Talent gap key to 49ers-Raiders collapses

September 19, 2011, 4:52 pm
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After two weeks, heres what we know about the Raiders and 49ers after you brush through the crypto-happy talk.They do know how to build big leads, and they do know how to blow them. In fact, theyre almost four-for-four in that key-but-too-often-unexamined stat.Both teams actually did spit their respective bits Sunday, the Raiders in Buffalo despite being plus-18 before halftime, and the 49ers in Dallas West despite being plus-14 right about the same time.And the week before, the 49ers nearly kicked away a 16-0 lead to a horrid Seattle team and the Raiders a 16-3 lead to a megabland Denver side. Thats 64 points worth of lead, which if you squint really hard becomes a statistic that requires a bit of analysis.So here it is. Theyre short on good players.
That seems obvious given the last eight years, but for those of you who always put hope before head, its a point that needs re-raising.Starting quickly is a tribute to the schemes delivered during the week, and the players who absorb and believe in them. In short, both the Raiders and 49ers are being prepped well, and they are taking that preparation seriously.But the second half deflations are about talent. Yes, theres an element of mental toughness, for those of you who love the power of intangibles, but mostly its about the natural attrition of talent.In other words, the good teams adjust and the teams that arent get adjusted. Not because they lack heart, or because theyve been served badly by their instructors, but because talent will typically find its own level.The 49ers are essentially the same team they were a year ago, which isnt a good sign for a 6-10 team hoping that all its playmates end up 5-11. The Raiders are actually not quite as good, and have a tougher schedule than they did a year ago.Yes, we can come up with more complicated reasons based on hours of tape study and brain-crushing analysis, but sometimes the answers are macro- rather than micro-. This is more obvious in the 49ers loss to Dallas than the Raiders loss at Buffalo, but both are cut from the same bolt of cloth.The 49ers cant run because teams defend them that way. They want to force Alex Smith to be heroic, and the game plans Jim Harbaugh has given Smith are not the stuff of heroism. They are the stuff of game management, and Smith manages games well enough. But neither he nor most of his teammates are genuine gamebreakers, and Harbaugh knows that.The Raiders are a different problem because while they have some special players (see McFadden, Darren), they have not yet figured out how to choke a team out. They didnt do it to a bad Denver team, and they didnt do it to a Buffalo team that may end up having one of the games best offenses.In short, you have, at least for the moment, teams that are committed but undergunned. They may lose some of that commitment if the season becomes too difficult a slog, but the undergunned part isnt likely to change. Making bad teams good ones is not an overnight process, and the first two weeks suggest that while the will is greater than the skill, will and skill is what is required if the 49ers and Raiders are to leave the last decade behind.For the moment, theyre halfway there. The half that is easy.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.