NFL: Future for Raiders and 49ers begins with quarterbacks
By Tim Kawakami
San Jose Mercury News
Itís the Raiders and 49ers. Itís always about the quarterbacks, and nothing else works right unless the QBs are in full flight.
It was about the quarterbacks during training camp, in Week 1 and Week 9, and itís certainly all about the QBs now that the Raiders and 49ers are at the end of the line.
Thatís where Tom Cable is both correct and doomed: ďItís a quarterback-driven league,Ē he said a bit sorrowfully last week.
And the Raiders were driven to the depths in 2009 (plus Sundayís finale vs. Baltimore) because their QB was lousy.
All about JaMarcus Russell.
Thatís where Mike Singletary has hope: He salvaged a half-decent QB out of the 49ersí scrap heap and started changing things swiftly after doing it.
Of course, itís all about Alex Smith.
But, as the 49ers (at St. Louis) and Raiders on Sunday each close their seventh consecutive non-playoff seasons, what else did this season tell us?
These are some of the things we learned about the two teams this season ó and maybe things the teams learned about themselves . . .
If Singletary knew a year ago what he knows now about Smith and the spread offense, the 49ers probably wouldíve hired a more creative offensive coordinator than Jimmy Raye.
The 49ers almost certainly will stay with Raye into next season to prevent an eighth coordinator change in eight seasons. But the logic behind his selection has been circumvented by current events.
Raye was hired to be Singletaryís smash-mouth offensive alter ego, which mightíve worked, if the 49ers actually had an offense that could run the ball.
They couldnít. Six games into the season, Singletary properly switched Smith in for Shaun Hill, and the offense, and season, changed just like that.
Now the 49ers brass has to hope that QBs coach Mike Johnson, who has studied the spread offense, can ease into a greater role as Smithís mentor and muse.
Or else missing out on coordinator-candidates Scott Linehan or Clyde Christensen last winter could be a fateful loss.
Al Davis booby-trapped the Raidersí season by mismatching Cable with Russell and Russell with a new set of rookie wide receivers.
If Cable was going to have a chance, it had to be with a savvy, self-motivated QB, because Cable is no Xís-and-Oís guru.
If Russell was going to have a shot, it had to be with a hands-on coach who could nurse him through the tough times, and with solid, dependable receivers.
Instead, Davis paired a soft-spoken, under-motivated multimillionaire QB with an allegedly temperamental career offensive line coach.
Once Davis fires Cable ó probably by the end of the week ó the same old question is applicable: Can the Raiders find (and land) the right coach for Russell?
Another one: What smart coach would want this job, if Russell comes with it?
Singletary is growing on the job ó and still needs to do more of it.
Jed York and Scot McCloughan knew the quality of the man they were getting when they made Singletary the permanent coach . . . but not the quality of coach.
At the time, Singletary was mostly a blank slate. Would he be too stubborn? Would he be afraid to make changes?
Turns out, Singletaryís one of the most adaptable coaches in the NFL, content to make lineup, roster and game-plan changes almost every week.
In 2010, weíll see if he can pick a system and stick with it . . . and if it leads to the playoffs.
Other than the QB debacle, Cable didnít do a terrible job with the rest of the team.
Other than the top picks of the past three years, Al Davis hasnít done a bad job with this roster, mostly on defense.
Those are a lot of huge caveats, assuredly. But Cable has carved out a 3-3 record since benching Russell (who has one game-winning cameo after the benching).
And Davis, as always, will do anything and spend anything he believes it takes to improve his team.
But this season we learned what we always learn about Al: He has lost sight of the QB-coach relationship, and he has no intention of hiring a top executive who could help him regain that vision.
Some things change. Al and the Raiders, at heart, always remain the same.