Monday, October 26, 2009

Alex Smith Again Named Starting QB for 49ers

The 49ers looked like a team in need of a change in the first half of Sunday's ballgame in Houston. Shaun Hill looked out of sync and off target for the last couple of ballgames and Coach Singletary made a much needed change going to Alex Smith. His performance in the second half of the game has landed him back atop the teams depth chart at QB.

The Texans took a 21-0 lead into the half, and things were starting to look eerily similar to last weeks blowout loss to Atlanta. Hill completed just 6 of 11 pass attempts for 45 yards in 2 quarters of play, and keep in mind that the Texans pass defense is far from the league's elite. To be fair though, the Niners didn't get much of a run game going and their O-line seemed to be over-matched by the Texans defensive front. Frank Gore totaled just 32 rush yards on 13 carries, as the Niners abandoned the run for most of the second half. Still though, Shaun Hill wasn't making things happen for the Niners offense and it looked like defenses were starting to figure this guy out. So, with the Niners offense playing so poorly, and the Texans seemingly having a stranglehold of the game at half, Singletary didn't see any harm in throwing Alex Smith out into the mix, and Smith almost brought the Niners back in an impressive second-half run.

Smith came in and was immediately effective, connecting with rookie Michael Crabtree for a 17 yard gain, then hitting his favorite target of the afternoon, Vernon Davis, for a 29-yard TD strike and it really was all Niners from there in that second half. Smith ended up having the half of his career, going 15-22 for 206 yards and 3 TD's with 1 Int. Even with Smith's impressive second half play, they still didn't quite do enough to overcome the 21 point half-time deficit, but they thoroughly outplayed the Texans in the second half, to the tune of 21-3. Smith got great help out of tight-end Vernon Davis, who hauled in 7 catches for 93 yards, and was the recipient on all 3 of Smith's TD passes. Davis is quietly becoming one of the top tight-ends in football, and if I were to start a team today and had my choice of any tight-end in the league to add to that team, I think I'd have to take Davis. He's young, big and fast and seems to be getting better each week. Let me know if anyone knows of a tight-end as explosive and fast as Davis, cause I can't think of any. Besides Davis, rookie Michael Crabtree was also heavily featured in his NFL debut, reeling in 5 grabs for 56 yards and looked very comfortable running routes.

The Niners receiving corps as a whole looked very impressive with Smith throwing them the football, so it really wasn't a tough decision for Singletary to make, handing Smith the reigns. After sitting and watching for the last year and a half, Smith very well could be ready to make his impact in this league, and I can't wait to see his first start since 2007 next week in Indy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

MLB Playoffs Heating Up

Neither Bay Area baseball team is representing in postseason play right now, but to me, the baseball playoffs are about as exciting as it gets as far as pro sports postseasons are concerned. Needless to say, I've been paying pretty close attention to whats been going on in both league's Championship Series'.

The highlight of the postseason thus far in my eyes had to be watching the Phillies pound the Dodgers in an elimination game Wednesday. It kind of took me by surprise seeing the Phills dominate the Dodgers like that. In 2 of the last 3 games of the series, the Phills showed why they're going to their second world series in as many years, beating the Dodgers 11-0 in game 3, then 10-4 in game 5. Not exactly back-to-the-wall, fighting for your playoff life urgency from the Dodgers, and again, as a life-long Giants' faithful, extremely pleasing to watch. The Phillies used that dynamic, powerful lineup to just out-slug the Dodgers as LA's lineup as a whole didn't put together the best series. Rafael Furcal, Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Casey Blake and Russel Martin all sported batting averages of .263 or lower, not exactly what your looking for out of the core of your lineup. I knew the Dodgers didn't quite have the offensive firepower to outscore the Phillies, and were going to need their pitching to be better than Phily's in order to even things out and give themselves an edge. However, Philly pitching was a little better than LA's in the series. Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez both really paid off for Philadelphia in the series as Cole Hamels got hit pretty hard. If the Phills can keep Pedro and Lee pitching the way they did vs. LA and can get Hamels to throw like he did in the fall classic last year, they're going to be in pretty good shape heading into the World Series.

It's looking like the Phills opponent for the final round will be the New York Yankees. It's been a few years since the Yanks were in a world series, so you know they're going to come out focused tonight in LA so they can get this series over with. The Yanks are leading the set 3 games to 1, but the ALCS games have been much better games than the NLCS games were. In two of the four games so far, the Yanks and Angels have gone extra innings and in game one of the series, the Angels made some defensive mistakes that put them down in the game vs. CC Sabathia early. Sabathia has been the best starter in either league this postseason, so giving him 2-3 runs per is most likely enough to win the Yankees each game he starts. He's 3-0 with a 1.19 era and a .200 BAA along with a 20:3 K/BB ratio in 22 innings. It's also not helping the Angels' cause that they have just one batter (Howie Kendrick) hitting over .263 in the series. Bob Abreu, Chone Figgins, Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales are all hitting at a .125 clip or lower this round, and those guys are all pretty important pieces in the Angels lineup. They're going to have to rebound from Tuesdays' blow-out loss. This series isn't quite over, even though the Yanks have all the momentum, so the Angels can still make this thing a series if they can squeeze out a W tonight and head get this series back to New York. I'll be watching closely to see what goes down, and I'm sure the Phillies will be as well. I can't wait to see handicapper reviews on a potential Phillies/Yankees World Series too, as that should be one helluva match-up!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Raiders Upset Eagles In Oakland

After watching the Raiders over the last 4 weeks prior to Sunday's game vs. the Eagles, I was beginning to wonder if and how they were going to pull off another victory this year. They've been flat-out terrible in all facets of the game through the first quarter of the season, and it had seemed like things were getting worse.

However, they answered the bell on Sunday, as their defense really stepped up and had the Eagles offense pretty confused throughout the afternoon. The Silver and Black defied all NFL odds on Sunday and they did it by playing a tight game with limited mistakes. They had little trouble at all getting pressure on Donovan McNabb, as they sacked him 6 times in the ballgame. They also held the Eagles talented duo of backs (LeSean McCoy and Brian Westbrook) to just 67 yards on the ground as well, which boded well for slowing down Philly's offense. It was the first time in the last three seasons that the Raiders held an opponent out of the endzone. Newly-acquired defensive end Richard Seymour, and Trevor Scott each got to McNabb for a couple sacks each, but the real solid play on the Raiders defense came in the secondary. The Raiders were without all-NFL cornerback, Nnamdi Asomugha for nearly the whole contest as he suffered an eye injury early on. Asomugha is by far the most feared defender on that Raiders D, so to see the defensive secondary as a whole step up in his absence and keep one of the leagues' most impressive passing attacks out of the endzone was the most impressive thing I've seen that bunch do in a couple years.

Offensively, the Raiders didn't really do anything too impressive, but they did just enough to support that solid defensive outing. Before the game, Donovan McNabb met with Russell for a few minutes to talk about the youngsters struggles early on in his career. Whatever McNabb said must have gotten to Russell somehow, because the kid looked much different than he has in recent weeks. In fact, JaMarcus Russell had his best game of the season with a 68.8 QB rating , which tells you how bad his season has been thus far. His completion percentage was the area of most improvement for Russell on Sunday though. He completed 17-28 passes for 224 yards and a 60.7 completion percentage. His season average coming into the game was 39.7 percent. He did throw two picks, but he didn't lose any fumbles, which was a nice change up after he coughed the ball up 3 times last week vs. the Giants. All-in-all, Russell showed much improvement on Sunday. I think his early 86-yard TD pass to Zach Miller in the first quarter really eased some of the pressure off of the former #1 pick. It was the first time since week 1 in which Russell found the end zone through the air, so he had to have been breathing a sigh of relief after that. As far as the running game, Justin Fargas led the charge in Darren McFadden's absence, rushing for 87 yards on 23 carries. Michael Bush also added 22 yards on 6 carries.

No Trades
: The NFL Trade deadline came and went on Tuesday, and as is the case for most NFL trade deadlines, not a lot happened this year. The Raiders and Niners didn't make any moves, although there could have been some guys out there that could have helped the Niners. I would have liked to see them pursue some more help for their defensive front, and preferably somebody who could have rushed the passer. Javon Kearse was a guy who was widely thought to have been available in Tennessee and could have provided the Niners another pass rush threat off the edge to go along with Justin Smith and Ray McDonald.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cal Hopes to Get Well Vs. UCLA

The Bears are coming off a couple of their worst losses in recent years over the last two weeks. They got pounded by an un-ranked Oregon squad while they were ranked 6th on September 26th, 42-3, followed by a 30-3 loss to USC on October 3rd.

This 2009 season has an eerily similar feel to it as the Bears' 2007 run, in which they started off the year 5-0, looked like national championship material, then completely melted down in the second half of the year, losing 6 of their final 7 ballgames. The Bears have had to sit on these last two losses for two weeks, and no matter what they say, you know that season is playing over in those players minds, as well as Jeff Tedford's. After what's seemed like a month of inactivity, they'll finally get their redemption shot vs. the struggling Bruins. The one thing they absolutely have to do in order to get back on track, is get Jahvid Best going early, and often. Best was a pre-season Heisman hopeful coming into the season, and after 3 games he had 412 rush yards along with 8 touchdowns. However, he's hit a wall, literally, over the last couple weeks as he's averaged just 3.4 YPC and has totaled just 102 yards on the ground over their last two games. He's still not totally out of the Heisman race yet (a 5 TD week can buy you a couple of off games), as there is still a ton of football remaining, but in order to make his way back onto the list of consideration he's going to have to turn it back around now.

In the midst of the struggling rushing attack, Kevin Riley has had a pretty rough couple of games as well. A big part of the reason for Best's struggles over the last 2 games is because of Riley's in-efficiency. Teams simply do not think Riley can beat them through the air, and after seeing Oregon and USC's formula for beating them, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Bruins pack 8-9 guys in the box and beg Riley to throw the ball 35+ times. They need to get some short, intermediate routs going and definitely some screens. Best has only caught four balls over the last 2 games, and he should be getting at least 3-4 designed screen plays to him each game, just to get him the ball in the open field a bit. I'm no college football odds master or game picker, but I say the Bears end up getting back on track in this one, and cover the 3.5 spread by a large margin, Bears win 27-16.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Niners Get Embarrassed By Falcons

I knew that Sunday's match-up with the Falcons would be a tough assignment for the 49ers, but after seeing there performances over the last few weeks, I don't think anyone could have seen the thorough beating that the Falcons handed them coming.

The game had a bad vibe to it from the start, as Shaun Hill was picked off on their first offensive possession of the ballgame, which gave the Falcons the ball deep in Niner territory which ultimately led to a Micheal Turner TD run. The Niners got down 14-o early in the first before they started to get on track a bit, and they came right back to make the score 14-10, but it was a downhill slide after that point. Matt Ryan had a field day, throwing for over 300 yards while him and Roddy White toyed with the Niners seconday all afternoon. Since Mike Singletary took over, I haven't seen a Niner team less prepared than they were Sunday, as they were making a variety of dumb mistakes throughout the game. One play that comes to mind that really puts the game in a nutshell for the Niners sake was the interception by Dre' Bly, in which he started taunting a little bit after he thought he head a clear path to the endzone, only to be caught by Roddy White from behind, who also forced the ball out of Bly's hands and back into the Falcons possession. The game was 35-10 at that point, and I'm not going to say that cost the Niners the game, but it definitely cost them a chance to get back in the game. Had Bly actually returned that pick for a TD and didn't slow down to taunt the Falcons on the way towards the endzone, it would have been a 35-17 game with plenty of time remaining. Again, still doesn't mean they would have won the game, but it would have made things a little more interesting.

Other than the dumb mistakes, the 49ers really didn't get anything going offensively. Shaun Hill looked really bad, maybe as bad as I've seen him since he's been in a Niner uniform. He completed just 15 of 39 pass attempts for 198 yards and a pick, good for a 45.7 passer rating. He repeatedly missed receivers, though some of them looked like missed routes, and he just didn't look very comfortable at all at any point in the game. It didn't help that the Niners weren't able to get much of a running game going either. Glen Coffee rushed for under 50 yards, although he did rush for a score. The Niners are desperately missing Frank Gore, who should be back after the bye week. San Francisco will also have their first round pick from 2009's draft available for the first time all year. Michael Crabtree should make his professional debut in week 7 vs. Texans, and the 49ers definitely need him. It was frustrating to watch the Niners' receivers struggle to separate vs. the Falcons DB's, and although I'm not expecting any miracles from the rookie wideout right away, I am expecting him to come in and do some positive things for this offense. Whether it's taking some of the defensive focus off of Vernon Davis and Issac Bruce by just being out on the field, or if it's actually getting involved in the playbook and making some plays, the Niners need this kid on the field and ready to play, cause he's going to help out just by being there.

Extra Points: The 49ers actually activated Crabtree to their 53-man roster, cutting kick returner Allen Rossum to make room. The 22 year-old will have 2 full weeks to get familiar with the Niners playbook and get on the same page as Shaun Hill before their October 25th match-up with Houston... Starting strong-safety, Michael Lewis, could be gone for the year after suffering a concussion in Sunday's game, his third concussion in the last 2 months. Second year DB Reggie Smith is behind Lewis on the depth-chart at FS, but Mark Roman could see the most time there in Lewis' absence. The Niners could also look outside the organization for help at the position during the bye week as well, so we'll keep an eye on that situation... For a proven sports betting system, as well as sports betting champ review, check out our friends at Docs.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Weekend Previews

Both Bay Area football squads have tough assignments this weekend. The Niners will play host to the Atlanta Falcons, a playoff team from 2008 and a solid all-around bunch, while the Raiders travel across the county to New York to take on the Giants, the class of the NFC.

49ers vs. Falcons

The Niners will once again be without their horse and their number one offensive threat, Frank Gore, when they take on Atlanta this weekend. Glen Coffee will get the start and he needs to be much better than he was against St. Louis last week when he averaged just 3.4 ypc. The Niners will need him up over the 4.0 mark if they're going to have hope of keeping the pass rush off of Shaun Hill and getting any kind of running attack established... That said, I really like the way Hill is throwing the ball right now (4 td's/1 int, 97.8 QBRat last 2 weeks) and I think Sunday would be a good time to open up the playbook a little. Again, Vernon Davis needs to be a focal point of the passing attack, as he's showed what he's capable of over the last couple of games as well (3 td's, 70 ypg.)... The real test though, will lie with the defensive unit, as they'll face an offense very similar to the Vikings, which gave the Niners their only loss of the season to this point. I think they'll do a decent job up front with Michael Turner, but I'm a little worried about Matt Ryan picking them apart if he's given too much time in the pocket. The Falcons have the weapons at reciever and tight-end to give the Niners some problems if Ryan gets time, so the major key on defense will be getting to Matt Ryan. If the Niners hold Turner to a sub-80 yard day and force Ryan to turn the ball over a few times, they should take control of the game, but they're going to need another strong defensive effort this week. The Niners are at home and coming off a very impressive defensive shutout last week, and I think they'll ride the momentum to another W this Sunday in a tight one, 23-21.

Raiders vs. Giants

The Raiders are entering a much less promising situation in the Meadowlands, where they will need a virtual miracle to pull off the upset in the battle of two teams on opposite ends of the NFL Power Rankings list. JaMarcus Russell's confidence is likely at an all-time low coming, as he's averaged just 126 yards and a 39% completion rating through the first quarter of the season. If the Raiders hope to get any kind of offensive cohesion going in this one, they'll need Russell to make some plays early on in the game to get his confidence going. The Raiders are scaring nobody with their passing attack right now, so expect the Giants to focus on the run and keep 7-8 guys up in the box at all times. The Silver and Black will also be without starting running back Darren McFadden, who's also dissapointed mightily this season, so it will be on Michael Bush and Justin Fargas' shoulders to get the running game going. There's still a slight chance that Eli Manning misses Sunday's game, though not likely, but even in that case, the Raiders would still have an extremely tough time with the Giants in New York, Giants win 31-13.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Niners Finally Sign Crabtree

It took nearly 6 full months to get the deal done, but on Wednesday the Niners finally got their man and signed first round pick Michael Crabtree to a 6 year-deal with 17 million dollars in guaranteed money.

The move kind of came out of nowhere. I mean, it was just two days ago that news surfaced about Crabtree ready to re-negotiate with the Niners, and less than 48 hours later, he's signed. It's not like the 49ers desperately needed him right now either, they're sitting at 3-1 and have very good momentum going on both sides of the ball, but bringing Crabtree into the mix gives them a new dimension for their offense. It may take a couple of weeks until Crabtree gets familiar with the playbook, as I'm sure he's already gotten into it, so I'm not expecting anything to earth shattering on Sunday, if he even suits up for the game. It's actually pretty good timing for him to sign, because the Niners have their bye week after Sundays game in Atlanta, and will give Crabtree a full 2 weeks to get in sync with Shaun Hill and the Niners offensive game plan. When he does get in sync, I would expect to see Crabtree lining up opposite of Issac Bruce and playing a major role with this offense immediately. Niners receivers have been very mediocre so far through the first 4 games, so he'll bring a much needed spark for that group.

Even more good news, is that Crabtree practiced with the Niners on Wednesday. I didn't see or hear exactly how or what he did in his first official practice since signing, but all the players seem upbeat about having him on board and they're really expecting a lot out of the 22 year-old. Coach Singletary stated on Wednesday that he "hopes" Crabtree will be ready to start making an impact after the bye, so he may not suit up this weekend vs. the Falcons. I personally think the Niners should throw him right out there into the mix on Sunday. At worst, he'd gain the defenses' interest and give them something else to think about, even if he's not totally familiar with the playbook, but the Niners will likely be a little more conservative that that. Whether it's Sunday, or after the bye week though, I can't wait to see #15 get in action and I think he's going to end up being worth the wait.

Raiders Notes: Darren McFadden will be out for 2-4 weeks after hurting his knee in Sunday's loss to the Texans. McFadden was credited for -3 yards on 6 carries on Sunday and had just 1 catch for 5 yards in what was his worst outing as a pro. In his absence, look for Michael Bush to separate himself from the rest of the pack and gain most the carries. Bush has actually been a little more impressive than McFadden when given the opportunity... Check back Saturday for this weekend's Bay Area NFL Picks.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Niners Dominate, Raiders Dominated

The 49ers couldn't have looked much better than they did on Sunday vs. the St. Louis Rams. In fact, I believe this Niner defense is the strongest unit they've had since the new millennium.

Even without their most important offensive player and the guy they game plan for, Frank Gore, the 49ers still managed to put a 35-0 whopping on the Rams, and it was because of that defense that keeps getting better by the week. The Niners defense/special teams actually outscored their offense on Sunday, as rookie linebacker Scott Mckillop took fumbled punt return to the house in the second quarter, followed by a Patrick Willis interception return and capped by a Ray McDonald sack and fumble recovery for a TD late at the start of the fourth quarter. If you had the 49ers defense playing for your fantasy team on Sunday (as I did with both of my squads) you likely are walking out of this weekend a winner. Besides their 3 touchdowns, they also collected 5 sacks on Kyle Boller and had him under pretty consistent pressure throughout the afternoon. The Niners were also able to limit Steven Jackson to just 79 yards on 23 carries. It was the 49ers first shutout since January 2002, a span of 116 games without holding a team scoreless and it now makes them the second ranked defense (points wise) in all the NFL after 4 weeks.

The Offense didn't need to do too much, but when they were on the field, they impressed as well. Shaun Hill had another typical Shaun Hill game, going 14-24 for 152 yards and 2 scores. One of those scores was a 13 yard connection to Vernon Davis for his third touchdown in 2 weeks. Davis ended the day with 3 catches for 43 yards which led all Niners' receivers, but again, they didn't need to really throw the ball much in the second half, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that they didn't total a bunch of yards on offense. The one area on offense which didn't impress too much was the running game, featuring rookie Glen Coffee. With Gore out for next weeks contest vs. the Falcons, the 49ers are going to need more out of Coffee than the 3.1 yards per carry he averaged on Sunday. Part of the low average was because of the 'Niners offensive line failing to open up a bunch of room for him, and that's another area that I'm sure Coach Singletary will want to work on this week in practice. The O-line also let the Rams get to Hill for 4 sacks, so the pass protection wasn't the best either. All in all though, it's really hard to complain about San Francisco at all after watching Sunday's game. They certainly are on the right track and Mike Singletary was very much the right man for this job.

Raiders recap
: In Houston, the Raiders were once again dominated by the Texans to the tune of 29-6, as they dropped 1-3 on the season. Oakland totaled just 165 yards of total offense, and turned the ball over a few times and they only mustered two field goals the entire afternoon vs. the Texans. I was actually surprised the Raiders weren't shut out with the way they played. JaMarcus Russel went just 12-33 through the air, and although there were an abundance of drops in by Raiders' receivers, the problem for them really starts with Russel's struggles. With him unable to get any kind of consistency to his targets, it allows opposing defenses to load the box and shut down the run and Houston did just that on Sunday, holding the Raiders to just 45 yards total rushing. Until the Raiders can get their quarterback, whether it be Russel or someone else, to have a completion percentage of at least 50, then it's going to be tough to get any kind of offense going... Also, check out our friends over at Docs Sports for all sports needs including Sportsbook Bonus Codes!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Vintage Favre Beats 49ers

The 49ers looked as if they were going to pull off their 3rd consecutive victory to start the season Sunday, as they were getting another solid performance from their defense, and a strong game from Shaun Hill. Then Brett Favre showed what he's still capable of doing, marching the Vikings down the field 80 yards for the game winning TD in the games final minute.

Down 24-20 and needing a TD to win, Favre connected with Greg Lewis on a 32 yard pass with 2 seconds remaining and beat the 49ers 27-20. Again, I can't stress how solid the 49ers played on Sunday, it was quite possibly their best defensive effort of the season. They held Adrian Peterson to just 85 yards on 19 carries, and didn't yield an offensive point to the Vikings in the second half until the Lewis TD at the end of 4th quarter. It was just that final 80 seconds in which Favre marched the Vikes down the field in which the Niner defense let down their guard a bit, and Favre made them pay in a way that only Brett Favre could do it. The only other QB who I think may have been able to pull off that win would be Tom Brady, and that's about it. I can't get too down on how the game ended up, because there just wasn't much more that the Niners could have done.

I said coming into the contest, that it was going to have to be on Shaun Hill, little did I know that Frank Gore would sprain his ankle on the first play of the game and really put the pressure on the Niners QB. I also mentioned in the preview post Saturday, that it would be wise for the Niners to get Vernon Davis more involved in the play-calling, and all he did was catch 7 balls for 96 yards and two TD's, including one in the fourth quarter that gave the Niners the 24-20 lead. Both Hill and Davis did their part, and the offense as a whole really picked up in Gore's absence. They didn't have much of a running game going with Glen Coffee, but again, the Vikings sport one of the leagues nastiest run defenses, so I don't think the lack of a running game threw a wrench into Singletary's game plan. That said, the inability to run the ball at the end of the game ultimately allowed Brett Favre with just under a minute-and-a-half to do what he does so well, but they can only learn and get better from this. I mean, you hate to loss a game, any game no matter who it's against, but if you have to lose one, I think that's the way you'd pick to do so. I don't see this game taking anything away from the 49ers team confidence and outlook on the season, and I think it will just make them hungrier and teach them to put the dagger in teams when they have the chance.

Gore Update: There hasn't been much new to report on Frank Gores twisted ankle, but he was set to have an MRI on Monday afternoon. It didn't look to bad on Sunday, and Gore was standing there on the sidelines after it happened, but ankles are never something to be taken lightly, especially with power running backs like Gore. We'll try and post more on this when we get new info, but right now, I'd plan for Glen Coffee to be the featured back on Sunday vs. Rams in week four... Also, Check out Docs Sports for Bookmaker Bonus Codes!