Removing the 49ers from the top of the list of teams who rack up three and out possessions is generally seen by the fans as a high priority improvement for the 2010 season. These sput-sput efforts not only get you no points, but also wear out and demoralize the defense and make the field position war a likely loser, too.
You can bet that Kurt Schottenheimer and Mike Singletary both put great value in winning the field position battle and also the time of possession stat. If you win both those deals, each would likely assert that you usually win the game. Schottenheimer would give you the stats and percentages to prove this and Singletary would give you the get-a-clue-dude body language special.
Today we look at the 49ers chances to achieve this improvement, and in doing so will conclude by pointing the fickle finger of fate at the one person who holds the key to success for this coming year.
It’s easy to say Alex Smith is the key. But the chances of him not improving are severely small and his improvement will not be so spectacular that we suddenly have Peyton Manning directing a dazzling show of 400 yard games and 40 point outbursts. Smith is capable of running an efficient offense, even a methodically proficient one. The kind that is a must in order for Singletary’s vision of a team to succeed. That is actually what Smith is good at. So we can expect him to be better this year and play his part in the improvement.
Last year, Frank Gore was said to be the key, and he was, but if he’s the key we will not be improved this year. No running back can carry a team on his back to the playoffs. Chris Johnson of Tennessee gained 2,000 yards last year, but his team missed the playoffs and were 0-6 until they changed QBs and play calling and experienced a sudden and dramatic turnaround.
Much is expected of Michael Crabtree this coming year. A full off season of OTAs and Training Camp and familiarity with the offense, coupled with a more improved chemistry with Smith, cannot help but make him better and more dangerous. It will surely be fun to see how dangerous he is going to be. We haven’t had a dangerous receiver since T.O. left eight years ago. But I don’t see even Crabtree as the key to more first downs. More yardage, yes. More points, yes. More excitement, yes. But not necessarily less fewer three and outs.
Well, it must be the Oline then. The two rookies we’re plugging in to turn 2.5 yard gains into 4 yard gains and 2.5 seconds of pass protection into 3 or even 4 seconds. These improvements are not guaranteed, but do look to have a good chance of occurring and would certainly have a lot to do with ending the three and out excellence displayed last year. But, how much improvement? From first in futility to tenth? Fifteenth? No, the big improvement must come from …
The Winner. The guy who is the KEY. Jimmy Raye.
Last year we saw that Raye could call a stone age running game relying on superior Oline strength, with an occasional pass play, designed to hang around in a game until the 4th quarter when we would overpower a tired opponent and win by 3 points. This strategy depended on an overpowering Oline, which we did not have, and a shutdown defense. Our defense was good, but not that good.
Then we saw Raye go pass wacky in mid-season with more yards and more exciting big gainers. But not so much more methodical chain movement. We had some three or four play assaults that picked up points, but we still had third and long occurring on the vast majority of drives.
As the coming season approaches, we do not know what kind of an offense Raye will run. We do not know if he was crippled by personnel weaknesses and Crabtree’s hold out and the change in QBs last year, or whether he just doesn’t call a very good game. We don’t know if our personnel improvement this off season will make his play calling suddenly effective or still unimaginative and groan producing. Are we going to use three WRs more and a speed burning slot receiver like Ted Ginn or Kyle Williams, or continue to lean on the 2 TE set of Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker? Are we going to see more variety? More spice? Or just more of the same?
Most fans and observers would say our personnel is good enough to be successful. The hot seat is yours, Mr. Raye.