Monday, November 30, 2009

Alex Smith Carries Niners Past Jaguars

After last weeks second-half fireworks in which the Niners put up 21 points in impressive fashion, by airing their offense out, a lot of fans, and even players, publicly suggested the Niners use more of a spread formation on offense. On Sunday vs. Jacksonville, they did just that and saw very positive results.

The 49ers won an easy one, finally, 20-3 over the Jaguars, and they did it by optimizing their passing attack. Alex Smith had one of his better, complete ballgames as a pro, as he stayed pretty steady throughout the afternoon. In recent weeks, it's almost as if he turns in one good half and one below-average half per game, but on Sunday he put it all together. Smith threw for 232 yards and 2 scores, competing 27 of 41 tosses and avoided getting sacked. Smith took most the snaps out of the shotgun formation and looked at ease. In no way am I comparing Alex Smith to Tom Brady, but he really was Brady-esque on Sunday, as he spread the ball around to all his targets rather than focusing solely on Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. Josh Morgan had 6 catches and Delanie Walker contributed 4, to go along with Davis' 6, Crabtree's 4 and Frank Gore's 7. As a by-product of the aggressive passing attack, the Niners didn't get their running game going really at all on Sunday, but they didn't need to. Frank Gore ran 16 times for 33 yards as the Niners ran for just 52 yards on the day. Still, their offense managed to put forth a solid effort to get the W, and the big stat that stuck out at me was the 0 in the turnover column for Alex Smith and the entire offense. It was the first game of the year in which he did not turn the ball over, which helped out the defense just as much as the offense.

The defense had their way with the Jaguars offense, and although they allowed David Garrard to pass for over 300 yards, they kept Jacksonville out of the endzone and held Maurice Jones-Drew (15 carries, 75 yards) in check. I think the Niners plan was to make Garrard beat them through the air and he just wasn't able to do so. The Niners had no problem getting pressure on him, as they collected a season-high 6 sacks. The 49ers also got some help from the Tennessee Titans on Sunday as well, as the Titans and Vince Young came back in the 4th quarter to beat the Matt Leinart-led Arizona Cardinals. The Niners win and Carinals loss moves the 49ers to within 2 games of the Cards and remember, they still have one more meeting with each other before the season ends. It's not the best of odds, but Sunday's victory definitely pumped some life back into their playoff hopes... Speaking of odds, check out Docs Sports for all sports betting system information, and needs.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

49ers Offense Needs Change

First off, I wanted to wish all our readers here at the Bay Area Sports Journal a happy and safe Thanksgiving and Holiday season. We'll actually get to see a Bay Area team playing on thanksgiving day as the Raiders travel to Dallas to play the Cowboys, but today I wanted to talk some more 49ers.

Ever since Sunday's game in which the Niners offense exploded after switching to a more pass friendly, spread-offense, many are asking for the Niners to make the switch to the spread a permanent part of their game-plan, players included. Both Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree voiced their support for spreading out the offense a bit, and I think the coaching staff has to be seriously considering it. It's been a night and day difference between what Alex Smith has done from under center and what he's done taking snaps out of the shotgun formation, with the ladder being more conducive to his game. I fully support changing around the offense a bit to suit your quarterback, but the Niners cannot forget about their most important offensive player, and that is Frank Gore. The elite back became somewhat of an afterthought in Sunday's game after the Niners got down early to the Packers and abandoned the run. Gore did bust off one big run of 42 yards in the 7 times he did touch the ball though, showing that he needs the ball much more than just 7 times a game. I have no problem whatsoever with the Niners opening their offense and even switching to the spread, in fact, I'm a big supporter of opening up the playbook to see what Alex Smith can do in these last 6 games of his in-season tryout. They just can't abandoned Gore and their rushing attack like they did on Sunday, even if they do get down early.

Defensively, the Niners look like they need to mix things up and Mike Singletary is doing just that. He's planning on placing Dre Bly into the starting lineup in place of 2nd year DB Tarrell Brown and Takeo Spikes should return after missing Sunday's game with a bum hamstring, so the Niners will have a different unit take the field this weekend compared to what they've had the last few games. I don't know that this will change the fortune of the defense much, but they need to do something. The Niners defense was an early season strength, and all the sudden it's become the same exposeable 49er defense that was there throughout the Mike Nolan era. At 4-6, the Niners playoff hopes aren't quite gone, but they'd essentially need to win out, or at the very least go 5-1 over the last 6 games if they're hoping to have a shot. They're schedule actually lines up favorably for them as they're next two games (vs. the Jaguars and Seahawks) are very winnable, then they get a showdown with the first place Cardinals in week 14, so they're down, but not completely out of this yet.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Niners Get Long Week to Prep for Packers

The 49ers weren't necessarily impressive with their victory over the Chicago Bears last Thursday night, but that win really put them on the right track as they head into the latter part of the season.

Not only did they pull off the victory coming off 3 days rest, the win allowed them to rest up as they prepare for Green Bay. Had they lost that game, I think Coach Singletary would probably have had them all in pads the following day practicing for the Packers game. However, with the win, Singletary granted the players the weekend off to do something they rarely get to do, and that's watch their next opponent play live. The Packers are going to pose a tough test for the Niners, as this is a game that could go a long way towards deciding where the Niners finish in their division. They right now sit 2 games back of the first place Cardinals, who they have another visit with in week 14 in San Francisco. The Cardinals opponent this weekend are the lowly St. Louis Rams, so it's likely that the 49ers will need to win Sunday in order to keep pace with the Cards.

In order to win in Green Bay on Sunday though, the Niners are going to have to put up some points. We now the Packers are going to score, no matter how good the Niners defense is, so Alex Smith and Frank Gore are going to need to be on their games, and most importantly, the offensive line is going to have to play well. Playing in Green Bay in late November is no easy task as temperatures will likely be down around freezing, although the forecast right now looks well. No matter the temperature, the most important player in this game for the Niners' is going to be Alex Smith. Outside of that second half in Houston in which he threw for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns, Smith hasn't done anything to spectacular since taking back reigns of the starting QB job, including last weeks struggles in which he threw for just 118 yards and an interception against a very mediocre Bears defense. Smith is going to have to keep the int's at a minimum, like no more than one, and he's going to have to throw for a couple of touchdowns in order for the Niners' to keep pace with Aaron Rodgers and the high powered Packer offense. The Pack will be focusing on Gore and will likely force Smith to beat them threw the air and he's going to have to respond. I just think the Pack in Green Bay are a little too much for the Niners' to handle at this point, Packers win, 27-17.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Andrew Bailey Wins AL Rookie of the Year

The A's, who've had as many ROY winners as anyone over the last 15 years, have produced yet another bright youngster who won the honor on Monday, edging out Texas' Elvis Andrus and Detroits' Rick Porcello for the award.

This has to be especially rewarding for Bailey, because unlike the other top candidates, he wasn't hyped up coming into the year and barely made the squad as a middle reliever. The injury to closer Joey Devine opened the door for the 25 year-old, and he eventually pitched his way into closing role. It wasn't until June when the rookie became the A's full-time closer and once he got the job, he really started to thrive. Bailey finished the year with 26 saves in 30 chances, to go with a 1.84 era and a 0.88 WHIP. He also struck out 91 batters in 83.1 innings pitched while allowing just 5 big flies on the year (1 for every 17 innings thrown). Bailey really emerged in '09 as one the leagues premier relief arms and will give the A's a pair of legit, flame throwing late relievers, with the returning Joey Devine in 2010. Bailey's emergence may even allow Billy Beane to move Devine for some positional help, but I think the A's will want to keep that bully intact.

Over in the National League, the Marlins' Chris Coghlan, who hit .321 with 84 runs scored and 9 home runs took home the NL ROY award. On Tuesday, Zack Grienke won the AL Cy Young Award in a landslide, as the Kansas City ace went 16-8 with a 2.16 era. (a MLB low for starting pitchers) Stay tuned as the NL Cy Young award winner will be announced on Wednesday and we'll see if Tim Lincecum can reel it in for the second consecutive year. My money's on him! We'll have the complete MLB Award re-caps once all of them have been announced, so there will me more on this to come!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stanford Upsets USC, Cal Beats Arizona

It was a good day for the Bay Area NCAA football teams. For the second time in the last couple of years, the Stanford Cardinal celebrated on the USC Trojans' turf while the Bears took care of Arizona at home in Berkley.

The Cardinal rolled into Los Angeles and handed the Trojans their worse loss in decades, 51-22. The star of the day was once again Toby Gerhart, who rushed for 178 yards and 3 scores, and this game really put him right in the thick of things as far as the Heisman race goes. The Cardinal had control of the game for the most part, although USC made the score 28-21 at the end of the third quarter, making for a tight finish. However, Stanford made it anything but a close game. The Cardinal exploded for 4 TD's in the fourth quarter, while completely shutting the Trojans out. It's almost as if the two teams just swapped. Stanford looked like the powerhouse of the West Coast on Saturday, not the Trojans. They ran at will, and even burned USC through the air. Freshman QB Andrew Luck had himself a successful afternoon as well, throwing for 144 yards and 2 TD's while also rushing for 61 yards and a score. The Cardinal victory has bolted them into top fifteen to number 14 in the latest AP Poll, with USC dropping to 22, and coming dangerously close to becoming un-ranked.

Up the coast, the Cal Bears were playing host to the 18th ranked Arizona Wildcats. Cal was obviously without Jahvid Best, their top rusher and offensive player, but still managed to hold off the Cats, 24-16. Sophomore halfback Shane Vereen did his best Jahvid Best impression, as he rushed 30 times for a buck fifty-eight and a TD. Kevin Riley continues to struggle though, as he once again threw more interceptions (2) than touchdowns (1). The real strength for Cal on Saturday though was their defense. They held a strong Arizona offense to just 16 points and 273 yards total offense. It's been a tough year overall for Cal, but they can finish strong as they get the surging Cardinal next week in Palo Alto, then head north to play Washington to end the regular season on December 5th.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cal's Best Injured, Stanford Keeps Winning

Coming into this NCAA football season, Jahvid Best was widely considered one of the five favorites to bring home the Heisman Trophy in 2009. However, Cal has been somewhat of a disappointment this season, and after righting the ship in recent weeks, things got bad again on Saturday.

Not only did the Bears get upset by Oregon State, they lost their star running back and top offensive player, Jahvid Best, for the foreseeable future. Best was flipped in the air and landed awkwardly on his neck on a 7-yard touchdown run in the 2nd quarter. Best was carried off the field in a stretcher and ambulance, as it was a pretty scary looking injury. You can see in the picture to the right just how much air he did get before falling right on his neck. The good part about the fall is that he didn't land directly on his head, which could have resulted in a serious spinal injury. Instead, it looks like he's going to make out of this with a severe concussion and a slight neck strain. Coach Tedford hasn't put a timetable on Best's return, but he did say he'd be out this Saturday vs. the Pac-10's second best ranked team, Arizona.

Things have been going much better for Stanford, as the Cardinal pulled off another victory on Saturday over Oregon. The Cardinal now find themselves bowl eligible for the first time since 2001 after the win, and it looks like Jim Harbough is starting to build one heckuva program. Coming into the year, the only guy on Stanford who got national attention was their power running back Toby Gerhart. However, they've thrown freshman QB Andrew Luck into the fire, and he's played about as well as Harbough could have asked him to. Luck has 11 TD's with just 3 picks in 9 games and has totalled 2,076 yards. He's also rushed for 227 yards and a score, showing his mobility. The Cardinal defense still has some work to do to make them a more complete team, but right now, this offense can really put up points with the best of them. Next Saturday's showdown in USC could be a chance for the Cardinal to really open eyes around the nation and catapult themselves into the top-10.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Inconsistent Offense Costing 49ers

After starting off the season 3-1, the Niners have hit the wall, and have lost 3 consecutive ballgames, including 2 straight losses after their week 6 bye. And although it's still relatively early in the season, the 49ers really need to win Sunday's game if they're going to get serious about challenging the Cardinals in the NFC West.

The main reason for the Niners downfall in recent weeks has to do with the do with inconsistency on offense, even their defense, which looked so good in the first couple of weeks, hasn't been playing like they can be either. Take away that second half in Houston in which Alex Smith threw for 3 TD passes in relief of Shaun Hill, and the Niners have just 24 points over their last 3 games. Frank Gore, who missed basically 3 full games with a bum ankle, hasn't looked like himself since he returned. He had one big 64 yard touchdown run early in the game last Sunday vs. the Colts, but was held in check after that, to the tune of 27 yards on 12 carries. The week prior, in Houston, Gore rushed for just 31 yards on 13 carries. Not exactly the output your looking for from your lead offensive threat. I don't pin this all on Gore though. The 49ers offensive line has been borderline atrocious in recent weeks, and it's tough to imagine any back having success running behind them lately.

In the midst of the three losses though, there has been some positives though come out of the Niners offense. Even though they haven't gotten on the same page yet with Alex Smith under the helm, there been some signs of potential from this Niners passing game. In Gores' absence from the spotlight, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree have emerged to give the Niners a few viable receiving threats for the first time in years. Fans were worried about Crabtree taking some time to acclimate himself into the Niners game plan and playbook, but he's hit the ground running, and has led the team in receptions over the last 2 weeks. And of course, there's Alex Smith, who's taken back the reigns of the Niners offense, and although he's officially 0-1 as a starter, his 404 yards passing a 4 TD tosses in 6 quarters of play has been very impressive. I think this could be the week Smith really breaks out and solidifies his role as the teams starting QB vs. porous Titans pass defense, but only if the offensive line allows it.