Not like we hear at HMB want to brag or anything, but Sunday's victory over the Raiders
put us at 4-0 on the season (with one N/A) in predictions. Granted we haven't been going against the spread, but it is still a somewhat impressive feat. I guess this little self-praising exercise means that our first stumble will come this weekend against San Diego, but we'll wait till Friday--and then Sunday--to find out.
The win over the Raiders really isn't anything to write home about; it is obvious that they are the least disciplined, most poorly prepared, and ineptly coached team in the entire NFL. A win like this is something that the players, franchise, and fans should expect
henceforth. But it still remains reassuring to see a team that played so poorly last season be expected to win a game the following year. This shows yet another sign that things around here just might be changing.
Despite the abhorrent opponent, there are some good things to take out of Sunday's triumph. Let's take a quick glance:
- Frank Gore finally held on to the ball for his first fumble-free game of the year, and in the process, scampered to the top of the NFL rushing list. If anyone predicted this at the start of the season, I will immediately make you my bookie.
- The Niners trailed at halftime and were able to make a spirited comeback behind an efficient Alex Smith and a turnover-forcing D, which included three picks from corner Walt Harris (no, not the Stanford coach).
- Norv Turner exacted revenge on his former employer, and his offense looked ten-fold more competent.
- No play better exemplified the divergent directions of the cross-bay franchises than Melvin Oliver's fumble recovery.
- Arnaz of the Battle Zone caught two TDs in hopes of complementing Antonio Bryant.
Not all things were so rosy after the game, however:
- Nolan's in-game decision-making is once again a topic up for debate. This time he's being chastised for going for two fourth-and-ones. Either way, you just can't win.
- Manny Lawson, fresh off of blocking a punt, might be getting a little worn out already.
- Good news: Rookie Delanie Walker finally made his anticipated regular season debut. Bad news: he didn't do anything.
- No matter how you slice it, the game was still pretty ugly. But, hey, we'll take whatever we can get.
Overall, the positives outweighed the negatives, which is almost always the case in a victory. Before we jump to conclusions, let's take a gander at the season's statistics so far.
- The Niners rank 7th in scoring offense, 13th in total offense, 8th in rushing, and 11th in passing.
- The defense is still seventh-worst in the NFL, but is in the middle of the pack (15th) in forcing turnovers.
Obviously, the offense has been infinitely better than last season, and while the numbers of the defense may suggest little has changed, the ability to create turnovers shows that there is natural talent on the team that has yet to have been fully harnessed. The most telling improvement on the team, however, lies in Alex Smith. Let's compare his first five starts of last year to those in 2006:
- 2005 first 5 starts (aggregate): 50/109, 46%, 551 yards, 0 TDs, 10 INTs, 23.15 QB rating.
- 2006 first 5 starts (aggregate): 89/152, 58.6%, 1071 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs, 85.2 QB rating.
- 2005 first 5 starts (average): 10/21.8, 46%, 110.2 yards/game, 0 TDS/2 INTS per game for an average QB rating of 24.0.
- 2006 first 5 starts (average): 17.8/30.4, 59%, 214 yards/game, 1.2 TDs/0.6 INTs per game for an average QB rating of 90.14.
The two things that really jump out at you are the increase in completion percentage and decrease in turnovers. Yes, he's thrown for nearly double the yardage, but much of that can be attributed to the 10 more pass attempts he's averaging a game. It's clear that Smith's accuracy is much higher which is apparent in the 12% increase in completed passes, and the significant decrease in interceptions thrown. Some of this can be attributed to the improvement of receiving personnel surrounding Smith, but from observing the game film, he has shown better command of the game in his second season. If he improves at a similar rate for this season and the next, the Niners could be darkhorse playoff contenders before previously anticipated.
(For QB rating research, this site
Before we all collectively get on our knees, Smith will have to prove his mettle in the coming weeks against--in my estimation--the two best defenses in the NFL. This weekend the Niners take on the Chargers (tune in Friday for the prediction), and after a bye week travel to the Windy City to play Chicago. See you Friday.