Chiefs Get Their Man – Alex Smith Traded From 49ers to Kansas City

Matt Cassel is due to get released any day now.

Matt Cassel is due to get released any day now.

Remember in 2010 when the Kansas City Chiefs were 10-6 and won the AFC West?? That was the first year Matt Cassel was the starting quarterback and the future looked bright with WR Dwayne Bowe his main target for years to come. Then Offensive Co-Ordinator Charlie Weiss left and the offense completely fell apart as Cassel regressed. Two losing seasons followed and both Head Coaches Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel got the ax.

The Chiefs finished 2012 with a 2-14 record and scored an NFL low 211 points on the season. In 5 of their last 7 games they scored less than 10 points which was pathetic. Sure they had some injuries but every team suffers from injury. Yet with the NFL’s 20th ranked defense, had they scored or just been middle of the road proficient they could have been a playoff team. What held them back?? Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn’s combined 8TDs to 20 interception season was the main reason this team was held back.

To KC after being supplanted in SF, Smith will have the landscape to himself.

To KC after being supplanted in SF, Smith will have the landscape to himself.

Enter new Head Coach Andy Reid and newest Kansas City Chief Alex Smith. The San Francisco 49ers have agreed to trade Smith to the Chiefs once the league year starts. With this move Kansas City changes the landscape of the AFC West immediately.

The staple of the Andy Reid era in Philadelphia was his quarterback development. We’re not just talking Donovan McNabb, think back to the 2002 NFL season. In that year he coached AJ Feeley and Ty Detmer to a 5-1 record while McNabb recovered from a fractured ankle. That year they made the NFC Championship Game. In 2006 he coached an aging Jeff Garcia to a 5-1 record when McNabb was lost for the season and they made the playoffs winning a wild card game.

All this before we talk about the resurrection of Michael Vick’s career and the possible Hall of Fame career of McNabb, Reid develops quarterbacks and don’t forget his role in the ascension of Brett Favre’s career. Every quarterback that has associated with Reid has performed above expectations. He is the replacement to develop quarterbacks the Chiefs have sought since Charlie Weiss’ departure. He may be the best to develop quarterbacks in the last 25 years. Look at what he did last year with a rookie in Nick Foles??

Now Smith won’t look over his shoulder like he had to last year in San Francico. His replacement last year was thought by many, including The Chancellor of Football, to be an unfair decision. At the time he was outplaying Colin Kaepernick and finished with better stats than the man who replaced him. For 2012, A. Smith completed 70% of his passes for 1,737 yards 13 TSDs with 5 interceptions vs 62.4% for 1,814 yards 10 TDs and 3 interceptions. An uneducated fan will say “Yes, but they made the Super Bowl with Kaepernick” which is true but a total misnomer. They were already on their way there. In 2011 totally under Smith’s control they were 13-3 and lost in overtime in the NFC Championship Game. In that game he didn’t throw any interceptions. The same couldn’t be said for the 11-4-1 49ers that played in Super Bowl XLVII as Kaepernick did throw a 2nd quarter interception that held up comeback efforts.

Andy Reid needed a fresh start and the Chiefs and Alex Smith will give him the tools to be successful.

Andy Reid needed a fresh start and the Chiefs and Alex Smith will give him the tools to be successful.

Smith had come of age and was enjoying a decent 2012 and all hadn’t been healed from the 49ers letting him dangle in free agency while courting Peyton Manning. The only true reason he was replaced Russell Wilson’s success out of the pistol in Seattle. So the 49ers rolled over a plan last year that wasn’t going to take place until 2013.

Nevertheless Smith is free and will inherit a 1,500 yard rusher in Jamaal Charles. Kansas City has the #1 draft pick this year as well. He’ll have Dexter McCluster out of the backfield also. This could be the rebirth of WR Dwayne Bowe who was coming off back to back 1,000 yard seasons before last year’s 59 rec. 801 yard 3 touchdown performance. What will this team do with the first pick and what will the Chiefs attract in free agency with Alex Smith now in tow??

If Denver thinks the AFC West is going to be another cake-walk they had better think again. The Chiefs have a Head Coach in Andy Reid who has made the Super Bowl once and five NFC Championships total. He’s coming in with his quarterback in Alex Smith who helped the 49ers to last year’s Super Bowl and the NFC Championship Game in 2011. Don’t forget his signature win with The Catch III, the NFC Divisional Playoff win over Drew Brees and the Saints 36-32. https://taylorblitztimes.com/2012/01/21/nfc-championship-preview-alex-smith-coming-of-age/

The landscape has changed in the AFC West, with a few moves they could go from worst to first in a single year. Once the league year starts in March who will be attracted to Kansas City now that they have a coach, a quarterback, and a direction??

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Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

NFL Week 13: Playoffs and Changing Quarterbacks

Colin Kaepernick basking in the afterglow of Monday night’s win over Chicago.

The San Francisco 49ers are playing russian roulette with their current quarterback situation. Alex Smith has earned his starting role and with his recent injury, allowed 2nd QB Colin Kaepernick some much needed playing time. First he takes down Chicago on Monday night 32-7, and now he plays well in his first start when Smith has been healthy, winning 31-21 in New Orleans. Yet how great a chance does this team fare changing quarterbacks so late in the year?? The history of the NFL is littered with losing lottery tickets by teams rolling the dice with the quarterback position heading into the playoffs. Why should the 49ers be any different?? The Chancellor expects disaster… how did those other teams fare??

Once upon a time there was a team called the New York Jets. It was 1986 and the team started 10-1 and were the best team in the AFC. However there was a disturbing 45-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins on a Monday night, which sapped their confidence and sent them into a tail-spin. After losing their last five, Head Coach Joe Walton figured to make a coaching change at quarterback as they headed into the ’86 playoffs. They replaced Ken O’Brien with Pat Ryan…how did they fare?? Well they beat the Kansas City Chiefs in a wildcard game 35-15 but fell in double overtime to the Cleveland Browns 23-20.

In that game, the Jets quarterback was knocked out and Ken O’Brien had to come back in. Neither played well on the road and were sacked an NFL playoff record NINE times in that game. Are you sure you don’t want continuity going into the playoffs Jim Harbaugh?? Well the Jets fell on the road…had they played at home they would have been in better shape, right??

Then you had the defending champion Chicago Bears in 1986. Jim McMahon was slammed to the turf by Green Bay Packer Charles Martin and lost for the season. Now the Bears had Steve Fuller and Mike Tomczak who were there for the 1985 season and it was Fuller who brought Mike Ditka his first playoff win in 1984 over the Washington Redskins 23-19. As the 1986 season was dwindling down, Iron Mike decided to sign Doug Flutie, who hadn’t played NFL football yet. With a 14-2 team and a record setting defense (187 points allowed) the team had won close games yet Ditka decided to go with the “hot hand” and go into the playoffs with a quarterback with 2 prior NFL starts.

  • Nevermind the team was on a 7 game winning streak.
  • Nevermind Flutie was 4th on the team in completion percentage (50.1%)
  • Nevermind the Bears defense hadn’t given up 2TDs in a game in 10 weeks.
  • Nevermind the fact you had the #1 rushing offense in the league and Walter Payton still a 1,000 yard rusher (1,336)

The Bears were at home and had to face an inferior team in the 1986 Washington Redskins with first time playoff starter Jay Schroeder. One significant difference though is Jay was the starter for the entire season and had his first win in the wildcard over Los Angeles…19-7. In the divisional round Jay Schroeder in his 18th start in 1986 was pitted against Doug Flutie in his 3rd. So what happened?? Dexter Manley and 6ft 5 inch Charles Mann batted down 4 of his passes and chased him all over Soldier Field. Flutie went for 11 of 31 for 134 yards, 1TD but 2 big interceptions on his side of the 50. Just enough for the Redskins to pull off the upset 27-13 and end the Bears chance to go back to back. Thirty five percent was all Flutie could complete at home without crowd noise??

Keep in mind Redskin defensive co-ordinator Richie Petitbon had come up with a confusing set of alignments Flutie wasn’t prepared for. In a playoff game on the fly, an inexperienced quarterback can be unnerved in the NFL playoffs and there are hundreds of lessons where it’s been done. We, at Taylor Blitz Times showcased one in Fritz Shurmur’s Zone Blitz Eagle Defense that unnerved Randall Cunningham and confounded quarterbacks in the 1989 playoffs. Coach Harbaugh, are you sure you want to have Kaepernick in game 6 or 7 face a confusing Giants or Falcons defense?? It takes much more than a few games to get up to NFL game speed…then another to get to NFL playoff speed. What can a quarterback thrown off his game do in a playoff even if he has a strong defense to bail him out?? The defense should keep them in a close game… will he have enough time to bail his team out in a one and done scenario like the NFL playoffs??

Enter Doug Flutie again…

The year was 1999 and the Buffalo Bills fielded the #1 defense in all of pro football. Going into the last game of the season, Bills brass had been in Head Coach Wade Phillips ear about playing Rob Johnson. He had been an expensive free agent in the offseason, whom Flutie beat out during the year, yet brass wanted to see what they had in Johnson. So the finale would have the Bills at home against the Indianapolis Colts who were also resting their starters for the post season. Johnson had a good game as the Bills won 31-6, prompting the pressure to play Johnson in the upcoming playoffs.  For the second time in NFL history, a team replaced it’s starter going into the playoffs without injury forcing the decision. So what happened??

The 1999 AFC Wildcard tilt had the Bill travel to face the Tennessee Titans and super rookie Jevon Kearse. In a defensive struggle the momentum of the game turned when a punt put Buffalo near their own 10 yard line. Wouldn’t you know Jevon “The Freak” Kearse chased and sacked Rob Johnson for the first score of the game. The ensuing short kick put the Titans in Bills territory where they scored to take control 9-0. Forever leaving Bills fans wondering if Kearse would have caught the elusive Flutie, who by now had been a Bills starter for the better part of two years at this point.

Nevertheless Rob Johnson had a dismal day as he tried to adjust to a blitzing Titan defense and the speed of NFL playoff football. It took until the Bills final do-or-die drive where he completed 5 passes to get Buffalo in range to kick a field goal for a subsequent 16-15 lead with :12 to go. Then came the short kick that led to The Music City Miracle, Kevin Dyson’s return of a lateral from Frank Wycheck. Although the Bills #1 defense led by Bruce Smith’s 2.5 sacks in his last game as a Buffalo Bill had held the Titans in check, it was offset by the 6 sacks Tennessee engineered. Furthermore, Johnson was anemic in the game going 10 for 22 and 131 yards in the game. Yes that includes the five completions on the final drive.

Leading to the inevitable question: Had Flutie been able to elude Kearse and that first safety would the Bills have gained the upper hand with their playoff experience?? Tennessee was in it’s first playoff game. Then the other question was: Had the safety not taken place and Buffalo was up 16-13 instead of 16-15, would the Bills have kicked the ball deep instead of overcoaching with a short kick??

Nevertheless, in the past the defense did what they could to keep the score down. It almost worked for Rob Johnson that day, will it for Colin Kaepernick?? Everyone of Alex Smith’s detractors say he’s the beneficiary of a great defense. Well in a 31-21 win over the Saints which included 2 defensive touchdowns by Ahmad Brooks and Donte Whitner respectively, isn’t that what was provided for Kaepernick?? Wasn’t that the same in Monday night’s game against Chicago??

Do you realize for the season Alex Smith has a better completion percentage than Colin Kaepernick?? For the season including Sunday’s game with the Saints, Smith has connected on 70% of his passes for 13TDs and 5 interceptions versus Kaepernick’s 64% for 3TDs and 1 interception. Even the game Sunday, Colin was only 16 for 25 for 231 yards, 1TD and 1 pick and was bailed out by those two defensive touchdowns.

Sure he brings a missing element to the table with his mobility but you now give up the seasoning of a quarterback who went through last year’s playoffs. Take that back, he excelled in last year’s playoffs. First he came of age by outdueling Drew Brees in the divsional round… Remember his 24 of 42 for 299 yards, 3TDs and no interceptions which included a game winning rocket to Vernon Davis. Then in an NFC Championship overtime loss to the Giants, he never threw the ball up with pedestrian receivers covered tightly by New York. This kept them in the game and without the late game special teams disasters could have played in Super Bowl XLVI.

So now if you decide to go with Kaepernick, you’re replacing playoff experience for?? You tell me… If San Francisco goes with a late season quarterback switch, not to be a nay-sayer, but NFL history tells us this is a playoff disaster waiting to happen. Sure there was the Tom Brady year of 2001 but he started in week 3. Then you have the 1990 – Jeff Hostetler scenario replacing an injured Phil Simms in week 14, yet he’d been with the Giants for 7 years and had some experience.

Coach Harbaugh, it would be in your best interest to approach this in the offseason. No matter what pressure you’re getting from brass to put in the high draft pick. Once upon a time, Alex Smith  was a 1st rounder for you compared to Kaepernick’s 2nd round selection. A possible visit to Super Bowl XLVII could hinge on this decision. Don’t wake up in a 17-13 slugfest in the playoffs against the Giants and need a touchdown with a first time signal caller under center. With a possible Super Bowl win you can get up to 6-7 years extended on your contract. Another playoff loss, no one, not even the brass aiding in this decision will give you a mulligan for a playoff loss with a first time quarterback. Take heed…you can go with the flavor of the month but realize they don’t make history.

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2012 San Francisco 49ers Preview

Alex Smith celebrating with Vernon Davis after “The Catch III”

With all the excitement that Candlestick Park saw last season, it’s hard not to think of the contrast between the ending of their two playoff games. First the frenzied, raucous crowd who witnessed “The Catch III” as the Niners beat New Orleans in the final seconds. Then, the  fans that quietly filed out after Lawrence Tynes overtime field goal sent the Giants on to Super Bowl XLVI. It was a season where the ending was so abrupt, you could feel everyone in the stadium felt the 49ers let a golden opportunity slip away. Then have to watch with abject horror the Giants throttle the Patriots, and San Francisco had an even better defense… Yes, they let a possible sixth Super Bowl trophy vanish like a mirage in the desert. So will they come back baring emotional scars from the NFC Championship meltdown, or will they gain psychological momentum from a triumphant season culminating with the win over the Saints??

Quarterback: Back in 2009, the Packer insider had an article comparing the paths that Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith had taken since they hailed from the NFL ’05 draft. http://packersinsider.com/2009/11/class-of-2005-alex-smith-vs-aaron-rodgers/ Of course it was written because Rodgers, having the better path of the two, was going to face Smith in a regular season game. That was nearly our match up in last year’s NFC Championship. Yet unlike Rodgers, who laid an egg in an upset playoff loss to the Giants, we saw Smith come of age in his first playoff game. Sure Smith still has his detractors, however they were nowhere to be found in the midst of the noisy celebration in the comeback win.

Coach Harbaugh will have his work cut out for him to do better than his 13-3 inaugural season with the club.

Last year Head Coach Jim Harbaugh “Trent Dilfer-ized” the offense. By asking Smith to acquiesce throwing high risk passes downfield, the offense played to it’s strengths. The running game and the defense carried this team through the early part of the season yet he started to mature into his role and started to take shots downfield with TE Vernon Davis. The Chancellor believes Smith has turned a corner. First off he comes into the 2012 season having gone his last 8 games without an interception which includes two playoff games.  You have to go back to the November 24th game with the Ravens when he last threw a pick. If you look at his 7 games going into the NFC Championship, he had gone 111 of 189 for 1,327 yards and 7 TDs. Even in the championship against the Giants he threw 12 completions in 26 attempts for 196 yards and 2 more TDs. He didn’t force the ball downfield into coverage and the 49ers have given him weapons this year. Has the emotional fallout completely healed from Niners brass courting Peyton Manning and letting Smith dangle in free agency?? We’ll have to wait for a rough patch during the season to see if it has… Until then, we have to give the quarterback position a playoff caliber grade.

Frank Gore is a workhorse running back.

Offensive Backfield: Now who can remember all the “I want to be traded” talk from Frank Gore (The [[_]]) as the team came back from the lockout?? Funny how winning cures all that negative talk in the locker room huh?? Not a peep out of Gore as the team stormed to a 9-1 start. Gore bludgeoned his way to 1,211 yards, 8TDs and had an average of 4.3 yards per carry. His 2011 yardage was second highest for his career, and  was his fifth 1,000 yard rushing season in the last six seasons. He is the last of a dying breed…. The big running back that can control the game and the clock.

Kendall Hunter was a good change of pace running back that had a combined 668 yards from scrimmage, 473 of which rushing.  Yet the 49ers drafted speedy LaMichael James out of Oregon. James brings an explosive element to an offense that desperately needs it. We know he’ll play on 3rd downs, passing situations and special teams at least. With his falling to them in the draft, we believe the odd man out will be free agent Brandon Jacobs. His lack of versatility will make him expendable as we reach September. With Hunter and James to take some of the load off, it should keep Gore fresh for the stretch run. Running back is above average or as we say around here, playoff quality.

Receivers: Here is the position that let the team down last year and could be the difference between the 49ers playing in Super Bowl XLVII, or watching it. TE Vernon Davis is one of the emotional leaders of this football team. Last year Davis had 67 receptions for 792 yards and 6 scores. He has been the target most teams try to take away first in the Niners passing game and he still manages to get the football. Davis should return to the Pro Bowl now that he will receive some help on the outside. With the signing of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, and the drafting of A.J. Jenkins in the first round, the Michael Crabtree / Ted Ginn Jr experiment is over. Ginn should be cut this summer. These two can’t get open on a consistent basis and neither has been able to get deep. If Randy Moss can provide that element as he did for the 2007 Patriots, this could swing the offense wide open. Three receiver sets may become more prominent which could even open space for James coming out of the backfield. Moss as a veteran, could be a locker room presence since most of these players grew up watching his exploits. If he can still get deep, this is a playoff quality group yet will have to go through some growing pains to start the season and find everyone their role.

Offensive Line: Last year this line was good enough to rank a respectable 8th rushing the football and 10th in rushing first downs with 101. However protecting the passer they were 25th in allowing 44 sacks and ranked 24th in QB hits allowed with 82. Let’s face it,  on some of those plays Smith held the ball too long, yet at times against top defenses this line couldn’t hold up. When rushing the football in obvious power situations, they converted 44% to the strong side and 67% up the gut. Those need to improve on the strong side for a heavy rushing team. They spent two draft picks in G Joe Looney of Wake Forest and they took C Jason Slowey from Western Oregon with the 199th selection. Looney should be able to contribute immediately. Slowey could push journeyman center Jonathon Goodwin who is entering his 10th season. This line will be asked to protect better or they may be relegated to another “Trent Dilfer-ized” season as an offense. They want a vertical passing game with Moss and Manningham which calls for 5 and 7 step drops. They have to get better.  Until we see them improve in the pre-season we have to give them a below average grade.

Ray McDonald making his presence felt in last year’s NFC Championship Game.

Defensive Line: Aside from Patrick Willis on the defense, has there been a steadier performer than Justin Smith?? He’s a complete motor guy who gets by on hard work who plays the run as well as the pass. He just came off his 3rd straight Pro Bowl berth with his best season. With 65 tackles, 7.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles he paces a defensive line that was stout against the run. Pass rush specialist Aldon Smith teamed with Smith to form a formidable rush and he tallied 14 sacks. As a team they produced 42 sacks which was 7th best in football.  Keep your eye on Ray McDonald #91. This could be his breakout year. He recorded 43 tackles along with 5.5 sacks, all produced from the lines interior. He was all over the place in the NFC Championship game sacking Eli Manning 2.5 times. He should be in Hawai’i in about 7 months. Mark it down.

The three man line even more so than a four man line is there to keep blockers off the linebackers. This unit didn’t allow a rushing touchdown for the first ten games of the season. Every team in NFL history that was able to do that made it to the conference championship game. Smith (Justin) is going into his 12th season and they may want to sub for him a little more to keep him fresh by seasons end. He did record sacks in each playoff game last year but there is a lot of mileage on his spedometer. Defensive line is Super Bowl quality by the Bay.

Linebackers: Did we say something about the defensive line keeping blockers off of the linebackers?? How about to the tune of 305 tackles by the top three guys… Navarro Bowman with 150, Patrick Willis with 105 although he missed a game, and Ahmad Brooks with 50. Yikes!! That is a lot of scraping into the hole and meeting runners before they can get started. How Bowman was named 1st team All Pro (along with Justin Smith & Patrick Willis) and NOT the Pro Bowl is beyond me. This group is active and instinctive and plays extremely fast. Willis forced 4 of the team’s 20 forced fumbles on the years. In addition, Bowman and Willis produced 2 sacks each during the regular season. This is a Super Bowl quality group who should actually get better given their relative youth.

Rogers has found a home after leaving the Washington Redskins

Secondary: Retaining CB Carlos Rogers was essential in keeping this defense playing at a high level. Last year he went to the Pro Bowl with a 55 tackle, 6 interception season. He can man up against the fastest receivers and turn and run with them. He should make it to Hawai’i again. The quiet secret to this defense is the safety play of safeties Dashon Goldson and Dontae Whitner. At first glance SS Whitner’s 65 tackles don’t impress you until you realize how many were gobbled up by the linebackers. He did intercept two passes and was rarely out of position. Folks, like our CEO still wish he were in Buffalo. Goldson covers serious ground and did make the Pro Bowl thanks to a 69 tackle, 6 interception season. Whitner and Goldson are 26 & 27 respectively and should be stout for another 3 seasons. A veteran secondary that is Super Bowl quality as well.

Overall: This team is returning all of the starters from the 4th best defense in football. One that held opponents to 35% conversion rate on 3rd down (76 of 216) and should have another outstanding season. It’s imperative that they do since they start the 2012 campaign in Green Bay, then host the Lions on Sept 16th. They could be 0-2 to start the season. Hopefully they can keep the same hunger as they did last year. They were 6-2 on the road yet this year bring not only the aforementioned trip to Lambeau, add a trip to New England, and another against the revenge minded Saints. They also host the tough Chicago Bears and the Super Bowl champion Giants, so anticipate a tougher year. They should still win the west but their record will slip to to 11-5. They face some potent offenses from the AFC East which are better than the AFC North offenses of a year ago. In the Chancellor’s crystal ball, the 49ers should return to the NFC Championship Game barring injuries. Games one and two against the Packers & Lions could well decide which team will host it.

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Next up: Green Bay Packers

NFC Championship Preview: Alex Smith Coming of Age

The new Alex Smith

As the 49ers came to the line of scrimmage with :14 seconds left, Alex Smith was just 14 yards away from forever changing the perception of him league-wide. He had battled Drew Brees head to head in a wild 4th quarter in last week’s NFC Divisional Tilt with the Saints holding a 32-29 lead. It’s at this point after the spike everyone held their collective breath as to what was going to happen. Would they go for the tie and play in overtime or would they shun conservative logic and go for the win?? What were you thinking as the 49ers broke that huddle?? Did you have faith in Alex Smith borne from this game where he already had accounted for 3 touchdowns or were you waiting for the old Alex Smith to emerge and throw an interception?? Tell the truth…

Well last Sunday, Alex Smith turned into the quarterback 49ers brass envisioned when they drafted him out of the University of Utah some 6 years back. Less than a year ago they weren’t sure if Alex Smith was their future. They selected Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick with their 2nd round pick in last April’s draft, throwing Smith’s future in serious jeopardy. Yet with new found confidence in himself, courtesy of his relationship with new head coach Jim Harbaugh, Smith progressed.

The NFC Championship Trophy the Giants and 49ers will be playing for.

Over the course of the season, many pundits and fans alike thought of Smith as no more than a care taker of the 49er offense. Play to the strength of Frank Gore’s running, don’t turn it over, and unleash a rested defense on opponents. It all went according to plan until 2 quarters into the divisional playoff, when the high flying New Orleans offense woke from a haze and started moving the football. Smith had engineered a 17-0 advantage when Brees brought the Saints back to within 3 cutting the Niner lead to 17-14 at halftime. Gone was the defensive swagger from the San Francisco defense and the realization that Smith and the offense would have to keep pace to win it.

Fast forward to :14 seconds left… Which Alex Smith would emerge?? The quarterback with the jittery feet who was unsure of himself and threw off his backfoot of previous vintage?? Or would the confident, almost swaggering player who showed up to battle Brees tooth and nail complete a miraculous transformation?? The second his drop back plant foot hit, Smith uncorked a rocket to Vernon Davis just beyond the zone patrolled by Scott Shanle for the winning touchdown.

He had transformed himself forever and celebrated in the endzone with his teammates and the ghosts of Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Jeff Garcia. Candlestick Park and everyone who watched this game was in disbelief. Not that the 49ers won, it was Smith’s surprising emergence into a quarterback who could win a big playoff game. He stood toe to toe and gunned down media darling and Super Bowl winning quarterback Drew Brees to lead the 49ers to their first NFC Championship Game since 1997.

The question is: What will he do for an encore?? Will he join the ghosts of Montana, Young, and Garcia and beat the New York Giants in a home playoff game?? Each one of his predecessors have. With one more win we can have our first rookie coach to make it to the Super Bowl since Denver Broncos Red Miller in 1977. One thing is he’ll have Coach Harbaugh’s confidence in taking the field tomorrow to prove he’s worthy of a Super Bowl trip. He has to best another Super Bowl winning quarterback to get there. Yet the road Alex Smith has had to travel to get to this point…

  • Considered a first round draft bust, by many, heading into this season.
  • Enduring two head coaches other than Harbaugh in Singletary and Nolan where he played very unsure of himself.
  • Persevering the carousel of 5 different offensive co-ordinators and numerous benchings in his first 5 seasons. Benched for Shaun Hill and Troy Smith to name a few.
  • Having to swallow his pride and rededicate himself after the 49ers drafted an heir apparent replacement in Colin Kaepernick.

He definitely has the chance to erase a history that he distanced himself from last week. A second win and a Super Bowl berth will anoint him into a light that has been reserved for a Matt Ryan or a Joe Flacco. Quarterbacks who have been anointed by the media yet haven’t proved anything in playoff competition yet. Not to the degree that we witnessed last week in Candlestick…

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Week 15 Monday Night Football: Pittsburgh Steelers @ San Francisco 49ers

"Did you hear?? Baltimore lost to San Diego last night!"

Well doesn’t this have a good ring to it?? These teams are coming in with a ton of NFL playoff implications tied to this football game. The first is the San Francisco 49ers are trying to catch the Green Bay Packers, for homefield advantage on the NFC side of the ledger. Although they have won their division, they have been caught by the New Orleans Saints who are 1/2 a game up on the 49ers for the #2 seed. In other words, the 49ers need this game in more ways than one. They need it for playoff positioning and also to prove they can stand up to the best AFC teams. They were handled in Balitmore Thanksgiving Night 16-6, and being new to the league’s elite they need to prove to themselves they can beat an established team. The Niners come into this game 10-3 and face the 10-3 Steelers.

The Steelers come into this game without their enforcer in linebacker James Harrison who is serving a one game suspension. However this team had to deal with his missing four games from an orbital bone fracture earlier in the year. With Lawrence Timmons & Larry Foote, the Steelers are able to rotate linebackers to continue playing the same defense and rush the passer along with stopping the run. This year’s edition hasn’t forced the turnovers of previous editions yet comes in with the #1 defense. Thanks to early injuries to this defense, which is one of the eldest in all of football, they are healthy on defense at the right time and they’re rested.

Unsung versatile linebacker Larry Foote

They also have to rally around an injured Ben Roethlisberger who has a high ankle sprain but this is the type of rock ’em sock ’em game the  Steelers thrive in. It may be hard for Roethlisberger to move around and make plays but he plays with grit and has to will his offense down the field. For the season he’s completed 64.5% of his passes for 3,526 yards 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He’s on pace for another 4,000 yard season and people have to get over the illusion that the Steelers are a running team. Sure they are a running team first, but Ben is what makes this offense go. They say it’s a game time decision but Big Ben, sitting out this game?? Stop, he’ll be under center tonight bank on it. Especially with Baltimore stumbling last night in San Diego, now the Steelers are in control of the AFC North, the second seed in the AFC playoffs or possibly home field throughout.

Yet coming in with the league’s #4 defense is the San Francisco 49ers. Did you know they haven’t given up a rushing touchdown all year?? They are trying to become the first team in league history not to give up a rushing touchdown for the season. Now that is a record. Furthermore did you know that in the Super Bowl era, for every team that didn’t give up a rushing touchdown in the first 10 games, all of which made it to at least the conference championship?? So take a guess who is #1 against the run in the NFL?? Getting the picture??

Underappreciated as the #1 rushing defense in football. Folks will learn of Justin Smith and the rest of the defense. It's more than Patrick Willis.

Frank Gore and Rashard Mendenhall better have on their big boy pads tonight.  Frank Gore “Didn’t he ask to be traded?? Oh that was pre-season!” has 1,054 yards and 6 touchdowns and has to be at his best for San Francisco to win. He currently ranks 6th but should end tonight as the league’s #3 rusher.  Suprisingly Rashard Mendenhall is 24th in the league in rushing with 710 yards yet he has 8 touchdowns. Can Mendenhall and company break the rushing touchdown drought of the Niners?? Well they better get their pad lower than they did on the goal line at home versus Cleveland.

In the end, Big Ben is going to win this game with a few plays out of the pocket. Alex Smith is enjoying a good season but will see ghosts of that Thanksgiving Game as Lamarr Woodley will come off the corner as Terrell Suggs did in that one. The difference is going to be the quarterback… Big Ben will win it where Alex Smith will try to manage it.  You don’t manage against Blitzburgh. Yet the 49ers aren’t battle tested enough to knock off Pittsburgh.

OUR PICK: STEELERS 20-13 OVER 49ERS

Week 12 Thanksgiving Edition III: Sibling Rivalry

Look up sibling rivalry in a 2011 NFL dictionary and you would find these two teams at the top of the list. Fro the first time ….what?? No we’re talking about playing rough and tumble smash mouth football, supplemented by stout defense not brother coaches. Come on they won’t take the field. Now where were we… The surprising 9-1 San Francisco 49ers have run up a gaudy record while playing physical lights out football and are on the verge of tying the 1988 Buffalo Bills as the earliest division winner in NFL history. Standing in their way is the team that has made playing football in a traditional sense a way of life: The Baltimore Ravens. Since the 2000 season the Ravens have been the vanguard of playing football from a defense first perspective. Presently the Ravens sit 7-3 and atop the AFC North as we head toward the stretch run. So who will win tonight’s game??

As we take a look at the 49ers the first thing that pops out is how strong they’re running the football. Right now they are averaging 4.3 yards per carry led by Frank Gore who’s averaging 4.6. In his 9 starts he has slashed his way to 870 yards and 5 of the 49ers 9 rushing touchdowns. Beneficiary to all of this running are both quarterback Alex Smith and a rested defense. Do you realize the 49er defense hasn’t given up a rushing touchdown all year and are #1 against the run?? Alex Smith is enjoying his best season ever with 13TDs to only 4 interceptions. He looks much more sure of himself and that has to attributed to former quarterback Jim Harbaugh. The Niners are waiting for Michael Crabtree to break out also. Aside from TE Vernon Davis there really isn’t a home run hitter on the team that defenses fear.

However when it comes to games like this and of this magnitude, the Baltimore Ravens are ready. When they see a game against a fellow heavyweight coming they rarely lose. Before we get into the players performance…do you realize the Baltimore Ravens are 5-1 against teams with winning records?? Where San Francisco fields the 8th best defense in pro football, Baltimore fields it’s 4th best. With Ray Lewis status still unknown it’s hard to pick against this defense. They performed well in his absence in the 31-24 lead to take the division lead away from Cincinnati last weekend. The pass rush, which at one time was just Terrell Suggs (6 sacks), has been supplemented by young rushers in Paul Kruger (4.5 sacks) and Pernell McPhee with 4. In fact there is a tie between 3 teams with 31 sacks and it’s the Ravens who are 4th in all of the NFL with 29 sacks. Yet oddly enough the Ravens are -2 in the turnover ratio over the last seven weeks. They rarely force turnovers against teams they don’t know well.

So it comes down to which quarterback will be able to get their passing games off the ground. At a loud outdoor palace we have a hard time seeing Alex Smith bringing his “A” game with him. In his 6 years, this is really the biggest game he’s played and he hasn’t had to face fire breathing defenses out in the NFC West. With a pedestrian set of receivers the Ravens should be able to handle TE Vernon Davis. By the third quarter the Ravens on pass defense will have 9-10 men within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage since they can’t get deep. Consequently Torrey Smith (29 rec. / 590 yds / 5TDs), Anquan Boldin (44 rec. / 684yds /3 TDs) are both headed to 1,000 yard seasons. Ravens wide receivers?? Seriously quit laughing.

So there you have it…we pick the RAVENS in this one. We’re not entirely sold on Joe Flacco, but with a last second touchdown throw to beat arch rival Pittsburgh, he can prove himself further with another big win. As for Alex Smith, he better pray that Frank Gore and the running game can get underway or he’ll be running for his life.  Keep in mind the Ravens are the 5th best in defense against the run. Michael Crabtree you’re up!! Time to be the receiver that held out for all that money when you came in. If you’re going to do it, it had better be tonight. Just don’t think the Ravens pass rush will allow Smith time to find him.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Enjoy the games, good food, and remember to share the article…will ya’??