Category: Football

What Happened to Parity in the NFL?

Over the last decade or so, the National Football League has been striving to create a balanced league in which the old saw “on any given Sunday” could literally be taken as truth. A league where several playoff spots would be up for grabs into the 14th, 15th and 16th weeks of the season. A league with fewer haves and have-nots and more sharing of talent and potential.

Well, this year, that plan has turned to, you should pardon the expression, poop.

At this writing, we have completed 10 of the 16 weeks in the season, just past the halfway point. We still have 37.5% of the season ahead of us.

But in six of the eight divisions, one team is essentially running away with the title with records well above average, with seven to 10 wins under their belts. In all cases, they have at least a two-game lead. That’s not yet a title, but it’s certainly imbalance.

Equally revealing, almost half (15 of 32) of the teams have rung up fewer than five wins with six games remaining. Most of those teams are looking at losing seasons and only a handful have any shot at a playoff spot. (Notable exceptions are the AFC South and East where the division leaders are playing .500 ball and their closest competitors are one or two games off that tepid pace.)

Unfortunately, my San Francisco 49ers are not only dead last in the NFC West at 3-7, they have the worst PA (Points Against) rating in the entire league, being outscored by their rivals, 252-139. That’s a 113-point deficit. The only other team to come close is my once-favorite team, the Detroit Lions, with an 89-point deficit.

It’s ugly out there, folks, and it ain’t gettin’ any prettier.

Bleacher Report Gets it Right: Tomsula is a Lousy Head Coach

From the moment the San Francisco 49ers announced Jim Tomsula as their new head coach, I’ve questioned his ability and his suitability for the job. Other commentators have generally counseled a wait-and-see attitude. But now that the Niners find themselves mired at 3-7 and hopelessly out of the post-season chase, the widely followed Bleacher Report has finally publicly acknowledged what I’ve been saying all along: “The biggest takeaway from the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 11 loss? Jim Tomsula is a bad head coach.”

When this season ends — if not before — Trent Baalke needs to can Tomsula. then he needs to resign. The Head Shed on this team sucks. Too bad we can’t force the owner to sell because this fish rots from the head down driven by monumental egos with zero justification for their positive self-images.

 

Niners’ Win Over Falcons Meaningless, But Telling

49ers-FalconsThe San Francisco 49ers won a football game Sunday. They beat the 6-2 Atlanta Falcons. Can’t you feel the excitement in my voice? Ah. Didn’t think so.

The win, which has the Niners at 3-6 with a bye week coming up, is fairly meaningless because:

  1. The Falcons didn’t appear to send the A Team onto the field. Instead, they played flat and complacent, taking the win for granted. That’s always a mistake. The Falcons lost this one far more clearly than the Niners won.
  2. The Niners were without several key players, including three of the four starting corners, so it’s hard to take any lesson from the game with any certainty.
  3. A one-point victory at home is never a good sign. Conventional wisdom gives the home team a three-point advantage before we start tallying comparative strengths and weaknesses. (But the Niners were huge underdogs, so there is that….)
  4. Backup QB Blaine Gabbert, pushed into the starting role, was almost bound to have a decent game in his first start in 3+ seasons. In that setup, he’s almost a rookie and the Falcons’ defense couldn’t quite figure him out. Next game won’t have that same advantage.

Still, a win is a win. A year from now, few will remember the weakness of the opponent or the good fortune (along with some good coaching; more on that in a moment) that led to the victory. It’s in the W column and that’s what counts long-term.

The defense played particularly well Sunday against a top-10-ranked Atlanta offense. Particularly noteworthy was the fact that they held Devonta Freeman, the league’s second-leading rusher, to 12 rushing yards on 12 carries. This may say more about Eric Mangini, the twice-head-coach-turned-defensive-coordinator, than about the on-field talent. Still, that’s impressive.

Gabbert was average, which is to say much better than Colin Kaepernick has been the last two outings in particular. He definitely earned the coaching staff’s confidence, which they demonstrated by announcing him as the starter Week 11 after the bye this week.

All in all, a squeaker win from which we could take a very few lessons but not garner much long-term hope. I’ll take it.

Tony Dungy on Kaep: It’s Not a Talent Problem

I’ve always respected Tony Dungy as a football coach. In a piece today on USA Today, Dungy braced the Niners’ front office’s decision to bench QB Colin Kaepernick. Here’s his comment, with which I heartily agree:

“I think the guy is good, and someone that has been to championship games and has looked so good and did some things so well early on his career, I just don’t see how it falls off that quickly,” Dungy said. “I don’t think it’s talent, I don’t think it’s ability. I think he can be a starter again, and I think he’ll get with someone that gets it back out of him.”

Translation: It’s the coaching, stupid. Or it’s the stupid coaching. Take your pick.

Let the 49ers Blood-Letting Begin. In All the Wrong Places!

In the past few hours, the Niners have announced the trade of veteran franchise-making tight end Vernon Davis and the benching of Colin Kaepernick in favor of his ludicrously unqualified backup, Blaine Gabbert. As the team attempts to deal with the dismal 2-6 record accumulated so far this season, it seems intent on making every possible wrong move and not making moves that could actually improve things.

“Head” Coach Jim Tomsula is the main problem. He should be axed forthwith.

The offensive line sucks and is a major reason for Kaep’s weak performance so far. Shoring up the line and maybe replacing either or both the offensive coordinator (Geep Chryst) and the O-Line coach (Chris Foerster). Maybe elevate a couple of guys off the second rank and give them a shot? It’s obviously too late for these moves to have a measurable impact this season but the symbolism of those moves would perhaps make some difference to the players.

Davis, a 10-year starter with the Niners and a staple at the all-important TE post in a West Coast offense, has appeared in six games this season, collecting 18 catches for 194 yards. That’s a decent per-game average that the team will have difficulty making up.

But that won’t be as visible as it might otherwise be because Gabbert, who’s the new signal-caller, hasn’t started a game since 2011. After a promising start at Jacksonville in 2011, he faded fast before being picked up by the Niners. He has virtually no legs and is interception-prone. But he’s the guy the Niners think can salvage some of their season?

More screwups by GM Trent Baalke who probably didn’t even discuss these moves with his yes-man “head” coach.

It’s one thing for a once-storied franchise to have an off year and to need rebuilding, It’s quite another for it to deliberately tear down the wrong parts and rebuild them with lower quality.

Laughingstock may be too good a name for these guys.

Niners Rot from the Head Down

Forbes Magazine is not one of my go-to sources for sports news and analysis. But the current post by Vincent Frank on the current state of the 49ers so clearly nailed the thoughts that have been rattling around in my brain for the past eight weeks or longer that I just had to share it.

In chronicling what he calls “one of the most historic declines in the recent history of professional sports,” Frank highlights the chain of events that led to this demise with a clear if jaundiced eye.

49er Owner and CEO Jed York

49er Owner and CEO Jed York

Correctly, I think, he lays the blame clearly at the feet of spoiled rich-kid owner Jed York, whose ego is as monumental as his claim to any real ability is pure fantasy. York inherited the Niners. He doesn’t know jack about football. It’s not clear what he might know jack about. Business is clearly not very high on that possibly empty list.

So you have York twiddling knobs on the team’s dashboard. GM Trent Baalke (whom Frank calls “one of the most overrated general managers in the NFL”) should be playing the role of defender of the team from dangerous meddling by ownership. Instead, he throws his fate in with York and arranges for the departure of one of the best coaches in NFL recent history, Jim Harbaugh.

Meanwhile, Baalke, not wanting a new coach who might ruffle York’s pinfeathers, reaches down into the ranks of his own organization and elevates Jim Tomsula to the top coaching slot. Frank generously describes Tomsula as, “a well-liked former position coach that [sic] seems to be in over his head.”

49ers GM Trent Baalke

49ers GM Trent Baalke

Just to keep things interesting, some terrible drafting under Baalke’s leadership added more weight to the sinking Niners’ ship. Did you know that not a single player from the 2012 draft is even on today’s roster? Or that, as Frank says, “While six players from San Francisco’s 2013 class remain with the team, only Eric Reid and Quinton Dial are paying dividends right now.”

Ineptitude at every level.

And Frank lands where I do on the inevitable outcome. York’s ego and Baalke’s fawning mean that they’re not likely to fire Tomsula (which they clearly should do, like now). So who’s going to get the axe? QB Colin Kaepernick, who has admittedly had his share of difficulties. But come on, people, he’s been sacked 28 times so far this season! Do you wonder that he’s skittish, making bad decisions about releasing the ball when he’s constantly being pressured through a sieve of an O-Line that seems unable to stop anyone?

Clearly, this is a franchise barreling full-speed ahead over the waterfall. Time to jettison the useless baggage, beginning with Baalke. Go into a rebuilding phase with the idea that in 2-4 years the team can be respectable again.

Because today, as Frank says, “San Francisco is now a true laughingstock around the National Football League.”

The franchise that had every legitimate expectation of playing in Super Bowl 50 in January on their great new home turf is now going to be hoping for a tailing finish that gives them the first draft pick next spring.

How sad.

Kaep is Struggling alright, but it’s not his alone

Everyone seems to be calling for Colin Kaepernick’s head these days. The 49ers QB is having a pretty terrible season. Whenever that happens and the team isn’t playing well, he’s usually the first guy people look to chop.

But as much as I’m no big fan of the Kaeped Krusader, I’m not ready to see him cut yet. Besides, does anyone thing Blaine Gabbert would be even a marginally adequate replacement?

Didn’t think so.

The main problem with the 49ers is and will continue to be “head coach” Jim Tomsula. The guy’s just not ready for the job he’s been thrust into. The defense is playing nearly as badly as the offense and Kaep has nothing to do with that.

Case in point on Tomsula is Jared Hyde, the Aussie rugby player who has been essentially exiled because of a couple of dropped punts. OK, three. Still, if you benched everyone on the team who’s made multiple mistakes, the Niners couldn’t field a bowling team.

As long as Tomsula has the reins, the Niners will meander all over the place. If CK is the problem, then let’s find a replacement, get him ready and then do the swap. But to make an abrupt change now would only demoralize the core of the team which sees Kaep as the main point of stability and one of the primary sources of hope for a team that has been cut adrift by stupid owners.

 

Gase, Fangio in Complicated Dance for Niners Top Job

Back when Jim Harbaugh was fired as the head coach of the Niners, I offered my top three choices for his replacement. Heading the list was current DC Vic Fangio. In second place was Denver OC Adam Gase. Now it appears the Niners want to offer Gase the job but if they do, they may lose Fangio. On top of that, Denver is rumored to be interested in keeping Gase in their newly created head coaching job.

Read details over on my all-sports blog today.