Article Title: The Devastating Truth.
The winter chill in the air was evident at Quest Field in Seattle, Washington last Sunday as the 2009 San Francisco 49ers were defeated and eliminated from the playoff picture by Matt Hasselback’s Seattle Seahawks. Everything that Mike Singletary has been preaching day in and day out seems to be vaporized once game time begins on any given field that the 49ers step out on to, which leads us back to the devastating truth of seven straight seasons without a playoff appearance.
Playing against a talented team like the Seattle Seahawks and against a former coach in Jim Mora Jr. should have been enough incentive for our team to take this one seriously. Adding the notion that this was a “must win,” to enter into the playoffs was yet another. Going back to the previous meeting against the Seattle Seahawks where Frank Gore had one of his glory games of 200-plus yards against, one would think we should’ve let him have the ball more? Yet the one time we did he committed a grave and costly fumble.
We have been on such a crusade to opt to go with the multi-talented spread offense in order to make Alex Smith feel more composed and showcase his God-given abilities to create something special with his eyes and arm in moving the offense forward for consecutive first downs. Where Shaun Hill managed the game to try and showcase Frank Gore which clearly became a quagmire, Alex stepped in to spark life into the offense by identifying the multi-aerial weapons at our disposal that were under utilized all together.
The trend from Hill to Smith transcended into such a positive campaign for the spread offense and the cancellation of the power running game that we were accustomed to, that we never realized how one dimensional we had suddenly become all over again simply by over-extending our hand to Alex to try and win the game on his shoulders.
The San Francisco 49er coaching staff lost focus on balance. They talked about it starting with Mike Singletary stating that we must find a balance. However when the rubber meets the road we find ourselves passing far more than we ever did as evidenced in this game with a total of 12 rushing attempts for an accumulation of just 53 total yards. Outside of Josh Morgan’s round-a-bout run for 20 total yards we really put the running game up on a shelf as the team focused yet again on Alex Smith winning the game with his intellect and arm in completing 27-of-45 passes for 310 total yards and two touchdowns for a 95.6 quarterback rating. Frank Gore’s dilemma of not having an offensive line fight for him cost him his centerpiece status as the focal point of this offense.
Instant success on the part of Alex Smith hitting his wide receivers in stride and accumulating big yardage and moving the chains quickly mesmerized us as fans and even had an affect on the coaching staff in engineering the total team emphasis on spreading out the offense into a passing attack formation and simply using the run as a fly-by-night alternative. Balance was never articulated and recognized until it was too late. Time of possession is won by an offense that showcases the best balance between the run and the pass and Seattle was clearly the better team at doing just that.
Costly mistakes on turning over the ball continue to disrupt our ability as a team to take that next step as an elite contender. Immaturity, lack of execution and cohesion on continuity has all spelled the end the road for us in one fashion or another this season. A designed handoff between Arnaz Battle and seldom used Brandon Jones on a punt return went horribly wrong as Battle stumbled and Jones blamed himself for not giving Battle a better pocket near his stomach and chest to cradle the ball. It cost us with a Deion Branch touchdown to tie the game 7-7.
Then with 9:28 left to play in the game and poised at the Seattle Seahawks 26-yard line Frank Gore runs up the middle and has the ball punched out from behind fumbling and recovered by Seattle Seahawk cornerback Josh Wilson which results in a field goal to give the Seahawks the lead 17-14. These two costly turnovers proved to be the icing on the cake that dramatically affected our ability to be a playoff contender within our division against the division leading Arizona Cardinals. The noise of the Seattle Seahawk faithful became their 12th man on the field to the affect that it illustrated our demise. Our inability to pay attention to ball security cost us the game and our future at a playoff date to come.
We can argue that the officiating in this game was ridiculous which it was. In the first instance 49er tight end Delanie walker was being held by Seattle Seahawk linebacker Darryl Trapp on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1-yard line. On the second on the pass from Matt Hasselback to Seattle Seahawk wide receiver Deon Butler who caught a 32-yard pass and came down at the 49er 15-yard line with but 15 seconds remaining in the game. Butler clearly pushed-off on 49er cornerback Keith Smith in order to make that catch but was never ruled a penalty.
Clearly one can argue the officials ruled in Seattle’s favor throughout the game. Fact is though we had plenty of opportunities to put the game away and we didn’t get the job done yet again while on the road. The realization that we are just four games away to playing golf is inconceivable yet again as I think about our roller coaster season in which the offense took far too long to find an identity and is still lost trying to find it.
Alex Smith again proved noteworthy results and proved yet again he is becoming a lot more comfortable in the new scheme being implemented by offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. I am concerned that balance is not being struck though between the pass and the run to the extent that we allow Frank Gore to be a bit more careless based on the far fewer carries it is evident that he is getting. Having sound fundamental ball control is far more important than going for the glorious ripe moment out of the shotgun time in and time out.
Jimmy Raye’s lack of consistency on this matter from calling plays to being up top looking down from a pictured booth give me the notion that he is listening a bit too much to the player’s desires rather than the bigger picture of being balanced and establishing firm ball control with taking time off the clock both on Frank Gore’s legs and Alex Smith’s arm. I am well aware that it has been successful and a lot of fun watching the passing completions to so many weapons seldom used in the past. But the real context of the matter resides in the fact that we are not scary on either side until we build a foundation that illustrates our strength by two-dimensions rather than abandoning one for another.
We incurred eight penalties in this game for 57 total yards. This is not the signature of a well disciplined team by way of details. More work is to be done to establish the mentality of being a champion. Mike Singletary points to all the little things that aren’t getting done out on the field as signs of the Book of Revelations for the San Francisco 49ers. We cannot take that next step as a collective team until we correct those things that constantly inhibit our progress moving forward. Each individual player must buy into the philosophy that paying attention to details and execution are items of substance that benefit from each other.
We cannot simply abandon the run game despite the glaring weaknesses on our offensive line. It has to be a work in progress to get the line to be as excited about protecting Alex Smith as it is in creating running lanes by way of pure blocking for Frank Gore to run through. Frank has to be a part of the offensive equation not by just way of catching a pass but by way of being a 100-plus yard runner again. Balance must be struck and it is this issue that must be addressed by Mike Singletary as we move forward.
Going into this game we had the mindset of actually believing we were a playoff contender against a team struggling to find its own identity and then within a few quarters of play we found ourselves as actually being the underdogs in a contest turned ugly. 12 rushing attempts to Seattle’s 29 are clearly not enough. We owe it to ourselves to at least show an effort don’t you think?
I still have faith in Mike Singletary to find the right solution in conjunction with his coaching staff. I am as disappointed as anyone in realizing we are again looking at the NFL draft as our next big night out together as fans. But we still have four games left to play and it is critical that we try and win all of them to establish momentum and find some sort of balance that works best for both sides of the offense rather than flip flopping one for another. We have to believe that Alex Smith is the quarterback of the future or draft another one to help compete and or look somewhere else. So far he has looked sharp but the spread cannot be his sole comfort zone. We still need someone that helps to find that crucial balance that means control of the ball and the clock all in one.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.