Monday, December 28, 2009

Gore and Smith Lead 49ers over Lions

Frank Gore had become somewhat of a forgotten man in the Niners recent pass-happy offensive attack when the Niners made the switch to Alex Smith. However, in his last 3 games, Gore has gotten back into the mix and shown why he needs to be touching the football 25 times per week.

Gore didn't have his most prolific rushing game on Sunday, he collected just 71 yards on 28 carries and a score, but he did enough on the ground, when needed, to keep the Niner's offense on the field. He also contributed big time in the passing game, an area in which I think he can be more of a help to this team. Gore caught 4 passes for 81 yards, including a beautiful 48 yard catch-and-run that set-up his short TD run. Gore has really come alive in the last 3 games, and coincidentally, the Niners have gone 2-1 in those 3 contests. Alex Smith also played well in Sunday's win, throwing for 230 yards and a touchdown, while completing 20 of 31 pass attempts, good for a QB rating of 97.8, his second highest rating of the season. Even though the Niners are out of the playoff race this season, there's still is a lot to be determined about this team over these last two games, one of them being Alex Smith's future. I said it a few weeks back and I'll say it again. Smith should be named the teams starting QB for 2010, and the announcement should be made immediately after the year. The only way this offense in particular is going to flourish is if they gain some sort of stability, and I think naming Smith the starter going forward would do just that. They have their running back and they have finally gotten a few recieving threats into the offense (Vernon Davis and Micheal Crabtree) for the first time since Terrell Owens.

Defensively, the Niners played very well, as their defense seems to have a few guys who are really emerging as play-makers. I talked about Dashon Goldson here after the Arizona game 2 weeks back in which he was in the center of 3 turnovers caused by the Niners D, and he shined again on Sunday, making a key interception while the Lions offense was gaining some momentum for the first time. Another guy who got some attention with the Arizona game and came up big yesterday is Ahmad Brooks. The pass-rushing linebacker sacked Drew Stanton once and caused another couple of fumbles. I think Brooks and Goldson have emerged this year as defensive mainstays going forward, and I think they've been a big reason why the Niners defense has really tightened up. Manny Lawson is another guy who was all over the field on Sunday, leading the team with 7 tackles, including a few key tackles for losses. This Niner defense is very close to being a dominant unit. If they can add one more solid talent to each area of their defense, it will be close to complete. Even just one more cover-DB, and another pass rusher on the line could make them a top-10 defense. The Niners aren't that far off, they just need a few tinkers to this roster and they'll be a 10 win team.

Basketball Talk: With the football season winding up here, we'll still be following what goes on with the Niners and Raiders during the off-season, and talk some NFL Playoffs, but we'll soon be talking a lot more basketball, both NBA and Collegiate, including 2nd half NBA Odds and Picks, and much more MLB off-season coverage this January! If your looking for San Francisco Giants offseason discussion, or Golden State Warriors talk now, check out The Giants Baseball Blog
and The Warriors Rundown!

Monday, December 21, 2009

A's Nearing Deal with Coco Crisp

After a disappointing football day for the Bay Area Sunday, I wanted to shift gears a little bit and avoid football talk for the day, and with the A's making some news over the weekend, I figured now would be a good time to check in on what the Green and Gold are up to.

After getting involved in the Roy Halladay deal last week, and adding some power in Jake Fox earlier in December, the A's are ready to strike again. Billy Beane and co. are are supposedly very close to inking Coco Crisp to a $1 year, 5.5 million deal to come in and play center field in Oakland. Crisp is coming off an injury-plagued 2009 season with Kansas City, in which he only played in 49 games and hit .228 in 180 at-bats. Crisp hasn't quite been the same player he was since leaving Cleveland, but looked to be finding himself again after a solid 2008 season before getting hurt last year. Beane is hoping that the A's will be getting the '08 version of Crisp, who hit .283 with 7 hr, 41 RBI and 20 steals in 318 ab's and provided the Red Sox with Gold Glove caliber defense in center. If you project those numbers out over 500 at-bats, you'd be looking at about 12 homers, 70 RBI and 35 stolen bases. Not saying that Crisp will put up those exact numbers, but if he's healthy, he'll be right around .280 with 10 homers, 60-70 RBI, 70 runs and 25 stolen bases and of course, he'll be better than anything the A's have defensively in their outfield.

As I said at the top of the post, the A's were involved in the big trade last week that sent Roy Halladay from Toronto to Philadelphia and Cliff Lee from Philly to Seattle. The A's dealt away third base prospect Brett Wallace in the deal, and ended up with Phillies top outfield prospect Michael Taylor. The A's felt that Wallace was destined for first base eventually, and they are already stocked with options there, so they jumped on the opportunity to reel in a 5-tool outfielder. The 24 year-old Taylor, a Stanford Alum, hit .320 with 20 homers and 84 RBI and 21 steals between AA and AAA ball last season after putting up nearly identical numbers but an even higher batting average (.346) in 2008. I really think that he and Jake Fox could provide a boost to the A's offense in 2010, as their lineup is extremely low on power. The top two home run hitters on the A's from last year, who are actually returning to the team are Scott Hairston (17) Kurt Suzuki (15) and Mark Ellis (10). Needless to say, the A's needed some pop, and both Fox and Turner should provide it. I'm expecting the A's to go with Rajai Davis in left, Turner in center and a platoon of Ryan Sweeney and Hairston in right. Across the infield, the A's will likely trot out Jake Fox at third, Cliff Pennington at short, Ellis at second, Daric Barton at first and Suzuki behind the plate.

Warriors' Ellis An All-Star? I know I'm completely switching up the subject, but the Monta Ellis has been on an absolute tear of late, and he could represent the Warriors in the NBA all-star game next month if he keeps it up. Ellis is averaging 26.2 ppg, 4.8 boards and 5.2 apg, and is scoring over 32 points a night over his last 4 games. I haven't been as close to this Warrior team as I will in coming months, as the football season has gotten most of our focus here at the BASJ, but I wanted to make sure Ellis' standout play doesn't go by un-noticed here. For more Warriors talk, and discussion on NBA handicappers, check out our partner site, The Warriors Rundown.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Eagles Pose Good Test for Smith

This Sunday's game in Philadelphia will go lengths in telling us what Alex Smith is capable of doing as the starting quarterback of this 49er team. The conditions in Philly will be less than ideal, and the Eagles defense is always one of the tougher ones in the league.

Oh yeah, the 49ers are also fighting for what slim hopes they have at still sneaking into the playoffs. All these things add up to make for a tough match-up for Alex Smith, and I think this is the game that could ultimately decide his fate as the Niners plan for next year. The final two games on the 49ers schedule are relative cakewalks, as they finish up with St. Louis and Detroit, so I don't think the Niner coaches and management will be taking those games into account too much as it regards to Alex Smith and the offense. That leaves this game in Philly as sort of the final, real tough test for Alex Smith in 2009. So far, I think he's done enough to warrant being named the 2010 starter right now, and he can put the icing on the cake if he can go out and play respectably vs. Philly and carry the offense vs. an above-average defense. I'm not saying he necessarily has to win this game, as the Niners aren't up to par with the Eagles quite yet, but I do think the 49ers should play them tough, and at least give themselves a shot entering the 4th quarter.

If the Niners are going to pull off the upset, their going to have to do what they did against Arizona and hassle the heck out of Donavan McNabb. The Eagles are a rare offense in which they have almost become one-dimensional, but they are still extremely productive. They put up 45 points vs. the Giants last week, who had one of the top defenses in the league last year, and they only rushed for 77 yards in the game. A big reason for their rushing struggles is because they've been without Brian Westbrook (concussion), their best offensive weapon. Still, the 49ers secondary is a little thin right now, and the Eagles have about 5 receivers who Donavan McNabb feels comfortable with, and all of the Eagles wideouts can run. So if McNabb has time, he's going to pick the Niners secondary apart. Keep an eye on Ahmad Brooks, who's coming off his best day as a pro (3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles vs. Arizona last week) as he's been one of the teams most consistent pass rushers over the last few games. Even with the Niners riding the confidence of that big win over Arizona last week, I still think the Eagles, in Philadelphia, are going to be a little too much to handle, but it will be a good one. Eagles win 27-23.

Shark Talk: I know we call ourselves a Bay Area sports blog, and are supposed to be covering all major sports happenings in the Bay Area, we don't quite get to the Sharks to often as there just seems to be so many other things going on. And as much as I enjoy playing, and respect hockey, I don't think it quite has the following here in the Bay Area that it does in other regions of the country. We still will try out best to get into some Shark talk though and go over some of the more interesting NHL lines as they come. Right now the Sharks are atop the Pacific with a 20-8 record and a Western Conference leading 115 goals!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Niners Defense Wrecks Havoc on Warner

Not many people predicted the Niners to win vs. the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football. They were coming off a heartbreaking, playoff killing loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and really missed out on any chance they had to sneak into the playoffs.

However, they showed up at Candlestick Park ready to play on Monday night, and the whole defense was the star of the show. The Niners defensive unit forced 7 turnovers and was in the face of Kurt Warner all night long. Ahmad Brooks, who recently was promoted into the Niners nickel defense as a pass-rushing outside linebacker, showed why the Niners promoted him by collecting 3 sacks of Kurt Warner and making him fumble the ball twice. Brooks has really started coming into his own since the Niners moved him into the mix on pass-rushing downs last week vs. Seattle. Brooks has 5 sacks on the year, good for second on the team behind Manny Lawson, and he really didn't start playing consistently before last week. Another guy on defense who really showed up on Monday night and played possibly his best game in the NFL, forcing two fumlbes and picking off a pass was safety Dashon Goldson. The first-year starter out of Washington was all over the field last night and he's showing exactly why Coach Singleterry and the defensive coaches are all so high on him. He's quietly put together one of the better seasons of any starting safety in the league, and should probably get some consideration for a trip to the Pro Bowl. The hard-hitting safety has 84 tackles on the year with 2 sacks, 3 picks, 2 PD's and 3 forced fumbles... Outside of Goldson and Brooks, Patrick Willis (9 tackles, 1 sack) and Mark Roman (1 forced fumble, 2 fum. recovery's) also stood out on defense.

On the offensive side of things, Frank Gore got back in the mix and received 20+ carries for the first time since week 10's win vs. the Bears. All Gored did was respond by rushing for 167 yards and a score, and breaking off a few big runs in the process. Alex Smith also looked pretty good, outside of a few ill-advised throws. He ended the night with just 144 yards through the air, with a 2 TD's and 2 Int's. It wasn't Smith's best game of the year, but he did move the chains when they had to be moved, and did throw a few exceptional passes, one which resulted in a 35-yard TD strike to Michael Crabtree. Speaking of Crabtree, his catch and run after on that play really showed Niners fans and the whole nation watching at home why he was so highly touted entering last Aprils draft. He finished the game with 5 catches and 67 yards, and has been amazingly consistent and productive after missing the first 6 weeks of the season. Tight-End Vernon Davis also added to his NFL TD reception lead by reeling in his 11th touchdown pass of the season. All in all, I think it was the most complete game, from special teams to offense, defense and coaching, that the 49ers have put together all season long, but unfortunately it came a week to late. Still though, the Niners have a chance to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2002, and if for some reason the Cardinals don't get right and lose out, while the Niners win out, then they just may sneak on into the playoffs... And check out Docs for Bodog bonus information.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Smith, Gradkowski Playing For Their Futures

Both the 49ers and Raiders are in a somewhat similar position regarding their quarterback situation. The Raiders have bypassed JaMarcus Russel for the time being, and may have found their replacement in Bruce Gradkowski, while the Niners have gone back to Alex Smith to see if he's finally the one to take them forward.

Both quarterbacks have played well in their in-season tryout thus far, but with 4 games remaining on the schedule, there is still plenty to learn about these two. I think the Niners are really pulling for Alex Smith to be the guy, and run away with this job over the final month, and although his stats look solid, he hasn't really won the Niners many games. The 25 year-old has gone 2-4 in his 6 starts, but that's not necessarily a barometer for how well he's done. He's thrown 13 TD's and 7 picks, while averaging 225 ypg and a 61.8 completion percentage in his 7 games this season. Those numbers are pretty good, and in line with some of the better quarterbacks in the game today. However, as I said, Smith is 2-4 as a starter, and although the losses weren't his fault directly, I think the 49ers would have liked to see Smith take over a few of those games and pull them out. One game in particular was last weeks game in Seattle in which the Niners failed to put them away in the second half, and ended up losing a game they should have won. Smith didn't lose them that game, but he should be held in large part accountable for the teams' stagnant second half offense. Smith's numbers are there, but he's got to show ability to control and close out the close games over this final month if he wants to ensure himself this job going forward.

Gradkowski has looked like a young Jeff Garcia for the Raiders in recent weeks. In his 3 starts at QB this year, he's carried the Raiders to a 2-1 record and has put up some impressive numbers against some tough defenses. He threw for 183 yards and 2 scores in the Raiders win over the 9-3 Bengals, then popped off for 307 yards and 3 TD's in last Sunday's game vs. the Steelers. He's showed mobility and efficiency since he's been in there, and really is reminding me of the way Garcia kind of came out of nowhere with the Niners 10 years ago. I just don't know that the Raiders are quite ready to give up on JaMarcus Russell and hand the keys over to Bruce Gradkowski in the long-term. What I'd try to do if I were running the Raiders, is try and ink Gradkowski to something like a 3 year deal after the year, assuming the asking price isn't to high, and let he and Russell battle it out in next summers training camp. If Russel can't win that job, or struggles again to start the '10 season, then they'll have Gradkowski ready to rock. If Russell does win the job, then the Raiders have Gradkowski as insurance for a couple of years just in-case Russell falters again, or goes down with an injury. I don't think many teams around the league would offer him a starting job, so returning to Oakland is likely in Gradkowski's best interest... We here at the Journal, also suggest our readers to check out the sports Interaction review at Doc's.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cal Has Shot to Win Pac-10

While they've had a disappointing football season thus far, the Cal Bears have a shot to make some noise in the Pac 10 basketball season. The Bears haven't won a conference tittle in hoops in 50 years, but are returning a strong core of players that should make the Bears one of the better teams in the conference.

The Bears are beeing led by senior guards Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher as well as senior forward Theo Robertson, and all those guys can score the basketball. The Bears shouldn't really have an issue with their offense, as they have four players averaging double digits in points, but their one area of concern is their size. The Bears' top rebounder is averaging just 7.2 boards per game and the two guys they start at forward are both 6'6". Coach Mike Montgomery is really hoping for 7'3" center Max Zhang to come into his own and provide defense and rebounding inside the paint, but the sophomore has started the '09-'10 season very slowly, averaging just 4.5 points and 3.8 boards in 14.5 minutes per game. The Bears can run, shoot and score, but they're not going to have any serious hopes of overtaking either Washington team. The Bears have gone 6-3 in their 9 non-conference games to start the year, but have quite possibly their toughest test they'll face all year when they travel to Kansas to play the #1 ranked Kansas Jayhawks right before Christmas on December 22nd. Their first conference game will come just after the new year when they host the Stanford Cardinal.

Speaking of the Cardinal, they don't quite have the depth that Cal does, but they have a couple of starts that should keep them in contention and make them one of the more exciting teams to watch in the conference. The one player who could carry them is senior Landry Fields, who's started off the 2009-10 season on fire, averaging 23.3 ppg, 9 rpg and 3 apg through first 9 games. Sophomore shooting guard Jeremy Green is also an up-and coming player who's seen his game rise this year. Green is averaging 15 points and 4 boards per game. Like Cal, the Cardinal are a tad undersized, but unlike Cal, they aren't really a threat to out-score teams each night. I think they're going to be right around .500 this year and should finish in the middle of the Pac-10 standings. Now, I'm not much of a college basketball handicapper, so I wouldn't take my CBB picks to the bank, but I just don't see them with enough firepower to consistently be very good.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A's Staying Quiet in Winter Meetings

The Winter Meetings are set to wind up Thursday, and the A's have been one of the least talked about teams during the last three days. In-fact, people were pushing for A's news so badly that one source even started a rumor that the A's would have interest in bringing Milton Bradley back to Oakland, which is not really in the realm of possibility.

They have been mentioned in a few rumors that might actually have some merit though. Those rumors involved Hideki Matsui and Kevin Kouzmanoff, but they're so far of from making a move of any kind, that Billy Beane isn't even sticking around for the last day of the meetings. Beane was set to fly back from Indianapolis, the site of the Meetings this year, back to Northern California Wednesday evening, so I wouldn't look for anything to happen on the A's front until after the Holidays, most likely. Apparently the A's could look into Hideki Matsui later on down the line if the price becomes right as they have interest in him becoming their new Jack Cust; part-time outfielder, full-time DH. Beane is also said to be looking at long-term solutions to third base, where things have been a mess since Eric Chavez's injury's started in 2007. Chavez is still trying to make a full comeback, but I don't think the A's are counting on it, and they could look to Kouzmanoff as a guy to hold that position for the foreseeable future.

The A's acquisition of Jake Fox and Aaron Miles may be their lone headline deal of the winter though, and I think Fox is in for a breakout year in 2010. I am expecting him to slide in at first base or in right field full time when the season starts, and I think he's going to hit right in the middle of the A's lineup. As far as other possible additions, I do expect them to make a play for Matsui, as he really fits perfectly in the mold of guys that Beane likes to fill the DH role; veteran with power and an excellent on-base percentage. Also, it hasn't been mentioned anywhere yet, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the A's give shortstop Orlando Cabrera a 1 year-deal again if he doesn't find any other suitor. The A's need a short-term fill-in at short to hold them over until Grant Green is ready, and Cabrera is still a solid option who can bring them something in return at the trade deadline.

NCAA Hoops Underway: The NCAA basketball season has begun, and although conference play hasn't started yet, the Cardinal and Bears are already 8 games into their schedule. We'll have our College Basketball picks and Cardinal and Bears Previews soon, so stay tuned for that!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Niners Defeated, Raiders Victorious

The Raiders and 49ers had completely opposite weekends. The Raiders pulled off one of their greatest upsets in recent years beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh, while the Niners failed to keep their dim playoff hopes alive, with a heartbreaking loss in Seattle.

A lot of Niner fans and those close to the organization wanted to see Alex Smith arrive on Sunday and carry the Niners to victory on his shoulders. The playbook and play-calling on Sunday were designed for Smith to be comfortable and to throw, and they completely abandoned the run game and Frank Gore right from the beginning. The think abandoning the run game eventually was what cost the team this game. The lack of a run game and a few un-timely drops by the receivers and Vernon Davis, caused the 49ers to come up just 3 points short of keeping their season alive, but it wasn't because of Alex Smith. The 25 year-old QB had another fine performance, throwing for a career high 310 yards, and again did not throw an interception. Alex Smith played very well and did about all he could do to help the Niners pull that game off, but they didn't play a sound game whatsoever. They botched a trick kick-return play and gave the Seahawks the ball inside their own 20 early on which led to the Seahawks first touchdown. Then late in the game, Frank Gore fumbled during an impressive 49er drive, inside the Seahawks 25 yard-line leading to a 42 yard fumble recovery and an eventual Olindo Mare field goal. Those two mistakes along with numerous dropped passes (including one potential game deciding TD late in 4th quarter by Vernon Davis) caught up with the Niners in the end... More on this game throughout the week.

The Raiders had a much better go of it in there game vs. the Steelers. Like Alex Smith, new Raiders QB Bruce Gradkowski threw for over 300 yards with 3 scores to lead the Raiders pas the 2008 Super Bowl Champs. All three of his TD passes came in the 4th quarter, with the final one coming with 9 seconds on the clock, a game-winning 11 yard-strike to Louis Murphy. Speaking of Murphy, he also had a coming our party of his own, catching 4 balls for a career high 128 yards and 2 scores. In what's been considered an awful year for Raiders receivers, Murphy has been the silver lining, as he's the only Raiders receiver with more over 200 yards receiving (411) and more than 1 TD (4). While the Raiders passing game came alive, and the defense played solidly, their NFL-low rushing attack was once again shut down. The Raiders did manage to crack 100 yards rushing for the day, but averaged just 3.8 YPC, with their starter, Darren McFadden gaining just 25 yards on 9 carries. As disappointing as JaMarcus Russell has been in his 2.5 years in Oakland, people tend to overlook McFadden's struggles, but he's been a colossal disappointment since being drafted fourth overall in 2008. With the Raiders set for another top-5 draft pick in 2010, they could be in line to take another QB or RB which would be a major set-back for the organization.

Basketball/Baseball Talk: We've been really focused on football over the last few weeks here at the Sports Journal, and we'll definitely get into more Warriors talk as well as some NCAA hoops discussion in future posts, so do stay tuned cause basketball talk is coming. Until then, do check out our Warriors Blog for all things going on with the Warriors, or any NBA picks. For Giants Winter Meetings updates, check out our The Giants Baseball Blog.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Niners vs. Seahawks Preview

Just judging by the teams records, and the way they've been playing of late, you'd think the 49ers would be the heavy favorites heading into Sunday's showdown with the Seattle Seahawks. However, pulling off the win will be easier said then done.

The Niners are coming off one of their more impressive victories of the season and are riding some momentum after the way they've performed on offense over their last 6 quarters of play, but they can't roll into Seattle overconfident. Quest Field is notoriously known around the league as one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, and December weather conditions up in great Northwest can get pretty frigid, so the Seahawks definitely have the home field advantage working in their favor, and a loud, frosty atmosphere isn't exactly conducive to a young quarterback like Alex Smith. And althoug the Niners showed they beat teams through the air, I think they're going to need to get back to the ground game and Frank Gore on Sunday. Gore had a career day earlier this year against Seattle at Candlestick Park, in which he rushed for 207 yards and 2 scores on just 16 carries. I think Gore will need to touch the ball 25+ times and the Niners are going to have to control the ball on offense. Not saying that Alex Smith shouldn't get the chance to air it out, they absolutely should be aggressive on offense and throw the ball, just saying that Frank Gore needs to receive more carries than the 23 total he's accumulated over the last 2 games. The return of left-tackle Justin Smiley will be a big boost to the O-line as well.

Defensively, the Niners will be facing a determined unit. Last time these two teams met, Patric Willis knocked Matt Hasselbeck out of the game before the half, which enabled the Niners to cruise to an easy victory, 23-10. Hasselbeck will be playing Sunday, though, and will be at full health, and when he's been on, he's always been tough on the 49ers. The Niners should win this game, and will do so if they can stick to their gameplan and limit their mistakes, as always. The Seahawks have struggled this year, but they still have an offensive led by Hasselbeck, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Nate Burelson, John Carlson and the emerging Justin Forsett (former Cal Berkley Alum). The Niners have also been a little beat up in their secondary, which doesn't bode well for slowing down Hasselbeck. They did allow David Garrard to go for over 300 yards through the air last week and Hasselbeck has more weapons to cover than Garrard. However, unless the Niners break down defensively, and the Seattle crowd and defense can get into the head of Alex Smith, they should win this game. I think the 49ers win in a close one, 23-20. And if you want to bet on it, check out Docs Sports for Betus reviews.