Here is a link to my Tuesday column about the 49ers. The full text runs below:
Can we just stop talking about Levi’s Stadium? OK?
It’s a nice place as football stadiums go. Everyone who works there, everyone who interacts with the public is polite and knowledgeable. All praise to the 49ers for teaching their employees how to act.
The place has lots of pizzazz and bells and whistles, but finally, it’s a generic football stadium. No criticism intended. Most football stadiums are generic football stadiums. From the outside it looks industrial with all those exposed columns and beams or whatever — that clearly was the intention.
NFL stadiums do not have the individual charm, the personality of baseball parks. Except for Lambeau, no NFL stadium I’m aware of has the beauty of AT&T Park or Wrigley or Fenway. Cal’s Memorial Stadium is glorious, a gem. Stanford’s new improved stadium, not so much.
So, enough about Levi’s Stadium. There’s much more to talk about. Like football — the game they play in the new stadium.
Here’s the deal with football. Most teams wait until sometime in the regular season to reach a crisis point. For the 49ers the initial crisis point is often the first game with Seattle. This year it comes late — Thanksgiving night. But the Niners, often trailblazers in their own right, have reached the crisis point right now.
The 49ers were the wretched of the Earth in their first two exhibition games, both losses. You can say exhibition games do not matter. And you’re right. They do not matter in the standings. But they matter, anyway. They help a team prepare for real games. They help define the roster. They are where the team practices plays, formations, that stuff.
What, if anything, did the 49ers really accomplish in their two exhibition games? That is the real question.
They accomplished absolutely nothing.
Here are some more questions. Did anybody grab a roster spot or lose a roster spot? No.
Do the 49ers have a clear-cut, serviceable backup quarterback? Highly unclear.
Have the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh ever looked so futile after two preseason games? Never.
That brings us to Game 3 next Sunday against the San Diego Chargers at Levi’s Stadium. That brings us to the crisis point. The 49ers need to show something next Sunday, need to play well. A win might help. But a win is not necessary. Just show us something.
For most teams the third exhibition game is the “dress rehearsal,” the closest they get to the real thing. Be clear about this. In 2011, Harbaugh, who often goes his own way, used the fourth exhibition game as the dress rehearsal. Based on the grim remarks he made after Sunday’s shutout by the Denver Broncos, based on his don’t-mess-with-me demeanor, he will get serious in the third game — next Sunday’s game. He can’t afford to wait any longer. He can’t let a week slide. He needs to show something now.
Here’s how the dress-rehearsal game works. In the week leading up to it, the coaches game-plan for the opponent. The coaches take the entire team through a full scouting report of that team. This is serious stuff. This gives the team a feel for real-game preparation.
The coaching staff’s presentation and practice agenda and practice routine all week are exactly the same as in the regular season. In this game, the head coach (Harbaugh in this case) usually plays his presumed starters into the third quarter. That way the team gets to make halftime adjustments like in a regular-season game, gets to experience a halftime, gets to experience warming up for the second half. The team is trying to replicate an actual game experience. This is absolutely essential.
It will be shocking if the 49ers don’t have a different look in Game 3 than they had in Game 1 or Game 2. Actually, if they do not change their look, their energy, their skill level it will be way more than shocking. It will be alarming. It will give you cause for worry. And it will make the coaches sweat.
I am not saying the 49ers cannot improve for the dress-rehearsal game. I believe they can. But the burden of proof is on them to show a crisp offense that can score touchdowns, that can score its first touchdown of the preseason.
The burden of proof is on the defense to put pressure on Philip Rivers and maybe even sack him. And the burden of proof is certainly on cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Jimmie Ward to show they can cover fast receivers. Based on how he’s played so far, Ward, the Niners’ first-round draft pick this year, is a sitting duck, a mark, a go-to patsy for opposing quarterbacks like Rivers or Tony Romo, whom the 49ers will face Week 1 in Dallas.
The 49ers laid a giant egg in their inaugural game at Levi’s Stadium. No one in the organization wanted that. Despite the excitement over the new stadium, the game was a disappointment. Enough with stadium amenities and manufactured hype and traffic-pattern storylines.
It’s time for the 49ers to be a football team.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn firstname.lastname@example.org.