The disconnect between the 49ers as they are and as they want to be continues to widen, which is to say that now the league has figured out why they win every week, theyre moving on to why they make winning more difficult than it should be.In short, the NFL looks at the 49ers in terms of results rather than style points, and the 49ers are trying to reinvent themselves before the league figures out how to punish them for their shortcomings.Sunday was that day all over again. The 49ers smothered the hopeless Arizona Cardinals, 23-7, to improve to 9-1, but the word of the day from Alexander D. Smith was frustrating.
Its good to keep winning, but its frustrating too, the quarterback said after what was probably his least impressive game (20 of 38, 267, two scores, one pick). You look at the defense and see how theyre doing to keep us in games, and its kind of frustrating to leave so much out there. In fact, it makes it more frustrating when they play like that.Play like what, you ask. Play like: Needing six field goal attempts to take a surmountable 9-0 halftime lead despite having the ball for 21 minutes. Going only 2-for-6 from red zone situations, making them 3 for the last 11 and seven for the last 20. Failing to get to 30 points for the ninth time in 10 games (if you take away the two Ted Ginn returns in Week One, they managed only 19 against Seattle). Having 44:16 of possession time, the most of any team all year (and forever, according to Arizona coach ken Whisenhunt), and still managing only two touchdowns. This futility rate exceeds only Cleveland, which needed 42:56 to beat Seattle, 6-3, in Week 7.In short, while the rest of the league is seeing a spectacular march to glory from a team whos glory days are long ago, the 49ers are seeing offensive inefficiencies.Thus, while Smith is admitting to frustrations about the offenses ability to reprise its 48-3 win over Tampa Bay, the rest of the NFL is marveling at what the 49ers actually do:Namely, not let the opposition even rise to a level of frustration about the opportunities it wastes because there are no opportunities to be had.I usually dont credit to anyone, especially in the division, but I give credit to them, Arizona defensive end Darrell Dockett said when asked how the 49ers are different than the team he has known most of his career. Theyre still doing the same things, theyre still running the ball . . . actually, the quarterback is playing A LOT better. Hes not asked to do a lot, get the ball in there. The biggest thing theyve got for them is their defense. Its keeping them in the game so they CAN run the ball.Dockett is merely spouting the orthodoxy of 49er World make no mistakes, and wait for the defense to force its share. The Cardinals turned the ball over five times, gained barely half as many yards as the 49ers, and averaged a preposterous 1:19 per possession. Quarterback John Skelton was poor even by Whisenhunts public standards, and his 10.5 quarterback rating from six completions and three interceptions in 19 attempts seemed generous when placed next to his actually play.But the 49ers still left La Candeliere Sunday feeling more hungry than sated, and when Smith said, If we get those other three field goals (from David Akers, who was 3 for 6), its 32, and were probably feeling better about how we did, he didnt sound all that convincing.Convert half those field goal attempts to touchdowns, for example and the 49ers have a minimum 35 points, and the final score looks more like the run of play and less like a lost day against a defeated and demoralized opponent just playing out the string in mid-November.It is the new motivational point for the 49ers to be an offense the defense can be proud of, and can be confident in if it has its own off day down the road. Sundays breakout performers, Michael Crabtree (7 for 120) and Kyle Williams (5 for 54), helped jump-start a stagnant offense, but the 49ers are edging toward the time when jump-starting and stagnant should no longer be part of the vocabulary.Two other worrisome numbers: They rank closer to the bottom than the top in touchdowns scored, but lead in field goals and field goal attempts. Since the 49ers are running in Walsh Era territory, it should be mentioned that Walsh regarded a field goal with the same contempt he did a punt it represented not half a touchdown, but failure.Jim Harbaugh probably does as well, but maybe hes just dancing longer with who brought him.You never really know how good they are under the gun, down 21, and lets see them pass it all over the field, Dockett said. Instead, they keep it close, they dont make mistakes, they get three points and three points and its keeping them in games. Hell, Id keep doing it the same way every week if I was them.Then again, Dockett is on a team that is now 3-7, in full retreat, and feeling fortunate to have only lost by 16 on a day when a margin of twice that would have been barely explicable.And the 49ers are 9-1, knowing how good they are, but beginning to wonder how good they could be if they really assembled that offense that the defensive players could brag about to their friends.