Saturday, November 29, 2014

49ers Dead, Coach Harbaugh Out

Thanksgiving Day, 2014. A day that will live in infamy for San Francisco 49er fans.

The Niners were stomped 19-3 by their nemesis, the Seattle Seahawks, an embarrassing whipping on national TV. But that wasn't the worst of it. This loss is a genuine monster, a game-changer, triggering big-time changes that will effect the team for the next few years.

Here are the wretched, far-reaching consequences: no playoffs, head coach out the door, offensive coordinator gone. And that's just for starters. No doubt, as a result of these key personnel changes, more heads will roll.

Most significantly, this loss will almost certainly keep the Niners out of the playoffs. They were tied with Seattle at 7-4. But now Seattle is 8-4 and the Niners slip to 7-5, trailing Seattle by one game and Arizona by two, with only four games left. For the Niners to make the playoffs, Seattle and Arizona would have to totally collapse, and so would the other teams chasing wild-card spots. That's just not going to happen.

For the last three years, the Niners have been a staple in the NFC championship game. For them to sink from that elite status to not making the playoffs is a bitter pill for Niner fans.

Even if the Niners win all their four remaining games, getting into the playoffs would be a long shot. There are no gimmes on their schedule. The Raiders, smelling blood from across the bay, will be tough. So will the San Diego Chargers, needing a win themselves to stay in playoff contention. So will division rivals Seattle and Arizona, who have already beaten the Niners. The next Seahawks game is in Seattle, where the Niners simply can't win. This time, they can't afford to lose. But the way Seattle manhandled the Niners on Thanksgiving Day, you can put a check in the Seattle win column right now.

Coach Jim Harbaugh's head has been on the chopping block all season, but not because he's a bad coach. In fact, he's taken the Niners to the NFC championship game for each of his first three years as coach, and to the Super Bowl in his second year. But he's been on rotten terms with management--general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York--all season. Another NFC championship game berth may have saved Harbaugh. Anything less and it's bye, bye Harbaugh.

So it's bye, bye Harbaugh.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is almost certainly gone too. Good riddance. Under his guidance, the offense was never great but it was at least passable. Now it's a joke. Scoring one TD per game is a struggle. The offensive line, once one of the best, has issues with injuries and integrating new members, but it's still a decent unit. The Niners do have the tools to generate more TDs but the offense is circling the drain. That's on Roman.

SF's recent three-game win streak is based on the skill of the defense, which hasn't been as strong this season due to the prolonged absence of greats Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. But offensive failures have pushed the defensive unit to the breaking point, with turnovers and a stream of three-and-out possessions..

Also, someone has to shoulder the blame for the startling regression of QB Colin Kaepernick, who has been mostly awful this season, looking lost, like he's getting zero coaching. Who else but Harbaugh and Roman? Reading defenses has become a real chore for Kaepernick, so he invariably holds the ball too long, leading to sack after drive-killing sack. It's no surprise that he leads the league in sacks. Against Seattle, on Thanksgiving Day, he looked totally overwhelmed.

Maybe one of the new coaches can salvage Kaepernick, who once seemed destined for greatness, and point him in the right direction.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Laker's Coach Byron Scott Is a Chicken

LA Lakers' head coach Byron Scott is a chicken. His cowardly behavior is killing the Lakers.

He's to blame for the Lakers' epic, crappy, 1-9 start, the worst in franchise history. What's wrong with the Lakers is their limited, pitifully ineffective offense. It's been commandeered by Kobe Bryant, with his relentless, reckless, selfish, low-percentage shooting. Bryant hogs the ball, ignoring his teammates, often choosing to take difficult shots instead of passing the ball. No other Laker comes close to his total shot attempts. The other Lakers mostly stand around and watch him shoot the team out of games.

Where's Scott while this ball-hogging nonsense is going on? Is he yelling at Bryant, ordering him to play within offensive sets that require passing, sharing the ball and waiting for whoever is open to take the best shot? That's what he should be doing. That's sensible basketball, the kind other teams play, the kind that leads to wins. But that's not the Lakers' way these days. That's why they're on a course to only win 10-20 games.

The other Lakers clearly hate what Kobe is doing. Sources close to several players report the mood in the locker room is tense and gloomy, often just plain ugly. The players resent Kobe. They're frustrated with him. But they have no clout. Almost all are new to the team. They feel they're lucky to have a job. They don't want to make waves. They know that, in any battle with Bryant, they'd surely lose. So they keep quiet. They complain to outsiders and to each other. They sit in that toxic locker room and just stew.

But that may be changing. They are finally doing something. They're showing their anger and disgust by flagrantly not playing defense. In the loss on Sunday to Golden State, 136-115, the Lakers, at the defensive end, were just going through the motions. It looked like they were playing in an exhibition game or the All-Star game, where defense is an afterthought. It was embarrassing.

That game looked like a revolt, like the players were saying to Scott, "We're not going to be part of this crap any more." It looked like Scott has lost this team, even though the season has barely started. This has happened to Scott before. His teams usually bail out on him. It happened in New Jersey and Charlotte and Cleveland. That may be happening here.

It's his job to do what's best for the team, to install offensive and defensive sets that are geared to getting wins, sets that involve the entire team. If there's a ball-hog who's destroying team chemistry it's the coach's job to rein him in. But Scott isn't doing his job. He has chickened out. He knows what the other players want, what should be done, but he's not doing it. He's scared to approach Kobe and make him play team basketball. Do you think any of the top coaches in the NBA, like the Bulls' Thibodeau or the Spurs' Popovich or the Clippers' Rivers, would sit by and let one player selfishly force his will on a team, when the team is consistently losing? Of course not.

This is a bad team, a really bad team, with one star, Bryant, one third-tier star, Jeremy Lin, and a bunch of subpar hangers-on. But it could be better. If they played team basketball, put their energy into playing hard-nosed defense and smart, unselfish offense, they'd win some games. They'd also earn some respect, something they don't get now.

What Scott is doing, letting Kobe run wild and pad his offensive stats, is reprehensible. The coach is taking the coward's way out. When Scott was hired he must have made management think he could control Bryant. What a bunch of crap. It's Kobe who's doing the controlling. If the Lakers are going to do anything but be doormats this season Scott has to pave the way by first standing up to Kobe.

But I seriously doubt Scott has the courage to do that. I thought it was a big mistake to hire him. Looks like I was right.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

49er Fans, Don't Give Up Yet

San Francisco 49er fans, drop those crying towels. And those of you who programmed "Taps" as your ringtone, cut it out. Yes, it looks bleak but it's not over just yet.

You're still reeling from that shocking play in the Rams game Sunday, where butter-fingered QB Colin Kaepernick fumbled the ball at the goal line, turning an apparent victory into a crushing 13-10 defeat. What really lost the game, however, was the horrible play of the offensive line throughout.

It all started two weeks ago, when center Daniel Kilgore broke his leg in the Denver massacre. That meant untested rookie Marcus Martin inherited the position, which is a critical one because the center is the QB of the offense line, the one who calls the blocking schemes. He's also a force on inside run plays and the guardian against pass rushes through his area. In the Rams game, with inexperienced Martin at center, that became a disaster area. The Rams controlled it, constantly steamrolling the befuddled rookie. That had a domino effect on the line, which played miserably. Consequently, so did QB Kaepernick, who had no time to throw and no where to run. Coming into the game, the Rams had a season total of six sacks. At half-time they had five. In the second half they picked up three more. It was the Niner O-line's worst game of the year.

The most idiotic call of the game was sending Kaepernick on that QB sneak, with just seconds left, over center, the weak spot in the line. With the ball just a few yards from the goal line, coaches would normally call on RB Frank Gore. But they ignored him on those plays this time, showing little confidence in the run-blocking. Yet, on the most critical play, they gambled, trying to sneak Kaepernick into the end zone through the line's soft spot--and lost. The coaches' options were limited but putting the game on the shoulders of a struggling rookie center wasn't smart.

Now what?

Sunday's game is crucial. If they lose to the Saints, they're 4-5, and in a deep hole, riding a three-game losing streak. That won't be an easy game. It's in New Orleans, where the Saints, on that fast indoor track, are tough to beat. The odds-makers think so too, establishing the Niners as a 4.5 point underdog. At 4-4, the Saints have been having an up-and-down year. They're certainly beatable. The Niners, though, will have to solve their offensive line problems and get a stellar effort from center Martin..

If you Niner fans want to look on the bright side, focus on the defense. It's still one of the best in the league. Against Denver it collapsed because the linebacking unit was wounded and couldn't cope with those talented Bronco receivers. In the Rams game, the offense may have been wobbly, but the defense was solid, holding St. Louis to 196 yards. But the Saints, who have a much better offense, will be a stiffer challenge.

The remaining Niner schedule is a bit scary. The only game you could chalk up in the win column is the one against the Raiders. Any of the others, including those against the Giants, Redskins, Chargers, Cardinals and two against the Seahawks, could easily be losses. Realistically, the Niners have to be shooting for wild card spots, with the division lead, currently held by Arizona, out of reach. It would help the Niners if some of their competitors stumbled, which is possible.

The Niners are missing three star defenders--Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Narvorro Bowman. They will all trickle back in the next few weeks, making a good defense even better. If this unit is completely healthy, that should take some of the pressure off the offense, which can get by scoring fewer points.

If the Niners lose Sunday they will be in big trouble. But, if they top the Giants the following week, which is quite likely since New York isn't playing well, the Niners will be 5-5. Then a 11-5 or 10-6 season is still possible. With either record, the Niners could sneak into the playoffs.

So Niner fans, don't panic just yet. Wait and see how these next two weeks play out. And remember, when you have a strong defense, there's always  hope.