Joe-Pinions: Sports

3 Jan 2011 – Not a good beginning to 2011

Posted in Basketball, Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 03/01/2011

Mercifully, the San Francisco 49ers can now wave farewell to yet another season defined by “what might have been.”

2010 was supposed to have been the year the Niners were supposed to break out of the doldrums and earn a spot in the NFL playoffs; it was supposed to have been the year when the NFC West was ripe for the taking, when all the other teams were all beset with major changes, a problem that they themselves were all-too-familiar with.

They entered 2010 with the same head coach they finished 2009 with; they had the same offensive and defensive coordinators and systems in place; they had the same starting quarterback in a healthy Alex Smith; they had two first round draft picks who they deemed were good enough to start on the offensive line.  They had a lot of hopes, a lot of swagger and bluster, a lot of confidence, and, finally, apparently no more excuses for not ascending back up the top of their division for the first time since Jeff Garcia, Steve Mariucci, and Bill Walsh were still associated with the organization.

By the end, though, head coach Mike Singletary was fired, as was erstwhile offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye.  Alex Smith suffered through yet another inconsistent season, though I would probably be one of the few who would be willing to defend him amongst the 49ers fanbase.  The play on the field was marked by recurring mental mistakes that underlined the severe deficiencies that existed in the coaching on all facets of the game (offense, defense, and special teams).  And off the field, the team’s ownership and management continued to make moves and declarations to the media which only further undermined the team’s dedicated and loyal base of followers.  Team president Jed York, son of owners John and Denise DeBartolo York, declared rather brazenly that the team would still win the NFC West despite a horrendous 1-6 record after their first seven games in 2010; the team finished up 6-10.  Jed York also said that the path towards improving the team would begin with an exhaustive search for a new General Manager who would then select the team’s next head coach; instead, current top personnel man Trent Baalke looks to add the title, if not just the duties, of the team’s General Manager position despite the fact that it has only been a little more than one week since Jed announced his intention to conduct that exhaustive search for the right man.

All of the team’s moves have only served to continue to erode the team’s fanbase’s confidence in the current ownership of the once-proud and great team.  Baalke is an unknown quantity as far as his credentials and qualifications to be a team’s General Manager are concerned.  He may do a good job in the future if indeed he is hired as the GM, but the fans desperately don’t want to be disappointed any more than it has already been for the last decade; this is why there is a loud clamor for a truly more exhaustive search for the team’s GM.  The fans want the team to seek out candidates with more established track records, people who have proven experience and a tangible record of success.

The 49ers have a few problems, though.  They are no longer an attractive destination as far as football people are concerned.  General manager candidates and head coaching candidates surely don’t see the 49ers as a plum spot with their miserable record from the last decade.  The Yorks are, as the San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami writes, “low-hanging fruit in NFL ownership circles.” The Yorks’ track record of decisions are perplexing and illogical if cast in the light of wanting to compete and win in the NFL; they have tended to do things as cheaply as possible.

They are proof of the wisdom of the maxim “You get what you pay for.”

Not only is the ownership of a questionable standard, but the team’s roster is also not attractive for candidates for the head coaching vacancy.  On defense, the team sorely lacks a playmaker or two in the secondary; at the very least, they need a true shutdown cornerback.  They also don’t have an effective-enough pass rush.

On offense, the problems are bigger.  The team’s roster is empty at quarterback – Alex Smith will surely not want to return even if he is asked back by the new GM and head coach; Troy Smith is long on guts but limited in terms of performance of routine quarterback tasks such as reading the secondary properly or going through a play’s progression of receivers (though this is because of his limited time with the team); David Carr is well past his sell-by date and should be jettisoned; and Nate Davis is a completely unknown quantity other than to say he’s got a strong arm and is a tremendous athlete.  No head coach in his right mind wants to take over a team with huge questions at quarterback.  Another problem for the 49ers stems from their deficiencies in the coaching of the offense over the last couple of years.  This team simply has no real identity or effective system in place on offense.  Therefore, it’s much more difficult to evaluate the talent level of the players on the roster since you don’t really know what the offense is supposed to look like.  Most effective football offenses are clearly defined by a real philosophy founded on strategic concepts and tactics that are known to work on the field.  With the 49ers, with such an anemic offense that tried its hardest to appear multiple and diversified but was actually predictable and one-dimensional (are they a smashmouth team, or are they a spread offense team?  It changed from series to series, but without any sustained success), you can’t tell what your players are actually good at doing together.

Finally, one of the team’s biggest problems is the stadium they play in.  Candlestick Park may be long on nostalgia as the home of a five-time Super Bowl Champion, but it’s also very old and outdated, with a shortage on the huge revenue generating corporate luxury boxes and other modern money-making perks most teams now have.  The 49ers’ stadium conundrum is at the crux of the team’s nightmare Catch 22:  What comes first, a good team that can generate funding for footing the bill for a new stadium, or a new stadium that can attract corporate backing and renewed support from the fanbase which can then fund the development of a stronger on-field product?

All this is, of course, a bit of a simplified version of the team’s myriad problems.  It offers no solutions, either.

2011 looks to be just the beginning of even more blood-letting as far as lovers of the San Francisco 49ers are concerned.

*****

2011 has been unkind to the Los Angeles Lakers so far, as well.  They got destroyed by the lowly Memphis Grizzlies, 104-85, at home at Staples Center in their first game of 2011.

The Lakers are struggling.

The defending champions have been hit in the mouth, and now they are reeling in the middle of the ring.

It’s a given that every team they play are going to give its best effort against them; the Lakers’ big problem is that they themselves seem unable or unwilling to summon the same kind of effort and commitment each and every night to defend their championship.

With each passing listless loss, they keep shrinking their margin for error; they probably now cannot contend for earning the best record in the western conference – never mind the entire NBA – and therefore enjoy homecourt advantage in the playoffs.  San Antonio and Dallas are playing great ball, and the other teams in the west are gaining confidence with each Lakers loss they see.

To me, the Lakers’ problems have everything to do with a distinct lack of effort from the entire team to defense as well as sloppy execution of their offense.  Defensively, the guards on both the starting unit and the bench crew allow far too many points.  They get beat into the lane on penetration plays (especially when Andrew Bynum is not on the floor – just watch how fearless the other teams always are when Bynum is on the bench, then compare how they play when he is on the floor); they get lost on picks and allow jumpshots; they leave their guys open for uncontested threes.  Offensively, they have been pathetic in their execution.  They throw way too many errant passes and lose the ball way too often, and Kobe Bryant in particular seems to indulge in really bad shot selection.

The Lakers have the league’s best 1-2-3 frontline in Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom.  The thing with forwards and centers is that they depend on the guards to feed them the ball for them to score, other than on put-backs of course.  The Lakers, though, and specifically Kobe Bryant, have shown an alarming tendency to forget about their big guys and not run the offense through them for significant stretches in most games.  When the guards freelance and launch long jumper after long jumper and miss, the other team’s transition game comes into play, and the Lakers get torched.  The team has shown that, so far this year, they have been massively impatient on offense and simply ignore their biggest matchup advantages.

The offense has to run through their bigs every single time down the floor.

To not do so is stupid, in my opinion.

*****

I hope the Lakers can recover sufficiently and learn how to play and win like the champions they are supposed to be.

Otherwise, this sports fan’s 2011 will be very miserable indeed.

 

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2 Responses

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  1. Tim said, on 03/01/2011 at 09:10

    As ever, I feel your pain about the 49ers. The one bright side is that the Yorks have had to do something to stop the rot. A trip to the playoffs – and it’s scary to think that a win over the Rams last week would have been enough to do that – would have just resulted in papering over the cracks.

    I don’t think the offense is a million miles away if someone can put a decent system in. We can do OK if Alex Smith is given confidence, and in Gore, Davis and Crabtree there are enough weapons (although we desperately need back-up for Gore). With Joe Staley returning and a young line with a season’s experience, we can at least be decent enough with the ball. On defense, I agree the secondary and pass-rush need an overhaul. Patrick Willis just needs help!

    On the bright side, the difference between finishing 6-10 and winning the division is that we now get to select 7th in the draft, rather than (at best) 21st. The priority for the early rounds has to be a pass-rushing specialist and a DB who can cover man-to-man.

    In such a weak division, it won’t take much to turn us into potential winners. (Not starting 0-5 will help!) If we can go 9-7, that will probably be enough to win the NFC West – and then doors will start to open in terms of attracting a stronger back-office. I still hold our hope for a Gruden or a Jim Harbaugh, optimistic though that is.

    Oh well, at least I get to enjoy the playoffs as a neutral … 😦

    • txtmstrjoe said, on 03/01/2011 at 11:05

      Thanks for the comment, Tim. 🙂

      Alex Smith is definitely on the way out of San Francisco. He’s an unrestricted free agent and, according to quite a few reports I’ve read online today, he’s looking forward to moving on from the Niners.

      Troy Smith is also not guaranteed to return, as he is a restricted free agent now. Whoever is coming in at coach probably controls Troy’s status.

      David Carr is the only QB known to be signed for next year. If Carr is all we’ve got, well, that doesn’t make me feel comfortable, I’m sad to say.

      It looks like we’ll be forced to start from scratch at quarterback again next year.

      You do make a good point in citing the weakness of the NFC West. But will it be as weak next year as it is this year? I’m afraid not, and most of the other teams are ahead of the game in that they don’t have any major shakeups to endure.

      Word is still very strong of Jim Harbaugh being the next 49ers HC; I would rather have Jon Gruden, since he is someone I know fairly well. Jim Harbaugh’s got a ton of positive buzz from the Bay Area media, but he’s also a rookie insofar as being an NFL head coach is concerned.

      The last two 49ers head coaches were rookie head coaches as well…

      I wonder how much power prayer and positive thinking really have as far as sports are concerned? 🙂


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