvinced that this makes him a good coach, and to a greater degree I am not convinced that this excuses him from the performance of the team last season. If Erickson thought he could do a better job calling the plays, why wait until 12 games have gone by? A good coach would recognize the problem and adjusted immediately. If the coordinators were not performing at the level that they should, than the head coach has to take on extra responsibility to make sure they do.

    This season there can be no more excuses. Erickson is calling the plays. His coaching staff has been assembled and revamped by him, with coaches he has worked with in the past. He is confident in the coaching staff, and since I will not be judging the team’s success this season by wins and losses, Erickson should be able to win me over even with a young and inexperienced team – that is of course, if he really is a good coach. By the end of this season, this team should not unequivocally whether or not it can depend on Dennis Erickson at head coach, or weather the team has too look elsewhere.

    Highlighting the criteria by which I will evaluate the coaching staff are the following: discipline, preparedness, penalties, imagination, may the best man win, the success of the 3-4 defense. Discipline is a funny concept because in the NFL it can mean so many things. The way I see it, Erickson should have control over his players (ie, no drug use, no lashes out against him in the media, no players skipping practice, breaking curfew, falling a sleep in meetings, or simply ignoring the message he is trying to pass on).

    Is this team prepared? Do the players come out of the gate with a full head of steam? Do they know there assignments? Do they over or under pursue? Are they in position to make plays? Do they hold containment? Is the game plan designed to find holes in the opposition? Does the game plan protect the weaknesses of the team? Does the game plan make use of the best talent on the team? Are players aware as to when a time out needs to be called? Have the players responded to the rule changes? Can the game plan be adjusted at half time, and ‘on the fly’? Is the team able to recognize trends in its opponents, and is it able to avoid trends its self? Obviously, this list can not be exhaustive, but the importance of the team being fully prepared can not be understated.

    For the first time, in a long time penalties were excessive on the team last year. I am a firm believer that when a team is penalized at a repeatedly higher or lower rate than in previous seasons, the reason for it – particularly if the starting roster has been kept primarily in tact, is the coaching staff. Last season the 49ers average penalties per game did rise. It was higher than it should have been, and not simply because the team had one awful game. Penalties were a problem all season. A problem coach Erickson could not correct. Team’s can not win in the NFL if they are beating themselves with penalties, and as such the ability to cut down on this area, will be of extreme importance in gauging the success of the coaching staff and the team.

    Imagination. There is no question in my mind that former defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr was an imaginative coordinator. He may not have been the best, but playing a man like Julian Peterson at every position on the field in one game is a testament to his imagination. Offensively, this team has lacked creativity and imagination for years. With a new coaching staff in place, it is important that imaginative game planning on both sides of the ball be present. Using different plays, and techniques to catch the opposition off balance is central to being a good football team. That responsibility lies squarely on the imagination of the coaches. They have to know when and where to be ‘gutsy’ to put it out there and to challenge the team to make it happen. At the same time, the coaching staff has to be able to bring something to this team that flat out has not been seen before. Imagination is what dispels trends in a football team.

    I do not think coach Erickson made the best possible use of the talent on the roster last season. I believe he was afraid to let certain young players play, and I believe that better talent was often sitting on the bench rather than playing on the field. This simply cannot happen this season. Starting in training camp every spot on the field has to be up for grabs. The most talented player, the player who will help this team win the most games must get the starting spot. There are in my opinion two exceptions to this. The first is at quarterback. Regardless of who the starter is for this team on opening day, they will be young, inexperienced and will make mistakes. They will need more than two games to adjust to the NFL, and pulling them to early could ruin them forever. It is important that Erickson get the right man for the job in training camp, because the last thing a young team like this needs is a quarterback controversy. In some instances I am in favor of playing a lesser experienced rookie, even if it means that the player is not going to give the team the best chance to win. This circumstance only arises when that player is someone the team will be depending on big time down the road, that the team has big plans for down the road, and who needs to get some valuable NFL experience. It is important to get these young players some serious play time, particularly if the team starts out losing 4 or 5 games pretty quickly. The benefit will be seen in the following years. On the same note, a coach has to know when a young player ‘just does not have it’ and at that point has to be willing to move on.

    Finally, the shift to the 3-4 defense. Erickson has brought in a defensive coordinator who he believes can bring the 49ers defense back to the top of the NFL. The defense is built on some very versatile players. Using the 3-4 defense to create a pass rush, and to help the cornerbacks who will have to contend with much stricter pass interference rules this season will be an important factor in deciding whether or not Erickson has put together a support staff that will really help this team win.

    With a thorough investigation of the coaching staff like this, the team and the fans should know by the end of this season whether Dennis Erickson either is or is not the coach that this team should be banking its future on. All this without even considering how many games the team has won or lost. Being a NFL coach means that there is a whole lot to be accountable for. If a player messes up, if two many penalties are called, if talent is sitting on the bench, or if a coach is not getting the job done, all these areas, and the many more described above come down to the performance of the head coach. I hope that by the end of this season, Erickson is indeed the coach we all want him to be. I do know though, that he has his work cut out for him.

    Stay tuned for the rest of this series of articles which will evaluate in greater detail the criteria for a successful season – based not on wins and losses but on progress.

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