After watching football all afternoon, I'm taking a quick break to write about football. (To my married friends - hope you had fun at Bed, Bath & Beyond). A couple of thoughts from the Sunday fare:
-- Redskins right tackle Jon Jansen dislocated his ankle early in the team's win over Miami. Now let me see ... is there a team out there that has a starting-caliber right tackle just sitting on the bench? Think, Barrows, think! If any team is crazy enough to trade for a guy who will become a free agent at the end of the season, it's the Redskins. I wonder if Scot McCloughan is on the phone right now.
-- Maybe Jon Kitna's 50-touchdown prediction isn't so absurd after all. Kitna had three on the road against a very good Raiders defense and had a chance for two more. Thank goodness I have Kitna on my fantasy team (sincere).
-- What happened to the Rams? Maybe resting Steven Jackson during the preseason wasn't such a good idea. He had just 58 yards rushing and lost two fumbles. Thank goodness I have Jackson on my fantasy team (sarcastic).
-- Ok, it's only Week One. But I'm feeling good about my SB prediction. New England had a tough time against the Jets last year but whooped up on them pretty good in New Jersey. Crossing my fingers that my other SB team - Dallas -looks just as sharp. ***postgame analysis of Cowboys. Offense: ooh, la la! Defense: oh, no, no! ****
Of course, the teams that have to wait the longest for their regular seasons to begin are the Cardinals and 49ers. Who will win? I figure the atmosphere in Candlestick - nationally televised game, Bill Walsh tribute, throwbacks, suits - will be worth seven points at least, enough to give the 49ers the win. As far as the rest of the season, here are five reasons for optimism and five more why you might not want to book that February flight to Phoenix just yet.
1.) Injuries. I've never seen the 49ers this healthy (knock on wood). When I was covering the team in the Ericksonian era, the injury report had a front and back. One of the things Nolan said he'd do as head coach is reduce the number of hobbled players, and this season at least he's true to his word. Every player on the team practiced at least once this week, although Dashon Goldson (elbow) is out for the game. Of course, the 49ers were pretty healthy going into last year's opener, too, and were without Jonas Jennings and Larry Allen by the end of the game.
2.) Alex Smith. Yeah, he wasn't great against the Bears and he stunk against the Chargers, but did you see those two teams play today? Their defenses might finish one-two in the league. Smith has made big strides in the offseason and now has the ability to win games not just manage them.
3.) The schedule. Sure, there are some tough games early on - Sept. 23 in Pittsburgh, e.g. - but most of the games after the halfway point seem winnable. If history tells us anything, it's that the 49ers play better in the second half of the season than the first. And here's another bonus - the Bears and Chargers are nowhere to be found.
4.) Depth. The 49ers' depth chart in previous years was so shallow that if a starter got hurt, they would be forced to replace him with the fry guy at Burger King. Really. This year, the roster has better depth, particular at key positions like offensive line and in the secondary. Running back depth, however, is a concern. (See below)
5.) Fresh legs. After missing nearly all of preseason, Frank Gore hit the line of scrimmage last week like he'd been shot out of a cannon. It's unknown whether Gore's right hand is fully healed, but his legs appear to be in very good shape.
1.) Pass rush. It was virtually nonexistent in the preseason. The 49ers say that's because they didn't blitz at all in the warm-up games. But it would be nice to see some sort of pressure from the base defense. A team can sign all the $80 million cornerbacks it wants, but even mediocre quarterbacks will pick a defense apart if they have time.
2.) Defensive line. What does it say when a team grabs an underachieving defensive lineman who has been cut by three other teams and places him on the active roster? It says they're not all that happy with the guys who were already on the team.
3.) Coverage. They say safety Michael Lewis hits like a linebacker. If you ask Philadelphia fans, they'll say he covers like a linebacker, too, which is why the Eagles replaced him in the starting lineup last year.
4.) New faces. Lewis is one of five new starters on defense this year. You can argue that all five are better than the players they replaced. But it will still take time for the unit to jell, especially when you consider the 49ers are learning a new defense and have a new defensive coordinator.
5.) Back-up backs. What happens if Gore goes down? Maurice Hicks runs hard but it's difficult to imagine him withstanding the pounding an every-down back receives. Michael Robinson is strong but his game is only partially developed. They both still seem like third-down backs
-- Matt Barrows.