It’s been a disappointing year, for sure. A season that thus far has been marked by high expectations that haven’t been met, a starting running back hampered by injury, a head coach clinging to his job. All leading to a team on the periphery of the playoff picture, with hopes of sneaking into the postseason in a year where most experts picked them to easily win their division.
But enough about the Chargers.
If it weren’t for the Raiders strolling into San Diego a couple weeks ago and coming away with an unlikely 28-13 victory, the Chargers would be favored by more than 10 points over the 49ers. As it is, they’re favored by 9. The Chargers may be only 7-6, but they’ve won five of their last six and after blanking the Chiefs a few days ago look to be in the middle of yet another second half resurgence.
While San Diego’s record is slightly better than the 49ers’, statistically it’s no contest according to these per game averages (NFL ranking in parentheses):
Chargers: 27.2 (3) … 49ers: 18.7 (26)
Chargers: 399.6 (2) … 49ers: 317.5 (23)
Chargers: 19.5 (11) … 49ers: 21.5 (18)
Chargers: 265.0 (1) … 49ers: 327.4 (11 — hey, that’s surprisingly good, actually!)
For the 49ers, who can still win the NFC West even if they lose tomorrow night, this game is about avoiding embarrassment on national television. You already know the storylines NFL Network will focus on in this game: Alex Smith gets one last chance in San Francisco against the only offensive coordinator he ever had who made him look halfway decent; Philip Rivers is an MVP candidate; holy s— the NFC West is horrible.
You know the NFC West bashing is coming, the only question is when. If the Chargers race out to an early lead, it’s all Joe Theismann and Matt Millen will talk about for the entire game. And it’s going to be intolerable. It will make several of us consider swearing off the NFL forever, or at least the rest of this season. How can the 49ers stop this from happening?
1. Show some sack
The 49ers aren’t going to win by playing conservatively. That will simply lead to a game where they stick around until the Chargers cruise to victory in the second half. You know, like how they played the Packers. If the 49ers can conceivably make the playoffs with wins in their last two games, why don’t they play aggressively and try to hit San Diego in the mouth early? And speaking of “sack,” the Chargers have allowed 31 this season (49ers QBs have been sacked 32 times). Greg Manusky needs to unleash the La Boy and hope he forces another fumble. Philip Rivers has fumbled 7 times already this season, and they’ll need at least one more tomorrow night to have much of a chance against a team that’s better in every statistical category.
2. Wrap people up
Lost in the euphoria of the Niners easy win against Seattle was the fact that everyone besides Takeo Spikes has been a shaky tackler over the last two weeks. Yes, even Patrick Willis. Mike Tolbert is a bowling ball of a running back, if he makes 49ers bounce off his prodigious thighs all game, the night will be a long one. Vincent Jackson’s a big dude at WR, and he’s back in the mix. And if Antonio Gates plays (he’s had bad plantar fasciitis for a while now), that’s another guy the Niners will have a tough time bringing down.
3. Let Alex sink or swim
Yeah, the Chargers have the best pass defense in the league. But shouldn’t the goal to be able to pass on anybody? The last thing the 49ers needs is a series of slightly above average statistical performances by Alex Smith going into the off-season, leading the Niners to give him yet another chance. And if the 49ers do their whole “we’re afraid to pass, so we’ll run up the middle on 1st and 2nd down before Alex does his Checkdown Charlie routine on 3rd-and-long,” there’s no chance that Brian Westbrook or Anthony “I have no idea how to stay upright on grass” Dixon will be able to get anything going.
For the Niners, the key phrase going into tomorrow should be “nothing to lose.” The Chargers watch TV, they know the NFC West is awful. They’re expecting to cruise tomorrow evening in their second straight easy home game. The 49ers need a “wow” moment early, a long TD pass to Josh Morgan, a huge blindside hit on Rivers, anything that makes the Chargers wonder what the hell they got themselves into. Otherwise we’re going to have to listen to a couple blowhard announcers prattle on all night about how they knew all of this was going to happen, with accompanying shots of Mike Singletary on the sidelines wearing sunglasses.