Alex Smith still expects more from offense


Alex Smith still expects more from offense

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.

Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention


Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

Frank Deford’s death over the weekend did not mark the end of longform sportswriting as we knew it; he had long ago become part of the electronic commentariat that has reduced longform’s place in the public’s attention span.

But there is still longform writing and storytelling to be found in many places, and it is still worthwhile. It has more production value, as the TV folks like to blather, and the words have to fight for their place between the cracks left by the pictures and the mutated graphics, but longform lives, and it should, lest we all agree as one people to further desiccate that attention span like a grapefruit left in the sun.

Deford’s death, though, reminds of when longform was the zenith of the storytelling art. It could, and still can, give you access and depth and breadth that a TV crew simply could not, and cannot. Even extended TV features are by their very nature so contrived by all the equipment that nothing is natural, nothing is a surprise, and the act of writing is almost an afterthought.

Deford knew this. He more than merely dabbled in TV himself, playing the wizened old raconteur who was as much character in his pieces as storyteller. He was also a star and a starmaker with The National, a daily sports network in newspaper form that was long on talent and ideas but short on delivery and distribution. It lasted 17 months, until mid-1991, but it led to grander attempts decades later, and could if you squint your eyes hard enough be the natural parent of Grantland and The Ringer and Vice and SB Nation and dozens of others – all bigger ideas, positioned in the post-typing world. Some lasted, more didn’t, but capitalism is like that – making fuel to keep the fires burning and the engines churning.

Deford could have thrived in such a world, to be sure. He was not, in the hideous phrase, “a man of his time.” Indeed, he was a crossover figure years ago in ways that other longform writers attempt to resist even now. They want to be Deford at the height of his powers at a time when the instruments for their gift are either dying or veering away from anything that hits the 600-word mark.

But his passing did not kill the art of clever writing and incisive storytelling. There are far too many people who can do that still, even if the market for their gifts is neither as pronounced nor as eager for the product as it once was. It did remind us not only that he was a giant, but that there are still giants among us should we deign to take the time to seek them.

Thus, Deford’s death marked his passing but not the thing that made him worthy of our attention. Storytelling, longform and otherwise, remains the heart of why this is still worthwhile to a culture, and when the generation his work spawned starts to die off, I suspect we’ll still be saying the same thing then. Notebooks are smartphones, photographs are streams, but the human eye and ear and hand still remain pre-eminent.

That is, until the robots take over, at which point reading won’t be worth it.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.