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NFC Championship: 49ers Receivers Will Be The Difference

19 Jan

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

With a healthy Michael Crabtree along with tight end Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin, 49ers might have it what it takes to win against a tough Seattle squad.  Photo by the Bleacherreport.com.

With a healthy Michael Crabtree along with tight end Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin, 49ers might have it what it takes to win against a tough Seattle squad. Photo by the Bleacherreport.com.

When you look at the raw numbers for Sunday’s NFC Championship game, everything seems to come up roses for the Seattle Seahawks chances to get to Super Bowl XLVIII.

Over the last two years, the Seahawks are 16-1 at Century Link Field including two wins over the San Francisco 49ers—their opponents in Sunday’s NFC title tilt. They have the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL overall — No. 1 in scoring defense and against the pass. On offense, they have quarterback Russell Wilson and a force at running back in Marshawn Lynch.

But I wouldn’t completely count the Niners out of this one.

I think the 49ers have a good shot of going up there and beating the Seahawks, even in that noisy cauldron of a stadium. It won’t be easy, but I think they can pull it off because of their weapons on offense and how they have been playing coming into this game.

The Niners three main receivers are better than any of Seattle’s wideouts. Since Michael Crabtree joined tight end Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin back in week 11, quarterback Colin Kaepernick has completed 64 percent of his passes.

In the Niners win over the Green Bay Packers, it was Crabtree who came up huge with eight receptions for 127 yards.  In the win over the Carolina Panthers, Boldin caught eight passes for 136 yards.  Davis had a touchdown pass that put the 49ers ahead to stay late in the first half.

“It’s Boldin and [WR Michael Crabtree] Crab both. They’re doing a great job getting open. [Quinton’s [Patton] making plays, Vernon’s making plays, there is a lot of people getting open on our team,” Kaepernick said earlier this week.

 If the 49ers can get running back Frank Gore going, it could be a long day for the Seahawks. The last time San Francisco and Seattle met on the Niners’ homefield, Gore gained 104 yards rushing on 17 carries including a big 51-yard run.

“I think the hardest part is because since he’s a smaller guy he gets real low, and he’s downhill. He runs downhill and behind his big tackles and guards,” said Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor.

 “It’s just a matter of being gap sound because as a defense if you’re not gap sound good running backs like Frank Gore will find that hole. So we just have to be gap sound on defense and learn from the mistakes that we’ve had in the past.”

Perhaps the biggest reason that I can give the 49ers a chance to win is the struggles of the Seattle offense, especially the passing game.  Over the last five games, the Seahawks have averaged just 144 yards in the passing game.

In last Sunday’s win over the New Orleans Saints, Wilson was 9-of-18 for just 103 yards. But the Seahawks say they’re not all that worried about their issues in the passing game.

“I’ve said numerous times that we’ve played some terrific teams,” said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. “They’ve done a nice job on us and we haven’t been able to take advantage of some of the opportunities that we have. But all in all, when we take care of the football and we run the ball really well and manage the game like we have been, that gives us a great chance to win.”

Russell Wilson and the Seahawks passing game has struggle over the last five weeks. Photo by USAToday.com.

Russell Wilson and the Seahawks passing game has struggle over the last five weeks. Photo by USAToday.com.

Meanwhile, Wilson said there’s nothing overly complicated other than he just has to put the ball in his receiver’s hands.

“I think the biggest thing is to  be more accurate on a couple throws I normally make,” Wilson said. “That’s what it comes down to. It’s nothing I need to search deep down for or go study a whole bunch for. It’s just put the ball on the money right where you need to be.”

When you have Lynch in your backfield, Wilson may not need to do as much in the passing game. Lynch gained 140 yards on 28 carries in the win over the Saints including a game-clinching 31-yard touchdown run.

This game will no doubt be a physical game because both defenses are capable shutting the other team down. Seattle opened the playoffs last week by keeping the explosive Saints offense off the scoreboard until late in the game despite allowing over 400 yards of total offense. The Seahawks held highly-touted Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to just one catch.

In their battles against the 49ers in Seattle, the Seahawks defense have shutdown Kaepernick and the Niners’ offense.  The last time San Francisco played at Century Link Field, the Seahawks intercepted the former Nevada star three times and sacked him three times.

“Just playing ourselves, playing discipline, sound football. If you’re playing man-to-man, you’ve got your man,” said outspoken Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. “Guys just playing discipline, sound football and not allowing them to scramble. That’s on our front four and front seven. Scheming it up, making sure he stays in the pocket.”

Meanwhile, the 49ers had two interceptions of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and sacked him five times while shutting down the Carolina running game.

 The last time San Francisco saw Lynch they held him to under 100 yards on the ground. Niners linebacker Patrick Willis said his team has to focus on shutting down the Seattle offense whether it’s Lynch on the ground or Wilson running to buy time in the passing game.

“[Lynch] is just a tough guy to bring down. There’s no question about that,” Willis said. “Russell Wilson, he’s able to scramble and able to throw the ball as well. So, we just have to play a complete game.”

It’s hard to pick against the Seahawks in their house with that defense and Lynch on offense, but I think the 49ers receivers will be the difference in this one. Look for the Niners to spring the upset, 27-23.

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Brown and Lee Propel Phils to Win Despite Shaky Bullpen

2 Jun

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Domonic Brown has homered in seven of  his last eight games. Photo by WebsterRiddick.

Domonic Brown has homered in seven of his last eight games. Photo by WebsterRiddick.

PHILADELPHIA—With injuries to players like Roy Halladay, Carlos Ruiz, and Chase Utley coupled with an inconsistent offense and a suspect bullpen, you have to wonder how really bad things would be if the Philllies didn’t have Cliff Lee and Domonic Brown.

So far this year, Lee and Brown have both carried an aging, injury-riddled team that would like to believe it still has fighting chance to be a contender. They have been the most consistent element for an otherwise inconsistent team.

The Phillies ended a three-game losing streak thanks to another outstanding effort by Brown and a stellar performance by Lee and came away with a 7-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in front of 40, 613 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park.

Of course, the Phillies, especially the bullpen, did not get this win without drama. Lee (7-2) was pitching shutout baseball for seven and two-thirds innings. But in the eighth, Lee said he felt cramps in his legs, hips and his arms. Before departing the game, he gave up an RBI single to Norichika Aoki that scored Rickie Weeks, who singled to begin the inning.

“I guess I was a little dehydrated. I don’t know what the deal was,” Lee said. “It happened in Texas. Obviously, the heat is part of it. I tried to do everything I could to stay hydrated between yesterday and today. It didn’t seem to matter. It just happened.”

Meanwhile, things got even more crucial for the Phillies much-maligned bullpen when catcher Jonathan Lucroy hit what looked to be a grand-slam home run off Phils reliever Justin De Fratus to turn a 7-1 game into a 7-5 game. The ball bounced off the second railing of the left-field wall and rolled on the warning track.

Third base umpire Tom Hallion initially ruled the play a homerun, but after the umpires reviewed the play on videotape at Charlie Manuel’s request, they ruled the play a triple, allowing three runs to score. It was a 7-4 game  after the ruling.

“It hit the top of that wire fence and kicked hard to the right and back into play,” Hallion said. “So once we realized it was not a home run, we each put together where the ball went to, who picked it up and then we just placed the runners where they should be.”

With closer Jonathan Papelbon not available to pitch because of illness, Antonio Bastardo closed out the game, but allowed one run and got the final out with the bases loaded when pinch-hitter Mark Maldonado.

Between Bastardo and De Fratus, there were three walks and that seemed to bother Manuel more than anything else.

“The walks in a game like today and late like that gives them a chance to win and brings them back in the game,” Manuel said. “Yeah that bothered me.”

 The Phillies jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first two innings thanks to Brown, who has been out- of-this- world hot. He was 3-for-3 with a home run, a triple a single. He was a double short of the cycle. He drove in four runs. In the first inning, Brown hit a three-run homer off Brewers starter Mike Fiers. In the second, he had a run-scoring triple.

To his credit, Brown said he wasn’t really thinking about the cycle until he heard fans buzzing about it. In his fourth at bat of the day in the seventh, Brown walked.

“I thought about it, but if had a chance to go for three and a ball was in the gap, I’m going for three for sure,” Brown said.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Brown has been tearing the cover off the ball via the home run route. He has homered in eight of his last nine games. He leads the majors in home runs with 16.

“I’m just trying to keep it going and just trying to continue to improve,” Brown said. “Just trying to keep my stroke small and not try to do too much. I think I’ll be fine.”

For seven and two-thirds innings, Lee struck out 11 Brewers and seemed to be on cruise control until cramps settled in along with some anxiety with the Phils shaky bullpen. He allowed three runs on seven hits.

“It was a little bit frustrating, but what can you do,” Lee said. “I’d rather be in control every game from the first inning to the last inning.”

  

Improving the Secondary Highlights the Eagles First Week of Free Agent Signings

19 Mar

What a Game: Super Bowl XLVII Was to Definitely One to Remember

5 Feb

By Chris Murray

Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens holds up the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens holds up the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

For the Chris Murray Report

So what did we learn in the aftermath of the Baltimore Ravens thrilling 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII?

One- it is now safe to say that Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.  In Super Bowl XLVII, Flacco passed for 287 yards and three touchdowns passes and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

In the playoffs, Flacco beat Andrew Luck, the No.1 pick in the 2012 NFL draft and then knocked off two league MVPs in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Aren’t those guys considered elite quarterbacks?

If you’re still not convinced that Flacco is that dude or at the very least well on his way to becoming that dude,  you need to consider that in the 2012 postseason,  Flacco tossed 11 touchdown passes without an interception which ties Joe Montana and Kurt Warner for the most in a single postseason  without  a pick.

“One of the things is that without question he’s a big-game performer,” said Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.  “My old high school basketball coach used to always say cream will always rise to the top and that’s Joe.”

Flacco is the only quarterback in the Super Bowl era to play in four playoff games without tossing an interception.  He has won seven career playoff games on the road including this last Super Bowl. It is the most road wins by a starting quarterback in NFL history. Flacco has a better record (9-4) in the postseason than Peyton Manning (9-11), whom he beat in the divisional playoff round.

“Joe is one of those guys that the bigger the game the better he plays and I think that you’re going to see that continue throughout his career,” Caldwell said.

Flacco is currently in negotiations with the Ravens for a new contract. To quote Hall-of-Fame cornerback and NFL Network analyst, Deion Sanders: “Pay that man!”

Colin Kaepernick scores on a 15-yard touchdown run to bring the 49ers to within two points of the Ravens.

Colin Kaepernick scores on a 15-yard touchdown run to bring the 49ers to within two points of the Ravens.

Two-, Colin Kaepernick and the read option are here to stay despite losing in the Super Bowl. Yes, he had a slow start, but Kaepernick still played his butt off, especially in the second half. Kaepernick and the 49ers offense shredded the Ravens defense for 468 yards of total offense-including 182 yards rushing.

With his team down by 22 points, Kaepernick brought the Niners back using a combination of the pass and the running game with Frank Gore and LaMichael James in the Pistol offense.

Gore, who would finish the game with 110 yards rushing and a touchdown, had two runs of 20-plus yards including a big 33-yard run that put ball deep in Baltimore territory late in the game from that read-option offense.

Kaepernick was 16-of-28 for 302 yards and one touchdown. He also ran the ball seven times for 62 yards including a record-breaking 15-yard touchdown run, the longest in Super Bowl history by a quarterback. Not bad for a guy with just 10 starts in his brief career.

On their final drive of the game, the 49ers, in the Pistol formation, drove through a tired Ravens defense from their own 20-yard line to the Baltimore five. One of the big plays on that drive was Gore’s big 33-yard run to the Ravens 7.  A two-yard gain by James moved the ball to the five with about two minutes left.

That leads us to No. 3-Never get away from what’s working. On the 49ers remaining three downs of the game, they passed the ball on three straight plays and came up short.

You would have thought with Kaepernick’s running ability and the way Gore was crashing through the Ravens defense that head coach Jim Harbaugh or offensive coordinator Greg Roman would have called a play with one of them running the ball.

“I always thought they were going to run. I really did. All of those pressures were called for the run, not the pass,” said Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

A quarterback draw or a designed run by Kaepernick from the Pistol or just giving it to Gore on the same option plays that got them into the red zone in the first place.

“We could’ve ran on them all day,” Gore said. “We called plays that we thought that was good, and things didn’t happen.”

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (left) shakes hands with his brother Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers head coach after the end of Super Bowl XLVII.

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (left) shakes hands with his brother Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers head coach after the end of Super Bowl XLVII.

No. 4-This was one hell of a Super Bowl.  This game had just about everything including several interesting storylines. You had the Harbaugh brothers-John and Jim matching wits against one another.

You had Flacco cementing his claim as a top-notch quarterback with an MVP-performance.

Beyonce’s performance at halftime, which included the reunion of Destiny’s Child, was a showstopper within a showstopper of a football game.

There was a 35-minute delay of the because of the power outage in the Mercedes Benz Superdome. I don’t pretend to know what caused it, but I suspect that origins of this outage came from a Buffalo Wild Wings in San Francisco where a 49ers fan sent a text to an electrician friend at the Superdome to shut the power down to stop Baltimore’s momentum.

Just kidding, but the Super Bowl power outage would make a great commercial for Buffalo Wild Wings.

The incredible performance by Ravens receiver and kick returner Jacoby Jones, who caught a 56-yard touchdown pass that will go down as one of the great plays in Super Bowl history.  Jones caught the ball falling to the ground at about the 49ers seven yard line. He got up, put a move on a Niners defender and sped past another for the touchdown.

As a kick returner, Jones opened the second half with an electrifying, Super Bowl record 108-yard kickoff return. To paraphrase a Baltimore Sun reporter Jones will never want for a drink in Baltimore for the rest of his life.

There was also the 49ers valiant comeback from a 28-6 deficit in the third quarterback, led by Kaepernick, who is going to be a star in this league for a good long time barring injury.

Ray Lewis ends an incredible 17-year career with his second Super Bowl ring.

Ray Lewis ends an incredible 17-year career with his second Super Bowl ring.

San Francisco’s comeback fell short on what was a controversial non- pass interference

call on Michael Crabtree who locked horns with Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith in the endzone as Kaepernick’s pass on fourth down sailed over both players’ heads.

Was it  holding or pass interference against Baltimore or a good non-call by the officials?  It will be debated for a long time.

And last, but not least, Ray Lewis ending his storied career on an incredible goal-line stand by the Ravens defense. It was a fitting end for arguably one of the best middle linebackers to ever play the game.