Joe-Pinions: Sports

6 Oct 2010 – NFL Pick ’em, Week 4

Posted in Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 06/10/2010

This week’s results:

Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots:  I thought this would be a closer game than it was, but ultimately the Patriots won, meaning I got this game RIGHT.  Despite the fact that WR Randy Moss did not make a single reception and looked listless and uninterested during the game (some have speculated this one performance sealed his fate and was the final domino to fall before his trade to the Minnesota Vikings), the Patriots won 41-14.  The Dolphins did a good job to hold New England to a mere six points in the first half, but the kickoff return for a touchdown at the start of the third quarter was merely the first of a series of special teams plays which broke the game wide open for the Patriots.  It goes to show that 1) football is a three-phase game – offense, defense, and special teams – , and 2) the Patriots are probably still the best-coached team in the NFL as evidenced by the superbly effective game plan adjustments the team made for the 2nd half.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens:  It was a close game.  Baltimore beat Pittsburgh 17-14, which means I got this game RIGHT.  More than just the score, though, I also thought correctly that the Ravens offense would be the crucial difference.  QB Joe Flacco led the Ravens to the winning score very late in the final quarter, going 4-4 on the winning drive and hitting T.J. Houshmandzadeh for the game-clinching touchdown.  A great game between two teams who may wind up fighting for the right to represent the AFC in this year’s Super Bowl.

Oakland Raiders vs. Houston Texans:  I got this game RIGHT by picking the Texans for the win.  Both teams combined for seven touchdowns and 55pts (the final score was 31-24).  It wasn’t quite the aerial show I thought it was going to be, but Texans QB Matt Schaub did throw for two TDs with no INTs, and RB Arian Foster (who was benched for most of the first half of the game for disciplinary reasons) added a TD on the ground (in addition to his TD reception) and 131 rushing yds from 16 carries to lead Houston to victory and a 3-1 record after four games.

Atlanta Falcons vs. San Francisco 49ers:  I picked the RIGHT team to win in this game, though how my San Francisco 49ers lost this game truly broke my heart and depressed me.  The 49ers did a good job to jump on the Falcons and lead 14-0 in the 1st quarter.  New 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Johnson had a palpable effect, with better performances from under-achieving WR Michael Crabtree especially and a more multiple and varied attack.  49ers QB Alex Smith looked sharp and confident early in the game, leading the team to its first score with a TD pass to TE Vernon Davis.  The second TD came via a blocked punt recovered in the end zone by new starting strong safety, rookie Taylor Mays.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, that was all the scoring they would do for the rest of the game.

While the defense did a solid job limiting the Falcons’ offense, it simply cannot win an entire game by itself.  Almost as a matter of routine (a very dangerous one, at that), the 49ers defense spends more time on the field than the offense does.  The defense gets tired, and when football players get tired, they inevitably make mistakes.

The 49ers defense made what should have been the defining play of the game when CB Nate Clements intercepted Matt Ryan with a minute and a half left in the game, and the 49ers leading by one.  After intercepting the ball, Clements ran towards the Falcons end zone, apparently looking to set his blockers in front for a successful scoring romp, when Falcons WR Roddy White made THE play of the game by running down Clements from behind and punching the ball out of Clements’ hands.  The 49ers lost the scrum for the fumble, and the Falcons drove for the winning field goal as time expired.

This was a soul-destroying way for the 49ers to lose what looked like their first victory of the year.  When Clements ran for the end zone after his interception, I was thinking to myself, “Get down!  Kill the play!  Get out of bounds!  For goodness sake, DO NOT LOSE THE FOOTBALL!”  Instinct took over for Clements, unquestionably, and over-ruled the logical side of the brain.

It hurts me to think it, to say it, to believe it on some level, but the 49ers are simply not a very smart football team.  The Clements interception run-back was just the latest example of this.  The team’s continuing inability to execute precisely for the majority of the game makes me think that the players are playing at an amateur level, when everyone else in the league is playing pro-standard ball.

As sad as that is, sadder still is my growing understanding that, despite my affection for the head coach, ultimately it’s his responsibility to ensure that the team plays up to its potential.  Mike Singletary, you are an admirable man, and I want to follow you where you lead, but honestly this team needs better teachers right now.  And I’m not sure if you can give that to the team.

49ers

Forgive me for being “Captain Obvious” for a moment, but it’s rather easy to see how to best play the 49ers.

Just pressure the quarterback.

Clearly, when the opposing defense starts to send dogs and blitzes at the 49ers offense, the pressure gets to Alex Smith, and he starts to make mistakes.  When the O-line does a good job protecting him, he frankly looks pretty good.  He is sharp, he is accurate, and the ball gets to the correct receiver.  But when the O-line protection starts to spring leaks, he looks like he’s got no composure, frazzled.  Against Atlanta he threw two interceptions, killing momentum and losing the chance to score more points.

What I think is going on with Smith is actually still growing pains; many people conveniently (or inconveniently, depending on your point of view and outlook) forget that, despite the fact that this is his sixth season in the NFL, he has played maybe just a bit over three seasons’ worth of games due to injuries as well as status on the depth chart.  The fact of the matter is it takes time to develop as an NFL starting quarterback.  He has many reasons for why his development has been slow and painful, chief of which might be the fact that he has never really had any continuity when it comes to his coaching (how many offensive coordinators has he been exposed to now?  Six?  Seven?), but fans are exhausted and impatient and lack the understanding of the fundamental reality of Smith’s situation.

Perhaps more than most NFL fan bases, 49ers fans expect great play from the quarterback position.  Alex Smith frustrates the fan base because he’s not Joe Montana; he’s not Steve Young, nor John Brodie, nor Y.A. Tittle or Frankie Albert.  He’s not even close to Jeff Garcia.  With such a painful tenure with the team thus far, it’s hard to imagine the fans forgiving the team if it does what I think is the sensible thing:  Extend Smith’s contract to a maximum of two more years, just to finally establish whether or not he can be a good NFL quarterback worthy of the team’s rich legacy at the position.

Unfortunately for Smith, this is his final year on his contract.  With the team in turmoil due to its continuing failure to realize its potential and to fulfill the relatively lofty expectations for this current season, it’s probable that he won’t be back next year.  I’m not even sure if head coach Mike Singletary and most of his staff will be back next year either.

NFL

Four games in Week 4, and four correct picks.  4-0 for this week takes my season total to 8-8.

Next week is a chance to get above the .500 mark, so bring it on!

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