NFL14 Cherry Picks W10: Red Zone Blues

7 Nov

Achilles Heel

It’s their foible, their flaw, the weak link in the 49ers notable chain of success lo these past 4 years, the Jim Harbaugh era.

It first reared it’s ugly head in 2013 in that wild & wooly Super Bowl 47, when the lights went out in New Orleans and the Ravens, who saw their commanding, early lead slip-sliding away, held on long enough to take the victory & hoist the hardware (34-31).

On that strange February night when “swing time” was the mood, San Fran roared back from a 28-6 third-quarter deficit to cut the lead to 5 (34-29). With under 2 to play, red & gold drove to Baltimore’s 7 but stalled in the red-zone, unable to punch it in for the win.

Then there was last January’s NFC championship game where the Niners found themselves once again on the doorstep to greatness.

Down 23-17 w/30 seconds remaining in the game, ball on the Seahawks’ 18 and 1st & 10, 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick lofts an end-zone corner pass to Mike Crabtree that’s deflected and then intercepted by Seattle’s Malcolm Smith. Hawks run out the clock and head to SB48.


Most recently the 49ers faced their red-zone challenge last Sunday, trailing host St. Louis, 13-10, 1st & goal from the five w/45 ticks on the clock. Again, SF was unable to break the plane on four attempts as Colin coughed it up on a QB-sneak and Rams recovered.

Those dark days just following their gut-wrenching loss in last season’s Conference title game had to be emotionally trying for the Miners. Besides the obvious missed prospect (SB48), it placed two burdens squarely on the shoulders of San Fran’s brain-trusters:

1) Compensate for the loss of star linebacker NaVorro Bowman, key cog in their success;

2) How to school the athletic Colin Kaepernick on the finer points of being an NFL QB.

On the defensive side they usually keep it close.

Led by safety A. Bethea (37t / 2i) and stout linebacker corps of Willis, Wilhoite & Borland, 49ers come in at #18 in points allowed (22.2) but just behind NFL leading Lions in yards per game (291.9 / 2).

But offensively there’s still a glitch in the system.

Either Harbaugh & Company don’t see a problem with their goal-line giddy-up, no new strategy, or whatever he and Colin cooked-up hasn‘t yet the right ingredients.


Kaep’s C% (64.2) is quite splendid and TD-ratio fine (12-5i), but when the field shortens into that red, meaty part, this run-QB lacks the passer mentality and skill-set to slice & dice opposing defensive schemes, making their job a lot easier.

Take away Kaepernick’s open field where he can free associate when it strikes his fancy, and he, like other flash-quarterbacks, are exposed as single-wing tailbacks posing as signal-callers. That won’t cut it in the pros, not outside Green Bay, not since the 40s.

As long as the 49ers fail to solve their red-zone mystery, their quest for Super silver will remain unfulfilled and Jim & Kaep’s San Fran futures uncertain.

Raking the Muck

If the NFL was ever to award a Purple Heart-like medallion for strength in the face of harassing media & politicos, the Washington Redskins enlistment and commissioned staff would be 2014’s indisputably most deserving recipients.

It’s safe to write that every losing team (3-6) has a degree of dissension in their ranks.

It’s also safe to write that that’s no good reason for some to attempt to ameliorate apparent slip-shod reporting by one Britt McHenry (ESPN) of a supposed quarterback rift in the Washington locker-room last weekend.


And it’s still safe to write that such she-nanigans start at the top (See; J. Skipper).

Someone’s killed off my ESPN, our ESPN. It was a monopoly before Mr. Skipper took the reins (‘05), but a skilled one at that. Kinda’ like Ma Bell before the break-up (‘82).

Formerly a standard-setter in TV sport journalism & entertainment, ESPN (Disney) has undertaken a change in direction over the past decade. Muckraking (Sam shower story, etc.) and selling to the lowest common denominator (least discerning audience) now seems the typical tack. Ms. McHenry is, in modern parlance, merely a tool carrying out network – corporate policy. Not everyone would earn their pay as such, but many do.

The silver lining in this dark cloud for the Redskins is realization that when a teammate faces hostile fire (RG3), it’s cause to circle the wagons and find a better focus for the job at hand (winning) and to shut out those who sling arrows and violate journalistic code.

Curious Quotes


Phil Simms (CBS 11-2): “This off season Denver built for Seattle, New England built for Denver (NE 43-21).”

Mike Francesa (CBS 11-3): “The Jets quarterback is not on their roster. If he (Idzik) says it is, that’s a fireable offense.”

Question to Mike: Since you postulate the query, are you the one who’s gonna’ put the Jets’ GM on the spot and ask John, in the midst of the 2014 NFL season, who is their quarterback of the future? I wouldn’t want to be that guy.


Cherry Picks Week 10: Silverdome Surf & Turf

Browns (5-3) @ Cincy (5-2-1): 11-6 8:30 NFLN: CIN wins
Chiefs (5-3) @ Buffalo (5-3): 11-9 1:00 CBS: KC wins
Miami (5-3) @ Lions (6-2): 1:00 CBS (GOTW): MIA wins
49ers (4-4) @ New Orleans (4-4): 1:00 Fox: Saints win
Giants (3-5) @ Seattle (5-3): 4:30 Fox: Seahawks win
St. Louis (3-5) @ Arizona (7-1): 4:30 Fox: Cardinals win
Bears (3-5) @ Green Bay (5-3): 8:35 NBC: Chicago wins

Record: 47 – 25 – 1

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: Kaepernick, 10.27.13, wc.cca, D.Hartwig; Colin, 2.3.13, Au-Kirk, wc.cca; SF-football, wc.cca, 1975, Ford Museum; ESPN-HQ, CT, wc.cca, Jkinsocal, 2.1.13; Simms, wc.cca, 10.7.04, USAF, St. Louis; Cherries, B.Kua, wc.cca
Posted: 11-6-14 @ 9:10pm EST


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