Monday, December 8, 2014

Grim Reapings


The 49ers, who've had enough of a puzzling season through 11 games, saved perhaps their worst effort of the season for last week, in a game so putrid against the Seahawks in front of a national audience that I ultimately erased the game from my DVR without ever watching it. But if their lifeless 19-3 loss to the Seahawks was bad enough, they appeared to be in a similar slumber yesterday when they voyaged across the bay to Oakland to face a Raiders team that, at 1-11 and coming off a 52-0 loss, was basically a punchline, and managed to not only lose, but lose convincingly, 24-13, dropping their record to 7-6 and basically putting their playoff chances on life support.

The offensive struggles that have plagued the 49ers for the past several weeks have pretty much come to a head these past couple of weeks, but it's one thing when your offense struggles against the Seahawks. The Raiders boast a defense that strikes fear into nobody, and yet they harassed Colin Kaepernick all day, holding him to 148 yards passing, intercepting him twice and sacking him five times. Kaepernick was intercepted by Brandian Ross (I know, who?) on the first play of the game and that pretty much set the tone for the game right there. Though Kap connected with Bruce Miller for a Touchdown late in the 1st Quarter, they didn't accomplish much else and the game was tied 10-10 at halftime. Then, the 49ers, as has been their annoying habit all year, went in the tank in the second half as their offense stagnated completely and couldn't respond once the Raiders went ahead.

The 49ers were in need of a better performance after last week's stinker, and certainly, though their playoff position in a crowded NFC was disadvantageous after their loss last week, but things now are looking pretty grim for them. Having lost two games in a row, the 49ers now have the pleasure of attempting to break this losing streak and save their season on the road in Seattle next Sunday. That's not what I would call a pleasant proposition. Seattle is streaking and Arizona, even without a viable NFL Quarterback is still cobbling together wins. Green Bay, the NFL's darlings, are primed to doublecheck their way into January, but unfortunately it seems unlikely that the 49ers will be there to kick them in the nuts once again.

Then again, given how Kaepernick has regressed this season, it seems unlikely that even the sight of the Packers would be enough to right his ship. It's baffling to me how badly he's played, even in some 49ers victories, and it can't simply be that the league is catching up to him. For one, the play calling isn't as wide-open as it has been over the past few seasons. An argument I'd heard—I forget where so I'm sorry I'm not properly attributing it—on Kaepernick's poor play ties less into the uncertainties surrounding Jim Harbaugh and the status of several other players on the team, and more around the big contract Kaepernick signed in the offseason. The 6-year deal that guarantees him a rather princely sum of money may have forced the 49ers to dial back their playbook in an effort to make Kaepernick more of a pocket passer, rather than a runner who can use his legs as a weapon of equal danger to his arm. This is in some sort of convoluted effort to protect him, taking the case of Robert Griffin III as a cautionary tale. The problem is, that's taking him out of his comfort zone and forcing him to go against his general instinct on the field. Kaepernick is used to making his progressions on the move, looking around and running in order to make things happen. If he's sitting around and not moving the way he's used to, he's going to end up a sitting duck, get sacked a bunch of times, and when you get your ass hit like that often enough, you start to look pretty ordinary.

Lately, Kaepernick has looked ordinary. That's not the way the 49ers have looked the past few seasons and not the way they were supposed to look this year. I can understand why the 49ers want to protect their investment, but stack Kaepernick and Griffin against each other for a second. Griffin had a history of knee issues before he even reached the NFL, and that's before you get into his height and his build, because he's a Quarterback in a scatback's body. Kaepernick, on the other hand, hasn't had injury problems, and that's probably because he's built like a truck, and where Griffin's promising start came off the rails because of a knee injury, the stupidity of his coach was also a contributing factor because he was allowed to play hurt. Kaepernick has had neither of those problems around him.

Point is, Kaepernick was within a whisker of winning a Super Bowl and within a second whisker of a second Super Bowl and now he's starting to unravel into Tim Rattay or any one of the 22 horrible Quarterbacks that managed to start games for the 49ers between 2003 and 2010. And there's no good reason as to why he's regressed or why the offensive game plan has now been designed to shackle him and take him out of his strengths. As Quarterback, he's subject to a majority of the blame, and certainly he's not blameless, but you have to wonder if this could all have been avoided if the team had just stuck to their guns. At the very least, they wouldn't have gone out yesterday and puked up an awful effort against the horrible Raiders and their Darth Vader hats.

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