Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The AL's Unseen Advantage

                American League teams have an unprecedented advantage over the National League at the one place that is more important than the ball park.  That place is the negotiating table.
                If we're looking strictly at World Series outcomes, most would say that the National League has been more dominant recently, winning three out of the last four World Series titles.   In a sport with no salary cap, winning the World Series is priority number one.  Titles sell tickets.  Titles sell merchandise.  These sales bring cash, and cash brings talent.
               But I have a feeling that the NL’s dominance is about to end, because big league sluggers now have a compelling reason to move to the American League.  Big time players are no longer demanding only money.  Baseball’s stars want long term deals as well.  The two biggest free agent fish this year, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, both signed deals of 9 years and 10 years respectively.  Long term contracts like these are risky, as most players’ fielding ability decreases with age.  The designated hitter position eliminates this risk.
   Let’s focus on Albert Pujols.  He just signed a 10 year guaranteed 240 million dollar contract with the Anaheim Angels.  His pay rate increases each year, starting at 12 million in 2012 and topping off at 30 million in 2021.  He is 31 years old, which means that the Angels will still be paying this slugger top dollar when he turns 40.  Pujols has never been coveted for his defensive skills, and certainly they will deteriorate as time passes.  It would have been an astronomical risk for any National League team to sign Pujols to a 10 year deal, especially one that grows in guaranteed money as time passes.  The knowledge of his certain physical deterioration would be the difference.  The idea of having a 41 year old, 30 million dollar investment playing the field for 150 plus games is idiotic.
But with the option of playing Pujols in the designated hitter position, the Angels are safe.  When Pujols is too old to play first base, they can plop him in the DH spot and use him strictly for his hitting.  A team like the Cardinals would have to keep trotting him out to play defense if they still wanted to utilize his bat.  The Angels had the ultimate upper hand at the negotiating table knowing that they could offer not only big money, but also a long term deal to Pujols.  They could ensure minimal wear and tear and maximum offensive production.
The result of this divide will be an exodus of pure hitters to the American League.  Sure, pitchers could still come to the National League with the assurance that facing the opposing pitcher will add three outs to their stats each time they pitch.  On the other hand, pitchers stand to bolster their most important stat, win-loss record, by pitching for the offensive powerhouses that the American League will soon be building.
It’s probably time for the National League to bite the bullet and change the way they play, and not because it gives them any truly drastic advantage on the field.  In order to stay competitive on the playing field an organization must be competitive in the negotiating room, and the AL just yelled checkmate.

(All credit due to Damon Bruce here, who opened my eyes to this concept on his show over the last few days)
Photo Credit: Crabcake Sports

Deconstructing the 49ers-Raiders "Rivalry"

            Pop quiz, folks:  Raise your hands if you can tell me, off the top of your head, the last San Francisco 49ers-Oakland Raiders game that meant anything.   Stop lying, put those hands down.

In the last twenty years, these teams haven't played a single game of significance.  I did a little research -

The Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995.  Since the move back, the 49ers and Raiders have met in regular season play 4 times.  The following is a chronological list of these inter conference match ups:

2010: 49ers 17, Raiders 6
Raiders final record: 8-8
Division Winner: Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
The Raiders missed winning their division by two games.

2006: 49ers 34, Raiders 20
Raiders final record: 2-14
Division Winner: San Diego Chargers (14-2)
The Raiders missed winning their division by 12 games.

2002: 49ers 23, Raiders 20
Raiders final record: 11-5
The Raiders won their division and went on to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

2000: Raiders 34, 49ers 28
49ers final record: 6-10
Division Winner: New Orleans Saints (10-6)
The 49ers missed winning their division by 4 games.

I don't feel the need to dig much further - what happened when the Raiders played in Los Angeles doesn't matter, and most of the people reading this weren't even alive before the Raiders moved south.

What exactly defines a rivalry in football?

 There are a few different types, the first of which is an intradivision rivalry.

The Raiders should know a thing or two about division rivalries - the entire AFC West is like one dysfunctional family at Thanksgiving dinner.  The Raiders and Chiefs have hated each other for decades.  Raiders fans despise the Broncos after the year of Tebow.  And most Raiders fans wouldn't piss on Philip Rivers if his powder blues were on fire.  These rivalries are born out of familiarity, out of years of facing the same team twice in one season.  The Giants and the Eagles, the Ravens and the Steelers, the Packers and the Bears - these are all teams that truly know the meaning of a rivalry.

Then there is the interdivision rivalry, or more specifically, the playoff rivalry.  The 49ers know about those because of their historically weak division.  They have faced off with the Cowboys in the playoffs seven different times.  49ers-Packers was a pretty hot rivalry in the 90s, and 49ers-Giants is a rivalry renewed after this last season.

So then what we have here is an inter-conference rivalry, right?  How did these inter-conference foes develop their rivalry?  Heated battles of years past?  Super Bowl match ups? Neither.

The 49ers-Raiders rivalry is an illusion - a pissing contest between two groups with gang mentalities.  Two neighboring cities battling for superiority, for bragging rights.  Unfortunately, Oakland and San Francisco can't behave.  We rarely get to settle things on the field so we'd rather settle it in the parking lot with guns.  We have never played a game with meaning. Beyond the preseason match ups (which won't happen anymore thanks to the violence that this "rivalry" creates), we only meet once every four years, and we have never met in the Super Bowl.  Before 2011, both teams inhabited the dredges of the NFL for the same amount of time. In other words, neither fan base has any reason to boast.
In fact, we should actually be rooting for one another to succeed.  The most coverage that the Bay Area has gotten nationally in years occurred early in the 2011 season when both the Niners and Raiders were upstart and hot.
It's your choice, bay area football fans.  If you want to trash talk the other side of the bay and call it a rivalry, go right ahead.  I'd suggest saving your breath, because it'll be another two years before this rivalry reignites on the field anyway. 

Photo Credit: Ben Margot (AP)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Peyton Manning to the Niners? - I think Ill Pass

        Just in time for the entire sporting world to descend upon Indianapolis, it seems that things have completely fallen apart for the Colts. In the wake of an unprecedented housecleaning that saw both the head coach and GM pack up their desks, this once great franchise is now deteriorating into a glorified episode of "Yo Mama" starring Jim Irsay and Peyton Manning. It seems that after over a decade of domination (in the AFC South, at least), the horseshoe's run with Manning is all but over.
        So I guess this is what happens when you "suck for Luck." Never in all of my years watching football have I seen a franchise actually trash their own season for a draft pick (but then again, never have I seen a college prospect as drooled over as Andrew Luck). And don't be fooled - The Colts threw their own season for the pick.
        Obviously a team's offense will suffer if their franchise quarterback goes down, but losing Manning doesn't account for how bad the entire Colts team was in 2011. Their defense gave up over 25 points per game in over half of their games, including a 62-7 routing by the Saints in week 7. Many fans called for their respective teams to sell out for the number one pick in 2012, but few understood the ramifications of a disaster season like the one that the Colts just had. Indy made their bed this way, and now they are laying in it while the whole world ridicules them.
        A few things are certain - Peyton Manning is done in Indianapolis and Andrew Luck's career there is about to begin. If you thought the Brett Favre speculation was bad, you ain't seen nothing yet. Many teams are in need of a proven commodity at quarterback, and Manning equates to the most attractive chick in a bar on Chestnut Street.
        Several bloggers have spoken out against the 49ers pursuing Manning and I tried to find a way to play devil's advocate - I really did. I just can't do it.
        The Colts will likely release Manning. As Bay Area Sports Guy pointed out to me, Indianapolis will owe Manning an over 20 million dollar roster bonus if he's still on the team in March. That would mean spending big bucks to make a trade for talent if they decide to seek one, which they won't. So the next road block would be the money that Peyton would command in free agency. The Colts paid Manning 28 million dollars to be a glorified quarterback coach in 2011 - how much would he ask for to be on the playing field in 2012? The 49ers have already made it clear that they will pursue a new contract with Alex Smith, and they will probably be shelling out around 8 million a year to keep Smith in red and gold. The 49ers don't have time to dilly dally around their quarterback situation - there will be suitors for Alex if the 49ers hesitate. They can't wait to find out if Peyton will be healthy enough to play before offering one of these two quarterbacks a contract.
        Their options are as follows: 1.) Let Alex walk and make a push for Peyton, 2.) Sign Alex to a cap friendly contract and let other franchises fight over Manning or 3.) Sign both quarterbacks and blow around 36 million dollars a year on quarterbacks alone.
        And this is all without mentioning the three neck surgeries that Peyton Manning has endured. There's no guarantee that the 35 year old quarterback is even in good enough health to ever play in the league again. The 49ers offensive line has improved, but they would have to play perfect football in order to keep their 28 million dollar investment in working condition.
        All this makes for great talk radio fodder, especially in the wake of a heartbreaking loss in the NFC Championship that still has 49ers fans searching for answers. But very little of it is grounded in reality. A signing like this is just not Trent Baalke's MO and it's probably for the best. The Bay Area has longed for an elite quarterback, and certainly Peyton Manning is a tantalizing dream. But 49ers fans would do well to see past the mirage that is the Peyton of old because the risk of signing him now is far too great for this organization to take.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Attention Brian Sabean - The Championship Window is Closing

        It's nearly February, and that can mean only one thing - there's a little under three weeks until pitchers and catchers report. Baseball fans have enjoyed a blockbuster offseason that has seen some incredible deals get signed. First, Albert Pujols signed a monster 240 million dollar contract in Anaheim. CJ Wilson left the back to back AL Champion Texas Rangers to follow him. Last week Prince Fielder finally got his money, signing a nine year 214 million dollar deal with the Detroit Tigers.
        So how did the Giants fare in free agency following a fruitful season in which the team sold out every home game? Don't even bother googling it - they barely picked up the phone.
        Enough time has passed now that most Giants fans can admit it - 2010 was lightening in a bottle. That doesn't take away from what they accomplished in their World Championship year. They scrapped their way into the postseason and once they got there, they caught fire. But is this team built to become a major league dynasty? Only half of it is, and it won't be for too much longer.
        Everyone knows about the Giants pitching rotation - it's home grown and it's nails. Brian Sabean has one of the best eyes in the business when it comes to finding and developing pitching talent. But when it comes to offense, Sabean is a flunky. His two best homegrown hitters are Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. One of has a short shelf-life at catcher, the other spends too much time in the candy isle.
When your general manager can't develop hitters on the farm, your only hope is that he can pick 'em in free agency, but Sabean's been incapable there as well.
        Following the World Series Championship, the Giants grossly overpaid Aubrey Huff and Cody Ross, hoping that by keeping the team mostly intact, they would somehow keep the fire alive for another year. With the pitching staff that the Giants have, they won't need too many runs to win games. Down goes Posey, down goes Freddy, down goes the Giants 2011 season.
        Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are under contract until 2013, which is fine and dandy, but the Giants only hope for a hometown discount when those contracts expire is a showing of good will. Matt Cain is the best losing record (69-73) pitcher that the league has ever seen with an ERA of 2.88. Tim Lincecum has watched his 7 inning shut outs turn into 1-0 losses more often than any of us would like to admit.
        Last year's San Francisco Giants were historically bad on offense. To expect a pitcher to throw seven innings of one or no run ball every five days is simply expecting too much from them. Madison Bumgarner is too young to complain, but Lincecum and Cain have been with this team long enough - they've suffered through the offensive anorexia for years. Most self-respecting individuals would've gone to the podium and ripped this organization by now. These pitchers have redefined the term "bell cow," and they've never complained.
        And yet here we go again. The Giants want to sell us Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, and a healed up Buster and Freddy as an offensive power house: I'm not buying it. As a fan, I spent hundreds of dollars support this team. One new hat: $40. One World Series T-Shirt: $35. One Custom Jersey: $330. Over a dozen games attended, including food and drinks: I don't even want to calculate it. The return on my investment?
        A crappy product. Fans should be as pissed about the Giants' off season moves as the pitching staff should be. The championship window is right here, right now. Once Lincecum and Cain's contracts expire, one of them will have to go. Bumgarner will be expensive when it's time to restructure his contract as well. As it stands right now, the Giants have one of the top three pitching staffs in the league and yet they have no desire to bolster their bottom of the league line-up.
        Whether it's the 35 people that comprise the Giants brass, or Brian Sabean himself being gun shy about big free agent deals, something has got to give. The Giants have two years to either win another championship or find a way to make San Francisco a desirable place to stay for their stars pitchers - one or the other. Because once that championship window closes, it's gonna be damn hard to pry open again, and in sports, lightening NEVER strikes the same place twice.

Prototype Tight Ends: The Need for a Defensive Adaptation

        At least once every ten years the NFL finds a way to transform and adapt.  In the 70's, football was a jaw breaking, three yards and a cloud of dust sport.  In the 80s, the West Coast Offense introduced the short pass game and completely changed football.  High flying offenses like the Rams owned my teenage years, and now that receivers are always considered defenseless and sneezing on a quarterback draws a 15 yard penalty, the NFL is truly a passing league.  But 2012 has ushered in another groundbreaking change: the emergence of the tight end.
        Sure, that position has always been around.  It was the spot for the big, stout white guy with the sure hands.  Too small for a lineman, too slow for a wide receiver, the tight end was a player who blocked first and caught passes second.  But with athletes like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Vernon Davis touting freakish athleticism and size, offensive coordinators are cashing in on an almost indefensible match up problem.
        Take a look at where the tight end lines up - right on the tackles hip.  This is a spot reserved for defensive ends and outside linebackers.  If the tight end is in to block, this match up is fine - the pass rusher/run stopper just has to beat the block and  make a play on the ball.
        But if the tight end is running a route, this is a problem defensively, especially for ends and linebackers who play upfield first, all the time.  If the tight end has under 4.5 speed and sky scraper size like Jimmy Graham or Vernon Davis, there isn't a linebacker in the NFL that can keep them from catching the ball.
        What's the logical solution?  Most defensive coordinators would want to match up their most physical corner on them, but that makes defenses extremely vulnerable in the run game.  Tight ends that size will manhandle any cornerback in the league and blow holes wide open for their running back.
        Teams have failed to contain these prototype players all year, and that is why we've seen monster numbers from players like Graham, Gronkowski and Davis in 2012.

Let's look at the statistics:

Rob Gronkowski: 90 catches, 1,327 yards, 17 TDs

Jimmy Graham: 99 catches, 1,310 yards, 11 touchdowns

Vernon Davis: 67 catches, 792 yards, 6 touchdowns
(note: we all know about the 49ers offensive deficiencies, and it should be stated that Vernon emerged in the playoffs, catching 4 touchdowns and racking up 292 yards in 2 games.)

        It should also be noted that Jimmy Graham had three touchdowns in the Saints two playoff games, and Gronkowski has caught 3 touchdowns and 232 yards worth of passes in the Patriots run to the Super Bowl.
Add into the mix a second option at tight end like Aaron Hernandez or Delanie Walker and you have yourself a defensive nightmare.  The Patriots actually used Aaron Hernandez as a running back in their two playoff games, and he rushed for just under 100 yards.
        The only logical solution?  We may see the creation of a new hybrid position on the defensive side of the ball.  This player must have it all: size, speed, run stopping and pass defending abilities.  This player must be able to cover like the best cornerback (although even the best corners in the league can't cover these tight ends) and shed blocks with the best linebackers in the league.
        I'm more of a casual observer than an NFL scout, so I'm not sure where these players will come from.  Perhaps they will come from the same crop of athletes that birthed these tight ends.  Either way, whatever coach develops them first will be considered an innovative genius.  That is, at least until the next offensive prototype emerges.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Non-Expert Opinion - The Super Bowl

Alright, sports betting community, there's one game left, and it's a biggun' (okay two if you want to count the pro bowl, you degenerates).  Sure, there's that extra added fun of the squares and the prop bets, which I'm sure I'll engage in - Will it be heads or tails?  Will the recently injured Gronk spike the ball in the end zone?  How many times will Giselle be shown between kick off and final whistle?  How many times will we see the "Eli face"?
Okay, so I made that last one up.  But for a football purist like me, there is always the line and the over/under, which has been set at New England -3 and 55 respectively.  Gamblers everywhere will scramble to parlay this bad boy, because this is their last chance to throw a wager on football for the next seven months, and I've got your free, non expert pick right here on Ruthless Sports.
Vegas set this line wrong, but it makes sense.  There aren't many games that New England could walk into as an underdog, and come to think of it, they haven't been dogs all year.  Their road to the Super Bowl was short, spanking the upstart Denver Broncos and just barely getting past a defensively tough Baltimore Ravens team.
The Giants, although lack luster at times this year, have been playing the most solid football of the season in the last 4 games.  They handled business with the Cowboys, Falcons, and Packers.  Then they squeaked by the 49ers to come into the Super Bowl with confidence.  Let's look at the head to head match ups:
New England's offense vs. New York's defense - The patriots are not the same high flying offense that they were in 2007.  They simply do not have a deep threat anymore (Ocho Cinco to the white courtesy phone, please).  The pats have transformed into more of a dink and dunk offense that chunks away at you.  They throw between the hash marks to Welker, Gronk and Hernandez while trying to establish some sort of run game with Green-Ellis.  Tom Brady is still a chain moving wizard, but without a deep threat, he certainly won't be scoring at will.  The pats will have to sustain drives, and against a hardnosed defense like the Giants, that will be hard to do.  The front four on the Giants should be able to sustain some kind of pressure on Brady and make his life miserable at times, while their linebackers should be able to contain (at least tackle or break up some passes on) Gronkowski and Hernandez.  Points will be scored by the Patriots, but not as many as Vegas would like you to believe.  I'm giving the edge to the Giants defense here, just slightly.
New York's offense vs. New England's defense - The defensive side of the ball has been coming on for the Patriots lately.  Vince Wilfork has been an animal for New England, and he should continue to get pressure on Eli up the middle in this game.  However, beyond Wilfork, a pass rush is basically non existent.  Without Andre Carter, they're not getting much of a perimeter pass rush.  Even in the face of pressure, Manning is capable of seeing the field incredibly well and converting when it matters.  Eli has emerged as the king of the third down conversion this year, and nothing is quite as deflating as holding a team to 3rd and 8 just to watch them convert and continue to drive. This is a different Giants team from the one we watched in 2007 - in fact, they have a completely different receiving corps and they're better for it.  Nicks, Manningham and Cruz all run tight routes and possess incredible ball skills.  The patriots defense has been embarrassed several times this year, and I think it'll happen again next Sunday.  Manning will take advantage of any defense breakdowns, and his receivers are more than willing to take it to the house when a mistake is made.  This is all being said without even mentioning the Giants running game.  They punch you in the mouth and wear you down, especially if your team has a weak rush defense like the Patriots.  I'm giving a huge advantage to the Giants here.
When you have two high powered offenses meeting like this, Vegas has a tendency to set the OU high, and 55 is a big number for an NFL game.  Although I hate betting the under, it's usually a smart play in games like this because the final score will usually miss the number by two or three points.  Let's not forget that there's over a week until the game is played.  Sit back and wait on your bet - you may see that number get even bigger.
Given the public's view of New England all season, Patriots -3 makes perfect sense, although my belief is that the line should land on the opposite side of the ball at Giants -3.  You're giving me a solid offensive team with a better defense and 3 points?  I'm taking that every day of the week.
 Who am I rooting for? The mad scientist building the time machine so that I can go back and change Sunday's outcome.  Unfortunately that's unlikely, so...
My pick: Giants plus the points, which I won't need, and the under. 
Final score: Giants 27, Patriots 24

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dennis Allen's Tough Task

Reggie McKenzie's first big splash as GM of the Oakland Raiders was chopping off the head of the "Old Al Davis Raiders" by firing Hue Jackson.  This move was met by a strange oil and water like reaction - some Raiders fans were not impressed by how Jackson pumped his chest out.  Others were certain that 2011's lackluster outcome was a result of some seriously unfortunate injuries.  My take?  It was a little bit of both. 
Darren McFadden was on pace to beast on every single rushing record available before his foot injury.  Jason Campbell wasn't a world beater by any means, but he was certainly having his best season as a pro before his injury.  What was left on the Raiders' roster at quarterback was pathetic, and without that Bruce Gradkowski safety net, Oakland was up a creek.  I'll spare you any take on Carson Palmer - the jury is still out on him. The fact is - Mark Davis didn't like Hue, and McKenzie wanted his own staff.  That's that.
After a "short list" of coaching candidates became a rather long one, McKenzie finally made his choice: Dennis Allen, former Denver Broncos defensive coordinator, is the new Oakland Raiders' head coach.
Without doing much research, here is what I know.  Allen was the defensive coordinator in Denver for one year: 2011.  He brought Denver from a bad defense to a fairly middle-of-the-pack one.  Prior to his one year stint in Denver, Allen was a DBs coach.  So the raiders hired a guy with one year of coordinating experience and absolutely zero head coaching experience.  Yikes.
But here's the bright side.  Allen is the first head coach with a defensive background that the Raiders have hired since John Madden.  For a team that was absolutely porous defensively, Allen should bring a strong defensive game plan to Oakland.  An eye for talent (that should be sought after hard in free agency) should help bolster a pretty horrid secondary.
It should also be noted that many Broncos were sad to see Allen go, According to Vittorio Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.  Champ Bailey said "...he's one of the most intense coaches I've had." Von Miller added that "They’re getting a guy that’s going to come in right away, and he’s going to get it done."
He had better hope so.  Much like the 49ers, the Raiders have suffered through a long stretch of mediocrity. Despite the lack of success, expectations remain high every season for the black and silver.  Fans expect a return to prominence.  As with every coaching hire, teams run a risk of striking out, but the Raiders need to make it work, and it needs to happen right now.
The coaching must be stellar, from motivation to Xs and Os, but most importantly, Dennis Allen must bring discipline to the Raiders.
It's evident that there is talent in Raiderland, so what's left is a need for fundamental football, and limiting penalties should be a goal.  We'll soon find out what Reggie McKenzie is made of by seeing what he does in the draft, and how Dennis Allen does as the head coach of the Raiders.  Until then, fans simply have to trust that their new GM has found a diamond in the rough, or else history is bound to repeat itself in Oakland.

Michael Crabtree - A Diva Without A Cause

Michael Crabtree didn't see the ball much this post season, and he made his frustration clear to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee after the game.
"Sometimes, you've just got to move the ball," Crabtree said. "You've got to make plays. You've got to give people chances to make plays. You've got to make plays."
By you, one could infer that he was talking about the offense as a whole, but the intelligent reader knows better - "you" is Alex Smith.
In a post game locker room that quietly took onus for the loss, that rallied around a dejected Kyle Williams, that stood solemn in defeat, only one player pointed the finger.  Only one guy shoved the blame outward. Only Michael Crabtree played the blame game.
Crabtree has been a polarizing figure for the 49ers since he showed up in 2009.  After a contract holdout that lasted into midseason, Crabtree surprised many with his ability to grasp the offense and become a target for Alex Smith.  But after three consecutive no shows in preseason and training camp, his progress was stunted.
Admittedly, Crabtree had a stellar second half of the 2011 regular season.  But save one short touchdown in the divisional round of the playoffs that was more a result of play calling than play making, he was a no show when the 49ers needed him most.
3 dropped passes in the Saints game and only one catch for 3 yards in the NFC Championship game left 49ers fans scratching their heads.  With New York doubling Vernon Davis for most of the game, Crabtree was going to be the factor, for better or worse, in determining the outcome.  As it turns out, he was a factor for worse.
Forget the fact that the 49ers fell short of a Super Bowl - it was a stellar season that came down to a few decisive plays.  49ers fans want to hear one thing after a loss - "I could have done better and I didn't. I'm hungry to get back there and I'll do whatever it takes to get there." Unfortunately Crabtree went the other way with it.
We know what happens to players who don't tow the company line with Harbaugh.  Braylon Edwards was never fully healthy, and after some offhand remarks about playing time were made to the media, he got shown the door.  Michael Crabtree is what he is - a possession receiver with some playmaking abilities.  But what lies beneath the surface is an entitled diva, a young soul who believes he deserves credit for things that he hasn't accomplished.  Trent Baalke can only hope that some GM out there stopped watching the 49ers after Crabtree's two touchdown performance in week 17.  He can only hope there will be a team dumb enough to trade even a third round pick for number 15.
One thing is certain - 53 men walked out of Candlestick Park Sunday evening wearing a painful loss on their sleeve, and only one of them did it WITHOUT a humble heart.  That doesn't fit Jim Harbaugh's image of "team," and that may spell the end for Michael Crabtree.

Source of Quote: CSN Bay Area - "Is Crabtree a Diva or Demanding?"

Gun Shy Alex Smith

As 49ers fans come crashing back to earth following their teams heartbreaking 20-17 overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game, it's time to start looking towards the future.  Save a few free agents to be locked down on the defensive side of the ball, most notably Dashon Goldson and Carlos Rogers, keeping opponents from scoring shouldn't be a huge issue next season.  The most glaring deficiencies for the 49ers lie on the offensive side of the ball.
We all know about the disappearing act that the 49ers wide receivers pulled off in the playoffs.  Vernon Davis took his game to another level in his two playoff appearances.  A completely healthy Delanie Walker would have helped the 49ers offense by providing Alex Smith with another capable receiving threat, and it would have made for a wide open playbook.  We can only guess what Josh Morgan would have provided for the offense had he not broken his leg in the 49ers bludgeoning of the Buccaneers.  When your top three wide receivers are Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams and Brett Swain, you're bound to have some problems in the passing game.
But even if the 49ers didn't have a receiver who found himself open as often as, say, Victor Cruz, some of the blame regarding offensive anemia must fall on Alex Smith.  He was nearly perfect this year when it came to limiting mistakes, throwing a league-low 5 interceptions, but at the same time, he was below average in regards to yards and touchdowns.
Michael Crabtree complained to the media following the loss to the Giants about times when he was open and Alex didn't get him the ball.  I'll address my thoughts on Crabtree's persona in a later blog, but for now I'll acknowledge that he's absolutely right.  Alex has been ridiculously gun shy all season, avoiding throws unless he was absolutely sure that he would not throw a pick.  When receivers ran sideline routes, he would favor the sideline to such an extent that receivers would have to be five yards out of bounds in order to even lay hands on the ball.  He is a quarterback that must fully trust his receivers in order to throw certain passes, and while he displayed that trust with Vernon, he proved that he did not trust his wide receiving corps on Sunday.
A few things are certain - Alex Smith will be back next year and the 49ers will try to bolster their receiving corps in the off season.  If I had to venture a guess, they will resign Josh Morgan because of his physical abilities and his experience with Alex.  What they will do with Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams is anyone's guess.  Even to the casual observer, it's clear that the 49ers passing game must be more explosive than what it was in 2011.  But if Alex wants to build upon his turn around season next year, he has to pull the trigger on tough throws more often.  All the best quarterbacks in the NFL, from Aaron Rodgers to Drew Brees and Eli Manning, make mistakes en route to huge passing numbers.  A quarterback must trust his receivers to catch the ball more than he trusts his punter to win the field position battle.  He must trust himself to make the tough throw more than he trusts his defense to hold.  To succeed in the NFL, you have to be bold and take risks when it counts, and if Alex isn't willing to do that, the 49ers will fall short of the ultimate goal once again.

Welcome to Ruthless Sports

Welcome to RuthlessSports.BlogSpot.Com!

If you're reading this, you probably already know who I am.  I'm a 24 year old bay area sports fiend.  I eat sleep drink and smoke sports.  I simply have too many thoughts on sports to flood my facebook friends with it, so I'm starting this blog to flood with all of my thoughts.
My blog will focus on, but not be exclusive to, bay area sports.  I got love for every bay area team (yes, even you, Oakland Raiders), so you'll hear my thoughts on all of them (although I probably won't be writing about the Oakland A's).  I'll provide my thoughts on what's going on currently regarding sports in the bay area, as well as around the nation.
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-Ruthless McLorg