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Friday, December 28, 2012

Why the 49ers won't get to the Super Bowl

An interesting comment got me to writing a rather long response, so instead of posting it there, I though "Why not just make a post?", and so here it is: the reason the 49ers are morons for supplanting Alex Smith when they did and also why Matt Forte is a top 5 RB.

Let me be abundantly clear here: the comment I made about the 49ers had very little to do with Kaepernick's potential as an NFL QB, or even Kaepernick at all. I personally don't think he'll be a good NFL starter, but I've been wrong enough to know it is completely possible. What I was really talking about when I said the 49ers "never should have committed to" Kaepernick was their timing. They replaced Alex Smith in game 10 of the regular season. There are a few ways a first-time starting QB can go in his first full year, and unless you're Cam Newton or Andrew Luck (Who is simply having too strange of a year statistically to categorize) you will have one of a few kinds of years. For Kaepernick, he started hot then came back to Earth a bit against St. Louis and Seattle. That means he is taking one of two paths:

Up-Down-Up: The QB will do surprisingly well initially (this is probably because he brings something extra to the table, like speed, or because his coach is gameplanning him so as to hide his weaknesses... think Roethlisberger's first year) then fall on his ass once teams have film on him. Finally, due to overwhelming talent or good strategy, the QB will rise again, adjust to the adjustment, and finish strong, capping a good rookie year. This is RG3.
Up-Down: The same as above, but the initial defensive adjustment is too much for the QB, it exposes his inherent flaws, the QB cannot adjust, and the QB becomes a career backup. Ahem, Rex Grossman.

The big issue here is that Kaepernick will almost assuredly struggle at the exact wrong time. His seventh game will be against Arizona, his eighth a playoff game. For perspective, RG3 was great for four games, then did poorly for four of his next five games. Cam Newton did great for 4 games then struggled in six of his next seven before righting the ship. Rex Grossman was dynamite for 4 of his first 5 games before sputtering and crashing into oblivion. Kaepernick has been good or great in 4 of his first 5 games... and now he got beat up by Seattle. If the trend holds? He'll hit his struggle section right when the 49ers need him most. So, to reiterate, I don't disagree that Alex Smith is not a long-term answer. I disagree with the timing of his benching.

Moving on to Forte. I agree Arian, Purple Jesus, and Ray Rice are all better than Forte. Jamaal Charles is great, but he has a tendency to disappear from games occasionally and is a complete non-factor in the passing game. Marshawn Lynch has had a great run recently, so he might be #4. Who else is there to challenge Forte? Lesean McCoy just up and dsappeared this year, Reggie Bush was wildly inconsistent, Frank Gore is nearly as beat up as Michael Turner... just because Forte doesn't get used to his full potential doesn't mean he is worth less. His YPC are right there with everyone else I've mentioned and he is one of the three best pass catching RBs in the NFL (Sproles and Ray Rice). Even if we put JC ahead of him he is still #6. Seems trite to argue him being a top 5 RB on that kind of technicality.

This Sunday and its Meaning

This is going to be the biggest Sunday of football in recent Bear history. It's true: they went to a Super Bowl not long ago. And even more recently the Bears played the Packers in an NFC title game. But it's hard to say that either of those two games had quite the impact this weekend will have. Rex Grossman wasn't winning a Super Bowl. The Packer game only served to humiliate the Bears for letting the Packers fall ass-backwards into the playoffs. But this Sunday could change the entire trajectory of an organization that has largely looked exactly the same for eight to nine years.

If the Bears win and the Vikings lose (Thank God Green Bay actually has something to play for), the Bears get a weakened 49er team with a quarterback they never should have committed to. If the Bears win that game, Lovie is safe and the Cutler-Smith experiment will continue.

But let's be honest with ourselves, Bear fans. I probably don't even have to tell you that: we're Chicago sports fans! We're oftentimes a bit TOO pessimistic about what is going to happen to our sports teams. And really, pessimism is simply realism here. The reasoned observer will say that the Bears have a good chance of making the playoffs and getting blown to pieces by the 49ers. There's a good chance Lovie gets fired even if he DOES get to 10-6 and the playoffs in that case. The Bear fan in all of us, of course, is pretty damn sure they'll lose to Detroit this weekend while we also watch Minnesota lose by 30.

And in that scenario, well, everything changes. The head coach we've known since 2004 will be fired, Mike Tice will be gone, Marinelli too (mostly because new HCs want their own coordinators). Most likely so will the 4-3 Cover 2, Brian Urlacher, Devin Hester, and maybe even Jay Cutler. The entire face of this organization will change with that loss. And consider this: the Bears will have one of the best defenses in the league, two Pro Bowl starting corners, a potentially Hall of Fame linebacker (Briggs), a Hall of Fame DE, Henry Melton, the second or third best WR in the game, a top 5 RB, and a team that went 9-7. That sounds like a damn good job opportunity to me.

The coaching options are numerous, but I guarantee the top 2 names on the Bear's list will be Sean Payton and Rex Ryan (Yes, Rex Ryan just got run out of New York. But he has strong Bear ties, he made it to two AFC championship games with defense alone, and he has a very "Bear" mentality. Just enough reason for the Bear organization to put him at the top of a small list, whether the fans agree with it or not.). Rex represents a slightly more conservative approach to change. The defense will become a 3-4, which is entirely foreign to Bear fans, but the Bears actually have the pieces to run that defense right now with very little transition. Shea would be a great 3-4 OLB, Henry Melton is exactly what you want for the middle of your 3-4 line, and Peppers will be great doing anything. The non-change here would be the offense. Rex likes running the ball and occasionally slinging shit deep. Sound like a Cutler offense to you? Yeah. Rex almost fits too perfectly.

But before the Bears call him, they will certainly call the most coveted HC on the open market, Sean Payton. Through a very strange loophole, the Saint HC got released from his contract in part because of the year-long suspension from bounty-gate. I personally believe he's just going to leverage the Cowboy's and Bear's interest against the Saints in order to get a bigger deal, but what if he doesn't? The Bears job is by far the best of the three. It'll give Payton a defense for the first time in his career, one of the best receivers in the game, and a gun-slinging QB who he can either trade for someone he covets or give a one year tryout. Of course, Payton would change the defense AND the offense, and the last time the Bears ran something looking like a spread... well, Cutler still has bruises.

The league is changing. Will the Bears change with it? This team has never been anything but defense-first, run the ball, rinse, repeat, and the one season we tried becoming pass-centric Jay Cutler almost died at the hands of Mike Martz. The last few seasons Lovie has been awkwardly hiring new OCs, trying to turn this offense into something new and, well, good. But his results have been mediocre at best, and occasionally painful and even dangerous. It is, and I say this with love in my heart for Lovie, very clear he has no idea what to do on offense in today's NFL. But one thing is clear; he thinks he needs to change. This is why, if Lovie goes, the Bears will almost assuredly grab a coach that will change the very fabric of the team. I'm not here to argue whether changing is good or not. But the Bears may look at the list of Super Bowl champs and realize the last time a team won with their current mentality was 2003. And that was when the Bucs beat the Raiders in possibly the worst Super Bowl ever.

It is very rare that you get to watch something understanding the full weight and context of the situation you are seeing. Nobody knew the Bulls would trip and fall into the #1 pick to get D. Rose. Nobody knew Bartman was coming. Make no mistake. This Sunday means more to the Bear's organization than either of those two events. It could mean changing the entire identity of a team that has remained constant for so long. So tune in this Sunday and watch as a man fights for his job, and maybe more importantly, a team decides its trajectory for the next ten years.