Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Niners and Alex Smith Solid Vs. Vikings

The 49ers hosted the Vikings and the newly un-retired Brett Favre on Sunday at Candlestick Park, and although they only faced the legend for 1 series, they looked pretty solid vs. the rest of the Vike's first string offense.

The Niners did allow just one Favre completion and Minnesota first during Favre's lone drive, but they were in his face multiple times and Patrick Willis sacked him for a 10-yard loss immediately after that one completion. The Niners defense looked very strong vs. the Vikings as a whole in the first half too. They allowed all-world back Adrian Peterson just 17 yards on 6 carries while keeping the Vikings passing attack from reaching 100 yards through the air. They kept back-up QB Tavaris Jackson in check, limiting him to just 47 yards passing, completing 7 of 11 passes. The way the Niners secondary played has to give the coaching staff some confidence. Granted, it's still early in the preseason, and the Vikings obviously weren't operating at full-strength, but the 49ers really shut down one of the better offenses in the league on Sunday. The only big play they gave up all afternoon was a 48-yard QB scramble to the dynamic Joe Webb with about a minute left in the game, otherwise the Niner's would have won 15-3 and would have smoked the NFL Spread for the game. Niner's 3rd round pick from April's draft, Navarro Bowman, made his debut and played very well as he tries to entrench himself into the middle linebacker rotation.

Offensively, Alex Smith was unspectacular, yet very efficient and accurate as he played the whole first half and lead the Niners to 7-3 halftime lead. Smith was 9-13 for 88 yards through the air and led the Niners on an impressive scoring drive on their first possession of the game. He did it without 2 of his favorite targets too, as both Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, as well as the likely #2 wideout Josh Morgan, all were in street clothes for the contest and none of them have suited up for a preseason game yet (I do expect all 3 back for next weeks game though). The Niners also didn't activate Brian Westbrook or Frank Gore for the game, meaning Anthony Dixon once again got the load at running back. He wasn't quite as impressive this time around though, going against one of the more stingy run-defenses in the league, but he still managed a few nice runs, including a nice 4-yard TD scamper on a pitch around the outside corner.

In the 2nd half, Nate Davis got all the action behind center, and looked pretty good himself. Davis connected with Ted Ginn Jr. on a beautiful 60-yard strike in the 3rd quarter, which eventually led to a Niner field goal. Ginn showed Niner's fans an element that the team has been sorely lacking in recent years on that play, and that is a receiver who can get down the field and stretch a defense. Becuase of Ginn's ability to do just that, I think he's going to be a nice surprise to the 49er passing game this year. Hopefully this offensive line gels together and can protect Alex Smith, because he's got some weapons to work with this year. Ginn joins Crabtree and Morgan in the receiving corps, to go along with speedy tight-ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker (both above average pass-catching TE's) and now Brian Westbrook along with Frank Gore as outlet options out of the backfield. Smith should have no shortage of options to go to this year, and he's really been put in a great situation to succeed. I'm really looking forward to next week as the Niners will probably treat the first 3 quarters like a regular season game. Still not sure if Gore will got, but we should get at least a glimpse of Davis, Crabtree and Westbrook.

Raiders Continue Strong Preseason: Across the bay, the Raiders have looked equally as strong, if not better than San Francisco through their first two practice games. Newly acquired Jason Campbell, sadly, is the best thing the Raiders have had at QB since the days of Rich Gannon, in my opinion at least. It's amazing watching him after watching the bone-headed play of guys like Daunte Cullpepper and JaMarcus Russell. Campbell isn't a spectacular NFL QB, but I'd say he's slightly above average, and will look like Joe Montana to Raiders fans compared to what they've been used to over the past 5-6 seasons. The former Redskin threw for 170 yards (he was picked once) and ran for a touchdown in only 1 half of play. He looks comfortable with Zach Miller and Louis Murphy, and should be a help towards Derrius Heyward-Bey's development. On the ground, the Raiders have gotten a few stand-out performances from veteran Michael Bennett in the first 2 games. Bennett has totaled 132 yards on 27 carries, good for nearly 5 yards per carry... Check out our next post for much more Raider talk!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Niners sign Brian Westbrook

Less than 24-hours after the Niners beat the Indianapolis Colts in their first preseason game of the summer, 31-17, they added a much needed piece to their offensive depth chart, signing former Eagle halfback Brian Westbrook to a 1 year deal.

First off, although they won the game, the Niners first stringer's didn't impress too much vs. the Colts on Sunday. Alex Smith went just 3-9 for 37 yards with an interception, and the Niners went scoreless in the first quarter. It wasn't entirely Smith's fault though, there were a few drops on a couple of very catchable balls. The offense was without receiver Michael Crabtree and running back Frank Gore. In Gores absence, and in the aftermath of the sudden retirement from prior back-up Glen Coffee, Anthony Dixon got most of the touches at running back and did an admirable job. Dixon rushed for 103 yards on 21 carries, and did a lot towards securing himself a spot on the running back depth chart. Rookie tight-end Nate Byham, who's been very impressive in training camp, led the team in receiving, hauling in 3 passes for 52 yards. Most of those passes came from the arm of new Niner QB David Carr, who was impressive after Smith in the 2nd and into the 3rd quarter. Carr went 9-11 for 98 yards and a score, though he did get sacked 3 times. He did look good though, showing his uncanny accuracy and solid arm strength when he had time. David Carr is actually one of the more talented QB's the Niners have had in here in recent years, compared to the likes of J.T. O'Sullivan, and Trent Dilfer and is one of the better backups in the NFL.

Speaking of back-ups, the Niners now have one of the most explosive back-ups at running back in all the NFL as well. Brian Westbrook had concussions derail most of his 2009 season, but before that, he was about as efficient as any offensive player in the NFL with the ball in his hands. He was pretty healthy in 2008, and put up 1338 yards from scrimmage (936 rushing yards, 402 receiving yards) and 14 total touchdowns after putting up over 2000 yards from scrimmage in 2007. The best thing about his situation in San Francisco is that he's not going to need to be an every-down back and will only be asked to play 2nd fiddle to Frank Gore. That said, the Niners didn't add Westbrook to keep him on the sidelines. He has the flexibility to be on the field with Gore, as he has the ability to split out wide and play as a receiver. I really like this add, and I don't see how any Niner fan couldn't. Westbrook's not done and I think he's very eager to prove that. His value as a receiver should pay huge dividends for Alex Smith as well, and he could be even move valuable as a receiver to this team than a runner. Regardless what he's doing, he's going to be a weapon for this team, and provides them with an element they haven't had in a long time. With Westbrook and Ted Ginn Jr. now in tow, the Niners offense all the sudden has some speed to go along with Vernon Davis, and I can't wait to see this bunch get going.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

49ers Depth Chart Close To Set

We're only a few weeks into training camp, and the Niners still have about a week before their first exhibition game of the 2010 season, but surprisingly, for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in 7 years, there roster is already very close to being set.

There is really only one competition going on for a starting spot this summer is for the starting right offensive tackle spot. The two most likely candidates who will be duking it out for that honor are first round pick from April's draft, Anthony Davis, and the incumbent, Adam Snyder. You'd think that Davis would have the edge, being that he's a highly paid, top-1o pick that has no shortage of expectations, but the kid is still only 20 years of age, and may not be quite ready to step into a starting NFL position during his first few months as a pro. Then again, he's a rare talent with exceptional strength, size and quickness, and the Niners drafted him with the thought that he'd see significant playing time this year and drastically help improve their offensive line. Snyder will probably start the first couple of exhibition games, but I fully expect Davis to be starting at right tackle for the Niners by week 4 or 5 of the regular season. The Niners other first round offensive lineman, Mike Iupati, just signed his contract 48 hours ago, so the Niners coaches haven't gotten too good a look at him quite yet.

The other prominent battles taking place in Niners camp will be the battle for the kick/punt return duties, backup middle linebacker and backup left tackle. As far as the kick returning duties go, the 49ers are hoping newly acquired Ted Ginn Jr. will grab the bull by the horns and claim that job, but just in case he doesn't, rookies Kyle Williams and LaRoy Vann will be giving him some competition. Kyle Williams is considered to be one of the quickest guys on the 49ers roster and could ultimately give Ginn a very good battle. The Niners also must decide how involved Ginn is going to be in their offense as well. If he ends up taking that #2 receiver slot, the Niners may not want him returning punts, but it's still far too early to tell anything right now. The battle for the backup middle linebacker spot behind Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes is also up for grabs, and just lost it's #1 contender for the year in '09 5th rounder, Scott McKillop. The second-year man out of Pitt. was really impressing coaches and fellow players, but went down earlier in the week with an injury that will require surgery and keep him out up to 9 months. With Mckillop down, that puts the job in rookie Navarro Bowman's hands. Bowman was taken in the 3rd round in April's draft, but was ranked as one of the top inside linebackers in the 2010 draft class and I think he's going to surprise.

Also, we here at The Bay Area Sports Journal encourage all Giants fans to check out the charity event being put on by Matt Cain and his wife, Chelsea, on August 14th. It's looks like there will be some great food and plenty to drink and you can enjoy it all for just $30. Join Matt Cain and many more Giants players, as well as yours truly, for the event... for more information and tickets, go here: http://baseballwivesallstarcookoff.eventbrite.com/!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Post-Trade Deadline Analysis

The MLB trade deadline has passed, and although it was a relatively quiet July 31st, there were plenty of moves that took place leaving a few big names playing in new cities.

Arguably the biggest deal prior to the deadline was the Roy Oswalt to Philly deal, in which the Phillies, for a second year in a row, land a front line starting pitcher prior to the trade-deadline.

Biggest Winners @ the Deadline:

Texas Rangers
: The Rangers made a few big moves, and really did a partial mid-season makeover on their roster. In June, they added Bengie Molina to help solidify their troubles behind the plate, then followed that move up with an active July, by adding Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe from Seattle, Jorge Cantu from the Marlins and Christian Guzman from Washington. Lee gives the Rangers a true ace at the top of their rotation, finally, and takes some pressure off Rich Harden and CJ Wilson while Cantu helps make up for the loss of Justin Smoak (traded to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal) at first. Guzman brings some versatility and veteran presence to the bench and provides a fill-in for the injured Ian Kinsler.

New York Yankees:
They added two potential starting bats, and a potential closer/set-up man and didn't have to give up squat. Say what you want about Lance Berkman, but I think he's going to go to NY and thrive. I also believe Kerry Wood will level out in NY after really struggling in Cleveland. I also like the depth Austin Kearns provides them in the outfield. They needed another right-handed hitter out there and Kearns can be streaky good.

LA Angels: Even though they just made one move, it was a big one, and a move in which they won flat out. They got Dan Haren, a staff ace and a perennial Cy Young candidate and all they had to do was part with a middle-of-the-rotation, lefty who had one above average year which I believe was a fluke.

Biggest LOSER-

Arizona Diamondbacks: I don't know why the D-Backs felt it necessary to just give away a load of their "core" players without getting nearly as much value in return. Before July 31st, they lost closer Chad Qualls, ace Dan Haren, starter Edwin Jackson and catcher Chris Snyder. The only guys that got back who will help them in the immediate future are Joe Saunders and Ryan Church, neither of whom are very good, and they didn't even get any top prospects in any of the deals either.

Outside of the D-Backs, I don't think there were really any other teams that I'd consider losers. I almost have to put the Dodgers on there because they made a flurry of deals, but at the end of the day, I don't think they were really much better off than they were before they made the trades for Scott Podsednik and Ted Lilly. Locally, some Giants' fans considered them losers after Brian Sabean failed to add anymore offense to the team, but he did go out and add some much needed depth to the bullpen, even if he did overpay in order to get it (I still think Joe Martinez and Jon Bowker is too much to give Pittsburgh for a left-handed specialist). Although they didn't add any bats before non-waiver deadline, teams can still make trades with one another as players go through waivers. The biggest name expected to be dealt by Saturday's deadline but wasn't was the first big name actually placed on waivers on Tuesday, as the Nats did so with 1B/OF Adam Dunn. Since Dunn is an NL player, the Giants may actually have a legit shot at getting in a waiver claim on him, that's if the Dodgers or Rockies don't try and block them from doing so. Read more on the Adam Dunn waiver situation here at The Giants Baseball Blog.