Manning vs. Smith -- a franchise statement

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Manning vs. Smith -- a franchise statement

The troubling nature of the 49ers flirtation with Peyton Manning begins and ends here, with this thought:That Alex Smith has never been Mr. Right. That he is simply Mr. Right Now.But that is the nature of football, and not only as Jim Harbaugh perceives it. It is the nature of football, period. Organizations marrying themselves to one player is so contra-indicated as to border on the foolish, as Mannings separation from the Indianapolis Colts reminds us.So Harbaugh turning up to kick the tires on Manning, as the saying goes, is merely one more reminder not to Smith alone but to all of us that nobody is safe in the sport built on the most primal laws of Darwinism. Break a player, get a new one. See a drill in the window that works better than your, get it.Put it this way: If Harbaugh thought there was a better linebacker than Patrick Willis, hed seek that out, too.
Harbaugh is a pragmatist with a reptiles blood temperature. He always has been. The great quarterback mastermind won at Stanford with Toby Gerhart as his centerpiece before he won with Andrew Luck. It is why he has a reputation out of size with his deeds to date because he doesnt mind tweaking his system to fit the players in his command.Manning, of course, is a different matter because he plays quarterback, which is the only position many 49er fans acknowledge at all. It is this teams great cultural flaw that it obsesses on its quarterbacks in ways that more traditional markets do not.Thus, Smith was the embodiment of evil when he was quarterbacking a bad team for more coaches than Manning has ever seen, the representative of truth and beauty when the team finally got good last year, and after not winning the NFC title game to a superior New York Giants team, he became Public Enemy No. 1 again.In fact, Smith is and has always been a serviceable quarterback who found a coach who could give his gifts voice in his seventh year. He is not Dan Marino. He is also not Charlie Whitehurst. He is, and take this any way you like, an okay quarterback with a range of results.And take this, too. He did not cost the 49ers the Giants game. The Giants took it. Period.All that said, Manning is worth a free look. The problem becomes in projecting what Harbaugh saw this week with what he would see with angry mesomorphs beating on him relentlessly in the fall and early winter, and at what cost that vision demands.As Comrade Maiocco, a troublesome brute in the best of days, has told us, Denver has more than 40 million in cap space, and the 49ers less than 20 million. Manning has apparently been offered a five-year, 90 million deal from Denver that would essentially Zito-ize the 49er payroll if Manning isnt all that.Thats your downside right there. Its no more elegant than that. The 49ers cannot afford to be wrong with Manning because of the collateral damage. Being right with Manning, of course, speaks for itself, but the question remains a dangler suspended from the front of Harbaughs omnipresent ball cap is there enough Manning for the quick strike that nets a ring?This is, then, a strategic rather than a tactical decision, one that seems financial but in fact is a football call at its most elemental. Jed York seems clearly like the sort who would do and pay anything Harbaugh requested, so hes going to follow the coachs lead, and Trent Baalkes specialty remains the draft.Harbaugh, though, has the decision that makes, breaks or just dents the franchise. The quick hit that is Manning who may or may not be the perfect stroke for the here and now, against the safer and more financially prudent choice that is Smith who, in any event, would always be auditioning for his job no matter what his contract reads.So forget loyalty. Loyalty is always a one-way street in the NFL, and always has been. Players who expect it end up being devastated by its absence. Alex Smith is nobodys yutz he knows the game; he has no right not to know it. So does Peyton Manning, who unlike the 49er fan base is looking at his decision in a far more clinical light, with no interest in or concern for Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, Matt Hasselbeck or, if it came to that, Darian Durant of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.But for a change, the down side of keeping Smith is minimal, whether you want to believe that or not. So this decision becomes the essential Harbaugh tell does he like to go all-in with ace-four unsuited (Manning), or play the percentage with jacks paired (Smith)?The answer will tell you what kind of football executive (as opposed to coach) he is pragmatist with a hint of gambler, or gambler with a hint of pragmatist. Its his call, and his franchise statement.

Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

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Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

There is no shortage of blame to go around for the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl 51.

The Falcons built a 28-3 lead in the middle of the third quarter and let it slip away, ultimately falling to the New England Patriots, 34-28, in overtime.

Matt Ryan voiced one previously undisclosed factor in the collapse this week in an interview with Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, pointing the finger at the new coach of the 49ers.

Kyle Shanahan has been the focus of a lot of the blame, but critique from the league MVP was a new one.

The Falcons quarterback faulted his former offensive coordinator for taking too much time to relay the play calls. Ryan said he did not have enough time to change any of the plays – presumably checking out of called pass plays to run the ball.

Here’s what Ryan told Prisco:

"Kyle's play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in. As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you're talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, 'There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.' You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

"With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You're not being aggressive not running it there."

The 49ers can point to mismanagement of the clock for their own Super Bowl heartbreak. The 49ers’ offense had the perfect play call at the perfect time against the Baltimore Ravens late in Super Bowl XLVII.

But with the play clock striking :00, coach Jim Harbaugh was forced to call a timeout from the sideline. A split-second later, the ball was snapped and it appeared the quarterback run would have easily ended up with Colin Kaepernick in the end zone.

Much like after the 49ers’ loss, the Falcons left plenty of room for second-guessing.

Two of Shanahan’s plays calls, which directly led to the collapse, will forever be scrutinized.

The first came with 8:31 remaining in regulation and the Falcons holding a 28-12 lead. On third and 1 from the Atlanta 36, Shanahan did not remain conservative with an expected run play. He swung for the fence.

Receiver Aldrick Robinson, whom the 49ers added this offseason as a free-agent pickup, was breaking free past the Patriots secondary for what could have been a touchdown. But just as Ryan was unloading, New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower hit him and forced the fumble. Running back Devonta Freeman whiffed on blitz pickup, which would have provided Ryan with enough time to target Robinson deep.

Ryan’s explanation does not appear applicable on this play, though. In watching the replay, the Falcons broke the huddle with more than 25 seconds remaining on the play clock and the snap occurred with :15 to spare.

The other questionable sequence came after the Falcons – leading by eight points -- got to the New England 22-yard line with less than five minutes to play. The Falcons lost 1 yard on a run play on first down.

On second down, Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss. Before that play, the Falcons broke the huddle with :19 on the play clock. The snap occurred with :04 remaining. The game clock was running, so the Falcons had reason to attempt to burn as much clock as possible.

In the fourth quarter, the Falcons never seemed rushed to get off a play. The closest they came to delay-of-game penalties were when they snapped the ball with :04 on the one play and :03 another time. The majority of their snaps occurred with :10 or more seconds to spare.

If the Falcons were guilty of anything when it came to the play clock, it was that the offense did not waste more time. After New England pulled to within 28-9 late in the third quarter, the Falcons ran only six offensive plays while the game clock was running.

On those six plays, the Falcons snapped the ball with :13, :09, :14, :20, :13 and :04 remaining on the play clock. If they’d snapped the ball with one second remaining each time, they could have shortened the game by 1 minute, 7 seconds. The Patriots scored the game-tying touchdown with :57 remaining in regulation.

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Until now, Kyle Shanahan’s hiring by the San Fracisco 49ers looked great because of his two-and-a-half predecessors – the last days of Jim Harbaugh, the misplaced concept of Jim Tomsula and the couldn’t-make-chicken-marsala-out-of-old-Kleenex problems surrounding Chip Kelly.

But now, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has told us all that Shanahan has a gift we in the Bay Area know all too well. Specifically, that Shanahan took too long to call plays to the Super Bowl the Falcons vomited up to the New England Patriots.

Now who does that remind you of, over and over again?

Yes, some things are evergreen, and too many options in this overly technological age seems to be one of them. Data in is helpful, but command going out is what bells the cow. Ryan said Shanahan was, well, almost Harbaugh-tastic in his timing.

“Kyle’s play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in,” Ryan told Bleacher Report. “As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you’re talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, ‘There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.’ You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

“With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You’re not being aggressive not running it there.”

And the reason this matters is because the Atlanta Shanahan had multiple good options on every play. In San Francsco, at least in the short term, he’ll be dealing with minimal options. That could speed up his choices, as in “What the hell, we don’t have Julio Jones.” But it could also mean more delays, as in, “Okay, him . . . no, maybe not . . . no, he just screwed up that play last series . . . oh, damn it, time out!”

In short, it’s growing pains season here, children. On the field, on the sidelines, and maybe even in Kyle Shanahan’s head.