What’s Next For The 49ers?
by Ken Hurst, February 1, 2012
Since the NFC Championship football game a couple of weekends ago when the New York Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers, I have read several sports articles in which the 49er loss was pinned on Giant’s quarterback Eli Manning being superior to 49er quarterback Alex Smith. That is an incorrect reason for the 49er loss. Even if Smith is not as good a quarterback as Manning, the real reason for the loss is that the 49er wide out receivers are so much worse than the Giant receivers.
Kyle Williams and Michael Crabtree of the 49ers were horrid in the win over the New Orleans Saints in the first playoff win. The 49ers won despite their bad play when those receivers were the focal point of the play. Kyle Williams fumbled a surprise end around play behind the line of scrimmage because he was looking for a place to run rather than catching the lateral from Smith and then finding a gap to run through, while Michael Crabtree dropped the first three balls when the football was passed to him for easy receptions. Clearly, the moment was too big for them to be competent. Yet, both of them blocked well in the game.
In the NFC Championship game Michael Crabtree had one reception on a third down and five yards to go for a first down. Crabtree went three yards and turned for the reception and was tackled two yards short of the first down marker. Crabtree was given a big cushion by his defender so he could have gone the full five yards before he turned for the reception to make the first down.
Kyle Williams, of course, muffed a punt in which the football bounced into his knee. Rather than trying to recover the muffed punt, he pretended not to realize the football touched his knee. And, later in overtime, Williams was stripped of a punt reception deep into Giant’s territory. The Giants kicked an easy 31 yard field goal to win the game 20-17.
The 49ers were better than the Giants in every aspect of a football team except wide receiver and quarterback. If Smith were throwing to Giant wide-outs Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, and Manning was throwing to Williams and Crabtree, the team with Nicks and Hernandez would have won.
The 49ers’ spirit, camaraderie and effort was beautiful this season. Defensive end Justin Smith, at 34, had an engine that never stopped. Ray McDonald at the other defensive end got stronger as the season went on. At nose guard, Isaac Sopoaga made us forget about the release of Aubrayo Franklin.
At linebacker, Patrick Willis and second year linebacker Navarro Bowman helped to form the fastest and toughest linebacking crew in the NFL.
Strong Safety Whitner teamed with Free Safety Dashon Goldson to form a tough. sure tackling duo. Carlos Rogers was a good cornerback during the regular season. But they could use more depth at cornerback.
The Offensive line was beautiful all season. Frank Gore started slow but picked up steam in the last half of the season. Gore is a quiet, strong leader on the team. And, over the years, Alex Smith has gotten some “gravel in his gizzard” and is a leader too.
Smith’s quarterback rating when throwing to Vernon Davis is a huge l51%. Vernon’s talent is undeniable but his personality is too erratic to be a true leader.
The 49er coaching staff led by Jim Harbaugh was excellent.
I could nitpick about their play selection in overtime when they got the ball on the 49ers’ end of the gridiron. I thought they would work their way down the field and use a pass at an unexpected time. But, they threw long bombs to Vernon Davis and the Giants were all over him.
Still, this season’s surge deep into the playoffs was a success for this team. They now need to get a fast, sure-handed receiver in the draft or via a trade and add depth at key positions.
And, remember Ted Guinn is always going to be injured. They should use first-year running back Michael Hunter (a real talent) as the punt returner.
I am looking forward to the NFL draft of college players this April. Remember that next year’s USC Trojans will be the #1 college team in the football rankings at the end of next season’s bowl games.