QUOTE: “As the true object of education is not to render the pupil the mere copy of his preceptor, it is rather to be rejoiced in, than lamented, that various reading should lead him into new trains of thinking.” -- William Godwin
The Arizona Cardinals are a tough team to understand and to accurately predict how they’ll play. Normally, they play well on the road, but Monday night they were in a very giving mood — turning over the ball seven times to the 49ers. The Cardinals looked sensational a week ago in beating the Minnesota Vikings, but they came to San Francisco and laid a huge egg to the same team that beat them in the opener. Strange, right?
Even watching the game, I was mixed in my evaluation of them. I thought their defense looked faster and better coordinated than in the past and seemed to dominate the line of scrimmage. But then they would appear soft, miss open-field tackles and allow Frank Gore to take over the game. This team must test the patience of head coach Ken Whisenhunt, but he appears to have adjusted to the inconsistencies and keeps moving forward to the next game. What good will it do for the Cardinals to harp on this loss? They must look ahead and understand that being inconsistent is what defines them as a team.
The one highlight I noticed about the Cardinals is the emergence of running back Beanie Wells. His size and speed, along with his running skills, have given them the kind of back who can make this offense more explosive, assuming they play consistently. And we know that’s a huge assumption.
As for the 49ers, they left the field with a great win but couldn’t have felt good about the play of their quarterback, Alex Smith. After watching the game live (and I’ll watch it again later on tape), my sense is that the 49ers ought to draft a quarterback next year. They can’t count on Smith being the man, especially if he plays as inconsistently as he did last night. His accuracy was off, and he wasn’t quick-minded or sharp with his decision-making. He never matched the speed of the game with his play — something that always worries me about him. His inconsistent play and poor decisions make me think he will always be a marginal starter.
The one shining hope for the 49ers was wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who clearly is the real deal. When he gets the ball in his hands, he’s very difficult to tackle and shows explosive power. He’s going to be great.
The Cardinals have to feel fortunate they play in the NFC West, which has only one other team that can compete effectively. The Seahawks and Rams are in rebuilding modes, and it seems like the 49ers have been rebuilding for five years — which helps them compete, at least at home. So the Cards can get away with their inconsistent play and not risk a playoff spot. But it does affect their seeding, which would put them in the fourth spot. If the playoffs started today, the Eagles would host the Cowboys in a rematch of the final game of the season.
Speaking of the Cowboys, how can they not make a move for a new field goal kicker? I realize they love Nick Folk and have time and money invested in him, but he’s costing them games. What message does this send to the team if you don’t at least try to bring in a new kicker? Do you think if Bill Parcells was in Dallas that Folk would still be the kicker? I’m not suggesting the Cowboys outright release him. Just give him a break and let someone else take over. Do you think the team has confidence in him right now? Hardly.
There are two courses of action the Cowboys can take. The first would be the easy one: Cut their 53rd player, sign a kicker and not dress Folk. The second would be to go for it on all fourth downs in the 40-yard range, realizing that Folk is 4 of 11 this year and their odds of converting on fourth down are better. This would make them unconventionally dangerous as play callers and might spark their offense.
For his career, Folk is a 72-percent kicker inside the 40. Prior to this season, he missed only one kick in that range, so you can understand the Cowboys’ patience. But this is a critical time and it calls for a critical decision.
A change in kickers might keep every Cowboy on edge, left to wonder if they might be replaced if they play badly. That kind of pressure is what the Cowboys need. They must understand the urgency of the matter. Jobs and careers are at stake, and unless you can do your job, you’re replaceable. The time is now.
Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi
To read more about San Fran's victory over the Cards, including a discussion of Niners rookie Michael Crabtree, check out this article from Bleacher Report.
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