The Best (and Worst) of Both Worlds

With apologies to Star Trek: The Next Generation, this is not a post about a 2-part episode of the late 80’s, syndicated sci-fi show.  Instead, these are my observations of two local football teams, how their very different seasons ended, and their prospects for the future.  Of course, I refer to the SF49ers and the Oakland Raiders, both Bay Area teams, both with past histories of success, and both now struggling, with distinct shortcomings leading to early exits from postseason play.

Below, I like using a western movie analogy in reverse.  This way, while I depict the absolute worst things (the “ugly”), the not-so-awful (the “bad”), I can end each on a high note (or the “good”).

Let’s start with the Niners:

The “Ugly”:

Hands down, a weak road game, producing a record of 2 and 7, with four of those losses by 4 or fewer points, doomed their season.  Sorry Mike, your team needs to do better.

The “Bad”:

A variety of distractions, false starts, and uncertainty hurt their chances, starting with the signing (or would it be sitting out) of Michael Crabtree.  Despite his late contributions, this was one false start that possibly hampered the team from “gelling” and pulling together in solidarity to dominate early on.  Couple this with injuries to key players such as Frank Gore, and this makes weak or unstable leadership and doubt.  The sideshow of the rotating QB adds more instability.  It’s amazing that this team went 8 and 8 closing out the season.   Finally, with Alex Smith as the team’s regular starting QB, now we need to ask: which Smith do we see today?  Is it the one that averages passing for about 200 yards per game, or the one that periodically fumbles or throws picks (including 3 against both the Eagles and the Titans)?

The “Good”:

Here is some good news.  This season, we have seen the Niners put up strong defensive #’s against tough offenses (this was the team that beat the (eventual 10 and 6) Cardinals, forcing 11 turnovers (including 2 interceptions from Kurt Warner).

With guys like Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and the young Michael Crabtree, the Niners are starting to get their swagger back, again becoming the offensive threat that allowed both Gore and Davis to tie longstanding TD records at season’s end.

And again, despite some uncertainty, even Smith, the one-time first-round draft pick is starting to show that he can make good calls, that he can throw the ball effectively, and that he can deliver when needed.

In all, the Niners should be proud.  They have their best record since 2002 (8 & 8), which says a lot.  They now have a coach that most of their players have confidence in, respect and (expectedly) will push hard to deliver for.  I project good things going forward, and who knows?  Inside a season or two, post-season may not be too far off, and a trip to the big game to follow.  What’s key is that the younger players are building confidence, trust and have a notion that victory and success is possible.
Now let’s move on to the other team of under-achieving football “athletes”: the Oakland Raiders.

The “Ugly”:

Where do I start?  How about Jamarcus Russell?  I know I shouldn’t pick on such an easy target, but let’s face it.  I’m just doing what teams have been doing all season long.  Granted, getting demoted kills your morale and your best effort decreases dramatically, but come on.  He’s supposed to be prepared (mentally & physically) when he shows up to the field, for making  the right calls, and for not giving up the ball (at least not so that it costs your team points).  On these, Russell was a solid D- (he missed an F, only because he did not play the whole all season).

Along with his lack of inspiration and leadership, we need to look at Cable.  His aggressive coaching and lack of decorum has landed him short-lived assault charges and a lawsuit.  Again, not what a team on the mend needs to see.  A lack of field leadership coupled with mediocre coaching makes for a bad team experience.  Even if he was justified (he claimed self-defense) in the incident, being as big as he is, and as physically intimidating, seems to make Cable a bully.  If I were the Raiders’ offensive line, I wouldn’t want to do anything to help my cause, knowing we were destined for failure.

Lastly, and I know he’s an easy target, but how about that Al Davis, huh?  He took a first-round draft pick (and coaching for that matter) from the last few years and squandered any chance of building any kind of momentum.  Al still maintains his stranglehold on player and personnel selection & development.  Do you blame the bad coaching, or the guy who put the coach there?  Is it the lousy QB’s fault, or the guy willing to pay for banality?  I don’t know.  All I know is that whatever they have GOING seems destined for more losing seasons and disappointment.

The “Bad”:

Could there be anything that was not as glaringly bad?  How about a weak offensive line that allowed 49 sacks all season long?  How about being outclassed in almost every statistical category from yardage to time of possession, to of course, touchdowns?

Even when flashes of brilliance do shine through (Gradkowski or possibly Frye, or even the sometimes defensive line), this team finds ways to either lose or lose people to injury.  HOLD THE POCKET! Don’t allow the other guys to get your QB!  For that matter, hey Defense, WAKE UP! Don’t just sometimes do your job.  Get in the game!

A blatant example of how low this season’s expectations are happened in yesterday’s rout by the Ravens over the Raiders.  During a 77-yard return for a TD, Willis McGahee stiff-armed a Raider defender in a show of force indicative of how this team has been pushed aside most of the season.  It hurts to watch.  How could any team be so ineffectual?

The “Good”:

Of course, there has to be something positive in all of this, right?  Could it be the potential for guys like Gradkowski or Frye to break through?  Could it be that this may be Russell’s last year in the Siver and Black?  Or could it be that Davis looks less and less healthy each time he gets on TV?  Hopefully, the future will bring some positivity, because looking back over the Raiders’ recent history has been an exercise in futility, painful regret, with the only joy being to see the misery of another awful season end.

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