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07 May 2010

Four Downs: NFC West

by Doug Farrar

Arizona Cardinals

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Inside Linebacker

In this year's draft, the Cardinals did an admirable job of filling holes created by a tumultuous offseason. And when Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams fell to Arizona at the 26th pick, the team finally got the every-down gap-plugger its defense has been missing for the past few seasons. However, there was no opportunity in the draft or free agency to replace inside linebacker Karlos Dansby. Replacing Dansby, a rare every-down 3-4 inside linebacker, was the team's most glaring pre-draft need.

Hard-pressed to recreate Dansby's versatility, Cardinals defensive coordinator Bill Davis may look to different types of athletes. TCU's Daryl Washington, taken in the second round, is a 6-2, 230-pound athlete with great speed and range. We've seen linebackers used as center fielders in this defense before, and that could increase with Washington as he bulks up a bit and gets the hang of things. In the short term, with the back seven getting that much lighter, more will be expected of Williams on that front line.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

Ole Miss’ Marshay Green is an undersized (5-9, 180) cornerback with the most SEC return potential this side of Javier Arenas. BYU quarterback Max Hall, the nephew of ex-Cowboys signal-caller Danny White, has below-average arm strength but a great grasp of the game. Kentucky running back Alfonso Smith is a big back who ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at his Pro Day but missed time in 2009 with various injuries.

St. Louis Rams

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Defensive Line

When you have needs all over the roster as the Rams do, roster construction is the real issue -- anyone with a blindfold and a dartboard can pick players who will do better than those on a series of teams that have won a total of six games in three years. That said, St. Louis GM Billy Devaney had one glaring need to fill, and he addressed it with the first overall pick, getting hyper-accurate quarterback Sam Bradford. Devaney also filled out the offensive line with Indiana tackle Rodger Saffold (who might put an end to the painful Alex Barron experiment), and gave Bradford a couple of desperately needed playmakers in Cincinnati receiver Mardy Gilyard and Houston tight end/basketball player Fendi Onobun.

The Rams can now put a respectable offense on paper. The question is, Where are they after investing so much draft currency in their defensive line? They traded Adam Carriker -- always a better fit in a 3-4 defense -- to the Redskins, Leonard Little is thinking about retirement, Chris Long could use a complementary edge-rusher, and James Hall and Fred Robbins may be merely rotational players at this point in their careers. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo had the benefit of a seemingly endless string of linemen when he was the Giants' defensive coordinator, but the draft provided only developmental talent at defensive end: fifth-rounder Hall Davis, sixth-rounder Eugene Sims, and seventh-rounder George Selvie. "Spags" will have to coach the kids well or do without the defensive line depth for now.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

The Rams weren’t just ogling Bradford when they traveled through Oklahoma on their Pro Day tour; they saw and subsequently signed two Central Oklahoma players who worked out for NFL teams nearby. Linebacker Freddie Harris led his defense in sacks in more than one season, and defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo was a four-year starter who starred in the Cactus Bowl (the Division II All-Star game). Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis played two seasons under coach David Cutcliffe, who said that Lewis’ performance against North Carolina State last October was the finest he’d seen from any of his quarterbacks. Pretty fast company there. As I detailed in one of this year’s Combine reports, Cutcliffe was Peyton Manning’s offensive coordinator at Tennessee and the man who recruited Eli Manning to Ole Miss.

San Francisco 49ers

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Cornerback

Having addressed their abysmal return game with a pre-draft trade for Ted Ginn Jr., the 49ers turned to the matter of their offensive identity in the draft. In 2009, San Francisco operated out of the shotgun formation 44 percent of the time, ninth-highest in the league. That may have been good for Alex Smith's comfort level, born as he was in Urban Meyer's power spread offense at Utah, but Mike Singletary wants more smashmouth on the field. To that end, he took Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis and Idaho guard Mike Iupati with the team's two first-round picks. Both players fit into an offense projected to be as subtle as the proverbial punch in the mouth.

On the other side of the ball, there's still one issue preventing an effective and underrated defense from reaching its full potential -- depth in the secondary. USC safety Taylor Mays, a ridiculous athlete but somewhat undeveloped football player, was taken in the second round and will serve as an in-the-box player. The problem is in coverage. Cornerbacks Dre' Bly and Walt Harris have seen their best days, and while the team would like better options, it may be forced to rely on those, or other, second-tier players. Nate Clements, who will earn $6 million in base salary in 2010 and was benched for a time in 2009 in favor of Tarell Brown, returns as the elite name in a very shaky group. How shaky? Brown was also benched at one point -- in favor of Bly. Only Philip Adams, a seventh-round pick from South Carolina State, was added through the draft.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

You may remember former Oklahoma linebacker Mike Balogun as the guy who sued the NCAA for ruling him ineligible because Balogun allegedly played one year of semi-pro football after his 21st birthday. After losing his final appeal, the now 26-year-old worked out on his own and participated in Oklahoma’s 2010 Pro Day. He had six tackles in the 2008 BCS Championship game against Florida. The Niners are evidently predisposed to the otherwise unwanted -- Belhaven University free safety Tramaine Brock was booted off the Minnesota team for academic reasons. Quarterback Jarrett Brown is another from West Virginia’s spread offense, but he isn’t doomed to Wildcat purgatory -- he’s got a strong arm and may be NFL material at the position after sorting out some mechanical issues.

Seattle Seahawks

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Pass Rush

The Seahawks hit a number of home runs in one of the best 2010 drafts. They filled desperate needs at left tackle (Russell Okung) and deep safety (Earl Thomas) in the first round. They also added slot receiver Golden Tate with the 60th overall pick -- most mock drafts had Tate going early in the second round. Later trades for LenDale White and Leon Washington could fix longtime liabilities in the running game.

However, one defensive need remains. Despite the previous administration's focus on the front seven, Pete Carroll's crew go into 2010 without anything resembling an elite edge-rusher. Veteran Patrick Kerney retired after leading the Seahawks with just five sacks in 2009. End Lawrence Jackson, a former first-round pick who played under Carroll at USC, has been essentially invisible at the pro level. Trading Darryl Tapp to the Eagles for Chris Clemons was a wash. In finding the right kind of pass pressure in Carroll's preferred 4-3 sets, creativity will be key. The "elephant" position, filled by a hybrid end/linebacker who will line up without his hand on the ground, is a longtime staple of Carroll defenses. Clemons could fill this role, as could linebacker Aaron Curry.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

USC guard/center Jeff Byers was a Carroll favorite -- he has a bachelor's degree in business administration, and in 2008, Carroll had him give a lecture to the entire team on the subprime mortgage crisis. Byers is also the kind of downfield blocker who could stick and stay in Alex Gibbs' scheme. Carroll didn't take Taylor Mays in the draft as many suspected he would, but he did pick up backup safety Will Harris, who was an All-Pac 10 Honorable Mention in 2009. Carroll took a flyer on another USC safety, Josh Pinkard, who would have enjoyed a mid-round projection (at the very least) were it not for three different ACL injuries during his college career.

(Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN.com Insider.)

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 07 May 2010

57 comments, Last at 28 May 2010, 2:51pm by TM

Comments

1
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 05/07/2010 - 4:34pm

It's a little odd to give an overview of the 49ers' cornerbacks and to not even mention Shawntae Spencer, our best cornerback last year, instead referring to Bly and Harris, who probably won't be on the training camp roster.

The benching of Clements was described by the coaching staff as a one game issue because they felt that the other cornerbacks were a better match up for the Colts vertical passing game, then he broke his shoulder blade and we never found out if the niners meant what they said. He has trouble with really fast receivers at this stage but he's fantastic against bigger guys, just look at Fitzgerald's numbers before and after Clements arrived. I'd also like to point out that some of the big plays he has been criticised for were actually mistakes by Mark Roman and Michael Lewis, who have been awful (for example, last year Roddy White had a huge game 'against' Clements but the 90 yard catch shouldn't have gone for more than 30 yards if Roman wasn't so slow in single high coverage and the other long TD was entirely Lewis' fault). Clements gets beaten by some elite receivers, well so does almost every other corner, we'd all like Asomugha and Revis but it's not reality.

The niners corners are going to be Clements, Spencer, Brown, Karl Paymah and William James with the rookie heading to the practice squad. I reckon that's better than most teams, they could use a youngster but they should be OK this year. (I don't really know a lot about Paymah, does anyone know if he's good enough to be a nickle/dime back?)

11
by Kibbles :: Sat, 05/08/2010 - 5:32am

If Paymah was the answer, he wouldn't be playing for his third team in three years. Faced with the prospect of playing Paymah for meaningful snaps last year, Denver instead opted to go to free agency and sign possibly the oldest secondary in NFL history.

He's a hard worker, he's decent depth, and he's very solid on special teams... but in all honesty, the fewer defensive snaps he sees the field for, the better off the Niners will be.

12
by Kibbles :: Sat, 05/08/2010 - 5:37am

To expound... read Paymah's official Denver bio for the most tepid support you'll ever find in an official team bio. It's pretty much the definition of "damning with faint praise". An excerpt from 2008: "Had two tackles vs. N.O. (9/21)… Played just one defensive snap at K.C. (9/28) as rookie CB Jack Williams assumed nickel cornerback duties… Had a special teams tackle vs. T.B. (10/5)… Recorded a solo tackle at N.E. (10/20)…"

The full bio can be found here: http://www.denverbroncos.com/page.php?id=498&contentID=4340

15
by Karl Cuba :: Sat, 05/08/2010 - 12:23pm

Thanks for the info. I wasn't expecting great things from him, he's one of those guys you hear about but I can't really remember him doing anything. After your report, I have to say that I'm glad that he's not going to be higher than 4th on the depth chart at cornerback.

17
by bravehoptoad :: Sun, 05/09/2010 - 11:31am

Same thing with William James, also not expecting great things from him. Cut by Detroit! Yeesh. Doesn't it say something bad about our secondary when we're signing Detroit's cast-offs? I know why we signed him -- big, physical, plays the run and press coverage well, slow -- like all our other corners.

Oddly, James is listed at #13 on the CBS player rankings for DB. This is odd because Darelle Revis is at #17, and Nnamdi Asomugha at #159, so what in heck kind of rankings are those?

See what kind of resources you're forced to stoop to when trying to find out the quality of an obscure CB your team just signed?

27
by BGNoMore (not verified) :: Sun, 05/09/2010 - 6:19pm

I'm a former Broncos fan living in Minnesota, so I've seen a bit of Paymah. The comments above are on target, but I'll throw in another two cents anyway.

Karl Paymah is a good special teams player and a solid tackler, particularly for a smaller player. Its good that he is a sure tackler, because with his cover skills its a necessity. He's better suited for zone, simply keeping the play in front him, than man-to-man. In short, a nice special-teams/dime-back guy, but not the solution to cornerback problems.

35
by Sophandros :: Mon, 05/10/2010 - 1:21pm

Out of curiosity, why are you a former Broncos fan?

-------------
Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

37
by BGNoMore (not verified) :: Mon, 05/10/2010 - 3:08pm

Keeping the story short so as not to hijack the thread, I have not enjoyed the Josh McDaniels era.

2
by Theo :: Fri, 05/07/2010 - 5:34pm

"there was no opportunity in the draft or free agency to replace inside linebacker Karlos Dansby. Replacing Dansby, a rare every-down 3-4 inside linebacker"

Why did they let him walk then? I don't get it. Sure the Steelers say they have self-cap. But why would the cardinals let Dansby walk. Why.

And, man, do I feel sorry for a running back like Steven Jackson. He is very good. But that team around him...

The Niners are my favourite in this division, I'd see them go far. Make the playoffs and win one or 2 games. Why not.

3
by jimbohead :: Fri, 05/07/2010 - 5:38pm

The Niners are my favourite in this division, I'd see them go far. Make the playoffs and win one or 2 games. Why not.

Maybe because they haven't won a game against a quality team NOT named the cardinals in 4 years?

10
by t.d. :: Sat, 05/08/2010 - 2:29am

I don't know, it took an insane pass from Favre on the final play of the game for the Vikings to beat the 49ers last year, and Minnesota could make a strong case for having been the best team in the league. I don't think the 49ers are far from being a good team. They're like the Vikings were before they got Favre- a qb away from being scary- and their odds are better at getting productive play out of Smith/Carr/Hill than Minnesota's were at succeeding with Tarvaris.

13
by jimbohead :: Sat, 05/08/2010 - 10:10am

I actually agree, but you're probably looking at the wrong game to demonstrate the point. In that game, the 49ers got pretty seriously outplayed. They had nothing going for them in the running game, and shaun hill was starting to be exposed as a pretty bad QB. Their defense kept them in it, but it felt like it was more execution error than defensive dominance. I don't know the VOA numbers, but I would suggest that they would show that MIN outplayed SFO that game.

The game I like to point to is the game against the Colts, where they spent 3 quarters dominating on defense, and may have won, except for a 4th qt. TD drive, capped by a RB pass to Wayne. Honestly, my view is that the 49ers are moving in a positive direction, but lets not go overboard. They went 8-8 last year going 5-1 in the division, then beating the bears, lions, and Jaguars. As a fan, I'm excited, but also remembering this is May.

19
by bravehoptoad :: Sun, 05/09/2010 - 11:40am

They went 8-8 last year going 5-1 in the division, then beating the bears, lions, and Jaguars.

Sweeping statements like this are one of the reasons I come to this site -- because here, they rarely raise their ugly heads. Is this kind of one-sentence summary of wins and losses ever useful for anything at all besides rhetorical effect?

Thundering bombast, batman.

20
by Jeff Fogle :: Sun, 05/09/2010 - 12:23pm

Nothing less bombastic than "let's not go overboard," the words that appeared just before the non-sweeping factual statement you cut-and-pasted out of a thunderless unbombastic analysis.

San Francisco was 2-7 last year vs. teams that finished 8-8 or better. They did have some close losses though (Minnesota, Indy, Houston, Green Bay, Tennessee all at 7-points or less within that subgroup).

Can see why 49ers fans would be optimistic, but realistic with their hopes. Sorry bravehot, can't see why you thought that sentence was a bombastic, sweeping statement, or inappropriate to the discussion...

22
by bravehoptoad :: Sun, 05/09/2010 - 2:37pm

Well, you summarize an entire season in one sentence and reach a conclusion based on their win-loss record. That's specious.

For one thing, as you point out, they lost 5 games by 7 points or fewer to some pretty good teams. That alone suggests that an analysis deeper than their win-loss record might prove fruitful, or even that their win-loss record is misleading.

There are a lot of good reasons to think they weren't so great last year and might not be so great this year, but the quality of their out-of-division wins isn't one of them.

23
by Big Johnson :: Sun, 05/09/2010 - 4:00pm

whats wrong with stating that they beat only nfc west teams and the bears jags and lions? The point behind him saying that is because the dvoa of the teams the niners beat must have made the stock market numbers look great in comparison. The niners wins were against the seahawks twice (29th dvoa) the rams twice (32nd dvoa) the lions once (31st dvoa) the jags (23rd dvoa) the bears (25th dvoa) and the cardinals (13th dvoa). Those teams are awful. The niners were a dismal 20th in team dvoa last year. All this while they had a break out year from an awful quarterback and a steller year from a good but not great tight end. The niners will be worse next year than last years win-loss record. Im just not seeing how a team that got lucky last year AND had a good performance from an awful player will get any better. This team reminds me of the browns and derek anderson a couple years ago.

25
by jimbohead :: Sun, 05/09/2010 - 4:16pm

This is the comparison I'm most afraid of. I'm really really hoping that Davis doesn't become another Kellen Winslow, and that the 49ers don't sink back into the abyss of hoping to be mediocre.

Though, there are reasons for optimism that this won't happen! Alex Smith was not the reason for the niner's non-losing record; it was their dominant defense, which was top 3 by DVOA. I don't consider Smith's half season a breakout season, but it was relatively solid. There's a lot of upward mobility for his skills, in terms of potential. Also, they have better weapons than the browns did. Yes, the tight end situation is similar, with an athletic freak with terrible hands, but Crabtree is no Edwards; he's quick, and has fantastic hands. Also, Frank Gore is still on the good side of 29 (I think he's 26? 27?), and can still take it 60-80 yards every once in a while.

So, we'll see. I don't think they'll play worse than last year, but they may end up with a worse record as the result of schedule.

26
by Karl Cuba :: Sun, 05/09/2010 - 4:54pm

I think the niners' schedule is easier than last year. The 49ers have two games against the Rams and the Seahawks, as well as Carolina, Tampa, Oakland and Kansas City, all of which look pretty winable. They should only need 2 or 3 more wins against the remainder of their schedule to make the playoffs, and we swept Arizona last year. (And hopefully the return game won't cost us two or three wins this year.)

29
by Brendan Scolari :: Sun, 05/09/2010 - 6:41pm

"The niners were a dismal 20th in team dvoa last year."

Their DVOA was still positive, and basically the same as the Bengals, Falcons, Giants, and Dolphins. Certainly nothing special but they weren't bad last year.

"All this while they had a break out year from an awful quarterback and a steller year from a good but not great tight end."

A -15.4% DVOA while starting only 10 games qualifies as a breakout year now? Uh, no. Smith should improve if anything, he's been surrounded by awful talent his whole career until now and he's still only 25. You calling him awful serves no point, there's no reason to expect him to be worse than the poor play he showed last year. The same goes for Vernon Davis, how do you arbitrarily come to the viewpoint that he is "good but not great"? He led the NFL in drops last year, he wasn't phenomenal, in what way is his performance unsustainable? He's going to drop even more passes now?

"Im just not seeing how a team that got lucky last year AND had a good performance from an awful player will get any better."

You've failed to substantiate either point. I'd say they got UNlucky last year with all of the close losses they had. They've made great steps to fix the return game and the offensive line (the 2 biggest weaknesses on the team), and they should get full years from Alex Smith and Crabtree this year (barring injury) with (finally) a 2nd full year in the same offensive system. Your second point makes zero sense because they didn't get a good performance from Smith, and your idea that he can't repeat that poor performance (with more talent and continuity on offense) is unsubstantiated.

30
by Big Johnson :: Mon, 05/10/2010 - 1:38am

DVOA to me seems like a predict the future / account for defense stat. What i meant by a break out season for Alex Smith was his basic numbers. 10 games started and he passed for 18 touchdowns 2350 yards and 12 touchdowns. Thats roughly 3700 (235 ypg)yards and 28 (1.8 tpg)touchdowns and 19 int's (1.2 ipg) over the course of 16 games. These numbers are a poor mans old jay cutler numbers. A year like this from great quarterbacks is nothing special but for a benched backup that has never played good... this was very jekyl of him. His low dvoa is a detector that he deep down wasnt good but only raw numbers affect the team last year.

In respect to vernon davis, he just led the league in touchdowns for tight ends and made a massive leap into the upper echelon of the position. Nfl.com has him as the third tight end for fantasy football behind clark and gates. Calling him the third best tight end in the league seems like a stretch to me but i dont really have numbers to back me up. It just seems similar to the way kellen winslow jumped onto the scene with derek anderson.

While the niners schedule may be similar or even easier this year, it is tough to predict non good players to play better than a break out year for them regardless of if the road is easier. Basically, alex smith put up pretty good raw numbers and yes hes playing an easier or similar schedule, but he is still alex smith and has a better chance of losing his job than keeping it due to great play. 1 year is a small sample size. Theres a reason why he was benched due to his play in the years that preceded last year.

you make a good case that they werent bad last year since they were so close to the teams ahead of them in dvoa, but i think the stars were aligned for them and will probably regress a little bit.

32
by Jimmy :: Mon, 05/10/2010 - 10:05am

The main reason Alex Smith hasn't played more than he did is because he got injured behind a terrible offensive line. The reason that Hill and O'Sullivan ended up competing for the starting job in training camp under Martz was beacause Smith still hadn't recovered from the shoulder injury he received over the previous season.

33
by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 05/10/2010 - 10:35am

whats wrong with stating that they beat only nfc west teams and the bears jags and lions? The point behind him saying that is because the dvoa of the teams the niners beat must have made the stock market numbers look great in comparison. The niners wins were against the seahawks twice (29th dvoa) the rams twice (32nd dvoa) the lions once (31st dvoa) the jags (23rd dvoa) the bears (25th dvoa) and the cardinals (13th dvoa).

Because it's pointless, man. One of the points of DVOA is to look beyond wins and losses, which, when they're close, have no predictive value whatsoever.

The niners were a dismal 20th in team dvoa last year.

What's with all the adjectives? Since when is 20th out of 32 "dismal?" "Break out year from an awful quarterback?" No. What makes you think so? "...steller [sic] year from a good but not great tight end?" What are you talking about? The only things about VD's year that were particularly good was his touchdown total (hardly the best indicator of a player's worth) and his blocking.

36
by Big Johnson :: Mon, 05/10/2010 - 2:58pm

You are somewhat right when you say dvoa has no predictive value in close games. Yeah last year that would have affected their win-loss total. But the predictive value dvoa has is for next year, regardless of situations that presented themselves last year.

alright 20th out of 32 isnt dismal but i only have two opinions... either a team is awesome or awful. just like players. They are closer to the awful side than the awesome side. VD did have good numbers last year. He almost had 1000 receiving yards for a tight end! he led the league in receiving touchdowns and almost had 1000 receiving yards. If thats not a good way to start on him being good (probably considered great by most people) then i dont know what is. A lot of why i think his numbers will drop is because alex smith wont keep up his production, so less will be distributed.

38
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 05/10/2010 - 3:22pm

With regards to Vernon Davis, I think that you've failed to take account of his blocking. Singletary describes him as the best tight blocking tight end he's ever seen, he's certainly a level above the other very good receiving TEs in that area. His weakness is that he doesn't really do the tight-endy things very well, he's not really a security blanket for his qb like so many of the great tight ends. His value in the passing game comes from his ability to grab large chunks of yards in a single play, have a look at his long TD catch vs the Rams (I know its only St Louis but TEs aren't supposed to be able to do that).

39
by jimbohead :: Mon, 05/10/2010 - 3:49pm

That's a pretty good synopsis of what VD does well. His route running consists basically of the seam route, skinny post, deep out, and the occasional TE screen.

42
by DeltaWhiskey :: Tue, 05/11/2010 - 6:22am

"but i only have two opinions... either a team is awesome or awful. just like players."

Wow.

43
by Big Johnson :: Tue, 05/11/2010 - 3:04pm

i just dont get the point of making posts like this....

Team A is decent, filled with average players and is completely mediocre any way you look at them.

cool, thats exciting. thats why ive never made a post about the bills.

45
by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 05/11/2010 - 4:07pm

OK, I've been avoiding making this post out of fear of invoking the FOMBC. But I'm a rational humanist and I refuse to bow to superstition (I'm so sorry FOMBC, I'll atone for this later with a sacrifice to the Schatz).

Have a good look at the niners, I think they are one of the youngest and most talented teams in the NFL. The defense was very good last year, especially the run defense. The offensive line should become one of the best units in the league over the next couple of years, Gore is outstanding and the receivers are young and talented. Smith should improve for two reasons, his first chance to continue in the same system and the better talent around him. The niners don't need Smith to be great, a top 15 performance should be enough for the team to win. The niners have also fixed the biggest hole on their special teams, the woeful return game that cost us a shot at the playoffs last season. There is a lot to look forwards to for 49es fans as long as the team, and especially its stars, can remain healthy.

46
by Eddo :: Tue, 05/11/2010 - 4:14pm

I think DeltaWhiskey was responding to the preposterousness of this statement:

"but i only have two opinions... either a team is awesome or awful. just like players."

Clearly, there are players and teams occupying a gray area, yet you declare that everyone is either awesome or awful, with no middle ground.

47
by Big Johnson :: Tue, 05/11/2010 - 5:28pm

yeah that statement out of context is retarded. i was explaining that my opinions on this site are either hot or cold. There is definately a grey area... it just bores me and the bills was a reference to that. Alex smith to me seams to be in the cold area. He got hot last season but that was all he has. He will turn into a white dwarf this upcoming season.

49
by DeltaWhiskey :: Wed, 05/12/2010 - 3:27am

Thank you for the contextual clarification. That makes more sense.

24
by jimbohead :: Sun, 05/09/2010 - 4:06pm

eh, sorry mang. didn't mean to come across that way AT ALL. I fully recognize that they lost most games by less than 5 points, and that this is a positive metric for the team's future. The reason I mention that specifically is because a lot of the optimism around this team is centered around their first semi-respectable record in a while. That's why mentioning how those wins came is actually relevant.

I also understand that DVOA is a better metric here than win/loss, and their DVOA has them right around 0%, perfectly mediocre. Also, drafting an offensive lineman high in the first round is supposedly also a positive metric (anyone remember last year's chapter on the Rams? we'll see if Aaron decides to dampen that one), and the 49ers drafted two between 11-20.

But the post I was responding to asked "why not?" in reference to the 49ers getting to the playoffs and winning a couple games. It is certainly relevant to say that they haven't beaten a quality team not named the Cardinals in years, and that, insofar as expectations of them becoming a great team this year are based on their record of win/loss improvement for the last couple of years, we need to recognize that this record has been a result of weak competition.

So, sorry if I came across as overly simplistic. Just trying to remain grounded here.

34
by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 05/10/2010 - 11:19am

Sorry if I came across as rude, particularly since I agree with your sentiment. A mediocre team, the best stats seem to say, who improved their return game (a weakness easy to fix) and attempted to improve their O-line (much trickier).

Still, mediocre is such a huge step forward from where they have been -- all those years vastly outperforming DVOA and Pythagorean to reach 7-9. And it's a fun team to watch, lots of heart, they sure do try hard, and frustrating to watch, because their offensive coordinator seems pretty stupid at times. And who knows? Maybe year #2 in the same offense will be what A. Smith needs to improve past average.

I'll take that.

44
by chemical burn :: Tue, 05/11/2010 - 3:41pm

I agree that SF is one of the more likable teams in the league - as far as middle of the pack teams go, they're more fun to watch just because of Singletary and the defense. Alex Smith is easy to root for, too: he seems the victim of hype he had no control over (ending up being drafted way too high), he works hard by all accounts, has had to endure an unstable o-line and injury issues. He's not Jamarcus or Ryan Leaf, some ego-maniac who willfully blew his opportunities - it's hard not to want things to come around for him...

48
by tuluse :: Wed, 05/12/2010 - 1:32am

49ers are my 2nd favorite team I think.

Patrick Willis is a beast. Singletary is awesome. The whole team seems to play physical yet fundamentally sound football. They're like a nice version of the Ravens.

50
by dryheat :: Thu, 05/13/2010 - 8:12am

Or a slightly less cartoonish version of the Jets.

51
by Moses (not verified) :: Tue, 05/18/2010 - 12:25pm

lol. Hate has its face in phony stats and arguments...

Fact is, the 49ers beat the Jets, they beat the Broncos, both of whom would have been in the playoffs but for the 49ers beating them. The beat the Redskins and kept them from having a winning record in 2008. They beat the Bucs (playoff team) in 2007.

So while they've mostly been a mediocre team beating mediocre teams, they have beaten a few good teams over the past few years. Despite your assertion to the contrary.

53
by jimbohead :: Tue, 05/18/2010 - 3:35pm

Forgot about the Bucs in '07. As for the jets in '08, they were not the same team they were earlier in the season (when they won all those games, putting them in playoff position), mostly b/c Favre was playing hurt. With the Broncos game a couple years back, iirc, Cutler was out with a concussion, and their MLB went out around halftime, causing Gore to run all over them.

So yes, what I said was an exaggeration, but not a huge one. In the past few years, they've beaten mostly bad to mediocre teams, with a couple wins over the Cardinals, and a couple wins over marginal playoff teams.

6
by tuluse :: Fri, 05/07/2010 - 7:46pm

Because it still takes actual money to pay players.

4
by JW (not verified) :: Fri, 05/07/2010 - 6:13pm

It's hard like the 49ers as favorites after the draft...

If they are moving to the spread then they drafted two of the worst pass-blocking linemen in the entire draft... Even if they were dead-set on improving the running game - they are doing so at the expensive of Alex Smith and does it really make the offense better?

Likewise they passed on a lot of CB/S talent and those positions look grim... if the defense falls off a bit, they could be headed for another season with a losing record.

7
by Jimmy :: Fri, 05/07/2010 - 8:29pm

I would have said the worst position group on the 49ers last year was its offensive line, specifically LG and RT. They went and drafted a LG and a RT and by most if not all accounts they have gotten two good players or at least upgrades on what they had last year (which they still have as depth). The worst performing position on defense was probably SS and they have added a player there too as well as depth at inside linebacker (Bowman could even push Spikes to the bench as the year moves on). They also added a return man by trading for Ginn. Some question how good a return guy he really is but he is better than anything the Niners had last year.

The Niners were a decent team last year and look to have improved the areas which held them back last season. As Karl Cuba points out they are actually reasonably well set at CB and their defense is good, young and deep. I also don't think they are as wedded to the spread as you seem to think. Singletary would quite like to smash the ball down the opponent's throats with Frank Gore and they might have the line to do it.

8
by tuluse :: Fri, 05/07/2010 - 9:02pm

I want to see the 49ers try the pistol formation. Gore gets to run behind a fullback, and they Smith gets to take shotgun snaps. It's seems win-win to me.

14
by Noah of Arkadia :: Sat, 05/08/2010 - 10:49am

You got it wrong. People don't question how good a return man Ginn is at all. They question if he can be a pro WR. The Jets will be happy to see him out of the division in either capacity, I can tell you that.

9
by Thok :: Sat, 05/08/2010 - 12:08am

There's a legitimate argument that the 49ers line was the worst unit in the league last year. Unless one of the rookies starts eating himself out of the league, there will be improvement on the line.

18
by bravehoptoad :: Sun, 05/09/2010 - 11:36am

... they drafted two of the worst pass-blocking linemen in the entire draft....

Where did you get the idea Davis is a bad pass-blocking lineman? A lot of criticisms got leveled at him, but I didn't hear much bad about his pass blocking.

Iupati, yes, was drafted for the run game, but he wasn't bad against the pass in college as a left guard. The problem was, he didn't face any decent pass-rushers, either, at that position. He got slaughtered when he tried tackle and right guard, but the 9ers won't be playing him there.

28
by Brendan Scolari :: Sun, 05/09/2010 - 6:29pm

"If they are moving to the spread"

They aren't moving to the spread.

"they drafted two of the worst pass-blocking linemen in the entire draft"

I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. I heard multiple draft analysts say Anthony Davis had the potential to be the best pass blocking LT in the entire draft. He has question marks but he's got the potential to be an exceptional pass blocker. And Iupati isn't so great in pass protection (for now) but to say he's the worst pass blocker in the draft is ludicrous.

"Even if they were dead-set on improving the running game - they are doing so at the expensive of Alex Smith and does it really make the offense better?"

Iupati and Davis should fairly easily improve both the running and passing game, Baas and Snyder (the two current starters they'll replace) are horrendous. And if you think improving the running game would harm a QB I'm not sure what to tell you.

"Likewise they passed on a lot of CB/S talent and those positions look grim... "

They drafted a safety in the second round, I'm not sure how many picks you wanted them to use on the secondary. The positions may not be a strength but they hardly look grim to anyone who follows the Niners.

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by Moses (not verified) :: Tue, 05/18/2010 - 12:54pm

Pass blocking wasn't really the main problem with pass protection last year. The problem was Hill was horrible in the pocket, sort of Drew Bledsoe with no arm upside to make up for the his lack of pocket awareness and painfully slow decision making process that lead to Hill being sacked 10% of the time.

Smith, with far better skills in the pocket, was sacked 5.6% of the time. Had Smith started all year, with those stats, the 49ers would have been tied at 10th for pass protection efficiency. And that's good enough to win.

The real problem, as I see it, came in the run game. I think there are two problems there, though one gets swept under the rug way too often so I'll address it first.

Frank Gore isn't the Frank Gore of old. Yes, he had some nice stats. But those were Tyrone Wheatley type fluke plays against the Seahawks who blew a pair of run-blitzs and gave him a two 75+ yard uncontested trips to the endzone. So, like Tyrone Wheatley who looked (statistically) good one year (because of the Seahawks ironically) with padded his average, so went Gore last year.

And while I hope the new line will help Gore perform reasonably well (in a consistent, rather than fluke day way) again, I think the bottom line is he's not been the same back since the end of the 2007 season. I think he's just an average starter anymore. Good enough to start, not your big worry, but he's just, well... A 35-year old back with 28-year birthday. And not the same hard-running, tackle-breaking difference maker he was in 2006/2007.

The second is, the o-line wasn't that great in run blocking. So, regardless of Gore's diminishment, the line did struggle with run-blocking for most of the year. There were three issues: The two worst areas with returning starters being the left guard (Baas) and the right tackle (Snyder). The other issue has resolved itself as the 49ers also lost their LT (Staley) early in the season and his (now gone) replacement Barry Sims was a horrible run blocker.

Staley is back and he's okay as a run blocker. He's not elite in that area, but he's good enough that the 49ers should be able to run to the left again. Replacing Baas with Iupati should massively upgrade the LG running position. And, considering Baas was no great shakes in pass protection, I doubt there'll be much of a drop-off.

Davis is, without ever taking a snap in a real game, probably already a better OT than Snyder. Snyder has always been a poor run blocker and just to make that worse, he's bad at pass protection, too. Probably was one of the worst OTs in the NFL last year. Not as bad as some of the really horrible ones, but he's still mediocre. I can't imagine Davis being much worse than Snyder who has been giving up between 8-10 sacks a year the past three years and can't run block to save his life.

So, unless these two young men are complete flame-outs, I think there is every reason to believe they'll be a massive upgrade to the line in the run game with little down-grade in pass protection.

54
by tuluse :: Tue, 05/18/2010 - 11:23pm

Gore had a DVOA of 4.7%, so he was playing at least average.

55
by DeltaWhiskey :: Wed, 05/19/2010 - 1:39am

I prefer to wait for Madden '11 to come out before making any comments on Gore's abilities.

5
by Theo :: Fri, 05/07/2010 - 7:06pm

Oh and for those who wonder:
"the “elephant” position, which is basically a stand-up defensive end in a 4-3 alignment that lines up on the weak side of the defense opposite of the tight end" (internet)

I looked into this a few years ago. Carroll used to run a 4-3 under a lot a USC. The strong side linebacker would rush the QB when the strong safety or mike would cover the TE.
Maybe at the Seahawks media knows better than I do, but it's not the weak side linebacker doing it.
He also had a formation where the FS/weak side safety would come up against the run or short pass to the split end and then the SS would cover deep.
At pro level you could use that as a 4-4 and make the rusher a weak side linebacker.

16
by Karl Cuba :: Sat, 05/08/2010 - 12:32pm

Traditionally, the elephant has been the ROLB. I think that the article you have quoted is misleading when it says 'opposite' the tight end, it should say on the opposite end of the line to the TE.

The general idea is to isolate your best pass rusher against the left tackle. It isn't a million miles away from the scheme Mike Nolan runs with one big end backer and three more 4-3ish linebackers. The 49ers used this scheme to good effect in the early 90s with Haley, Tim Harris etc.

If I were a Seahawks fan I'd be concerned that the elephant seems to be Curry, who wasn't a pass rush force in college and that the line isn't really sturdy enough to tie up the blockers like they'll need to. Add in the fact that Leroy Hill, their best linebacker, might get a very hefty suspension and I think they're going to get run on.

40
by HawkFanDC (not verified) :: Mon, 05/10/2010 - 5:01pm

I'm not sure where the reports about Curry are being generated, because it doesn't seem to be from management based on what they said and what has been demonstrated in practices. Rather, Curry seems to be going back to his stregnths (as compared to getting jerked around like he did last year) and will not be serving as the elephant. I would dispute that Hill is their best LB. He may have been slightly more productive last year due to health, experience and utilization, but I would not be surprised to see him shipped out of town.

41
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 05/10/2010 - 5:41pm

I wouldn't be suprised to see him leave/get suspended/traded/cut as a result of his legal troubles but I think he's been the Hawks' best linebacker over the past couple of years. I thought that Tatupu was overrated even before he got hurt, as I didn't feel he held up when teams ran at him, a problem for a middle linebacker. Curry has been a bit of a disappointment but I think he should be given the benefit of the doubt given his athleticism. But I really liked Hill's ability to run through a pulling guard, his speed in coverage and his ability to get to the qb. To be honest I haven't paid that much attention to Hawthorne.

I can't remember where I read about the Curry-elephant thing but I've seen it in at least two places, maybe Mike Sando. I hope for the Hawks' and Curry's sake that its a load of rubbish because as a niners' fan I think its going to result in about 300 yards for Frank Gore.

21
by Dd (not verified) :: Sun, 05/09/2010 - 12:46pm

In one of Brandon Jacobs' best highlight videos on youtube, you can watch a play from the endzone view and see Leroy Hill fail to fill a hole off-guard where Jacobs was barreling through, and it's clear he was afraid. I'm gonna have to go through all of BJ's youtube vids to re-find it.

31
by dryheat :: Mon, 05/10/2010 - 8:55am

Is Monty Beisel still with the Cardinals? He's good for two of those a game, diving out of the way of the ballcarrier or waiting around for a blocker to engage him so he won't have to get dirty.

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by hodman (not verified) :: Thu, 05/27/2010 - 11:56am

It has been 10 years since Eddie was exiled. The Niners (and Eddie) are back and will be the most dominant team in sports for the next decade.

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by TM (not verified) :: Fri, 05/28/2010 - 2:51pm

@Big Johnson, you are a *_cock_* sucker!