After last Sunday’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts, in another very winnable game, I find myself ignoring the good points, something I normally do to keep a positive attitude. I felt like Dennis Green after his Arizona Cardinals “let them (Chicago Bears) off the hook.” For the second week in a row, the 49ers squandered a big win on the road against a playoff caliber team. And three of their four losses have been from the “aw shucks, we ALMOST won” variety. Those are the games that separate the winners from the also-rans. All four losses have come from teams over .500, who look like they’re headed for the post-season. So at the very least, the 49ers are winning games they’re supposed to and being competitive in games they’re not. But the time for moral victories has come to an end. Once it becomes OK to lose games, then the team will be complacent with “good” losses.
What went wrong:
The offense struggled mightily against the Colts defense, particularly the defensive line. Aside from the long touchdown run, Frank Gore found very little running space. However, he only received 13 carries. The loss of Joe Staley definitely hurt, but the 49ers need Gore to balance the offense. They will have to find a way get through basically the rest of the season without Staley, so proving they can run without him will be vital. The ultra conservative play calling was a huge factor in the loss. Two weeks ago against the Texans, Alex Smith orchestrated three touchdown drives out of the Spread formation. They were forced to play from behind and scored out of the formation that Smith is notorious for succeeding in. Against the Colts, Smith took snaps under center for the majority of the game, once getting stepped on by center Eric Heitmann. Whether that’s a quarterback error, or center’s is up for debate, but that wouldn’t happen in the Shotgun. Come on Jimmy Raye, we all see it, why can’t you? It’s usually hysterical to me how fans think they know more than the coaches, but in this case, I’ll let it slide. I think team’s have to adjust to the players they have, not force the players into the system. I understand the philosophy the offense has adapted, but a few calls out of the Shotgun won’t compromise the integrity of the run game. It’s aggravating to see three and outs so consistently.
Whether it was rust or nerves, Smith has to work on his accuracy. He was not sharp, completing 19 of 32 passes for a touchdown and interception. The interception was a tipped ball, but thrown poorly as it was off target anyway. In the 4th quarter, Smith avoided a defender and found a wide open Isaac Bruce, but he threw it behind Bruce. A few of Smith’s passes were off mark, but these errors are correctable and coachable.
Thanks to the weak NFC West, the 49ers still have a great chance to win the division. Their 3-0 start in the division will also help with any tie-breakers. If the 49ers can capitalize and go undefeated in the division, a feat that should not be difficult, their playoff hopes will remain strong. Out of the next seven games, the 49ers need to win only four games to stay at or near a .500 record, then finish off the season against the Lions and the Rams. But enough looking ahead, this week is a must-win to break a three game losing streak. The Tennessee Titans may be 1-6, but are coming off a big win thanks to Chris Johnson’s 228 yards and two touchdowns. He is always one carry away from a big gain, his 6.9 YPC average tells us that. However, the Titans defense has struggled immensely since the departure of Albert Haynesworth, and the secondary does not resemble the Pro Bowl secondary it was last year. It will be up to the 49ers defense to stop Johnson, and the offense must exploit the weak secondary of the Titans.
These good losses are starting to take its toll on the team. At the end of the year, no one takes into account how many close games were lost. The only thing that matters is the amount of wins. This has to be the end of the close losses because the mid-point in the season is here, and a 4-4 record will be the first time the 49ers are .500 at midseason since 2002, their last playoff appearance year. This game may be the most important game of the season so far, either they continue their losing streak, or get back on track to winning the division.
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