Here is a link to my Thursday column. The full text runs below:
Based on one game — and one game only — the narrative we blithely accepted in the preseason about the Raiders and 49ers got stood on its head. Or its helmet.
This was the narrative going into Game 1:
The Raiders were on the rise. They finally were about to become a real team, maybe even a contender. On CSN Bay Area, Bill Romanowski said Raiders players should have a single goal. Super Bowl. I was in the studio when he said it.
The 49ers, on the other hand, were on the decline. Serious decline. They had lost all those players to retirement and other causes. The team was in disarray. The head coach might be a buffoon.
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit I participated in this preseason 49ers decline narrative. And remember the decline theme still could be the case — one game is only one game. But the decline narrative seems to have hit its own decline.
Let’s examine specifics about the preseason narratives of the two local teams and see what really happened.
The so-called improved Raiders could be facing total implosion. They looked like an expansion team starting with the fact they couldn’t tackle. After the game, coach Jack Del Rio obsessively talked to the media about lack of “leverage,” about his players’ inability to get leverage when tackling. If I understood him correctly, he was saying the Raiders don’t even know the fundamentals. Poor guy sounded like a JV coach. Leverage indeed.
The Niners didn’t have trouble with leverage. Never even mentioned the word. They held an offense with elite running back Adrian Peterson to three points and made quarterback Teddy Bridgewater look like a junior college transfer. That’s leverage.
The Raiders have a pretty good running back in Latavius Murray — not that it made a bit of difference against the Bengals. The 49ers have Carlos Hyde who may be the talk of the league. Probably is. I’ll tell you why.
After Monday night’s game, I was hurrying to Jim Tomsula’s postgame news conference, when who came walking toward me? Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner, that’s who. Turner was talking loud on his cell phone. As I passed him, I heard him say two words: “Carlos Hyde.”
Understand Turner didn’t have to design a defense against Hyde. Turner is an offensive coordinator. Turner merely had to look at Hyde. But he was talking about Hyde, anyway. I would assume Hyde blew his mind. I would assume he coveted Hyde. I would assume Hyde is the talk of the league right now. I mean, seriously, what back would you rather have than Hyde? Certainly not Peterson. Probably Marshawn Lynch. We’ll see.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was supposed to be on the rise, and Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick was supposed to be going down. That still could happen, of course. We’re sticking to the facts of the first game. What did we really see?
Carr looked terrible before he got hurt. Just terrible. Watching him throw substandard passes, you wanted to groan or slap yourself in the head. And then he committed a sin. He got hurt doing something stupid, stiff-arming a defender with his throwing hand. Back to the drawing board for you, Derek Carr.
Kaepernick, operating with the benefit of Hyde, became quarterback-as-game-manager — as opposed to Carr who was quarterback-as-game-wrecker. We never have thought of Kaepernick as a game manager. He’s supposed to be so dynamic. He didn’t need to be dynamic against Minnesota. Just keep drives going. Don’t screw up.
He passed for only 165 yards and threw no touchdown passes. His passer rating was a modest 83. But his game was tidy. “Tidy” is not heroic but tidy is good. He threw no picks. So, yes, he was tidy and efficient and made no Carr-like mistakes. By becoming quarterback-as-game-manager he has turned himself into a second Alex Smith. And isn’t that one big irony?
Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was supposed to be a coach on the rise. He still could be. But he could not stop the Bengals running game. Could not stop the most basic runs. It was embarrassing to see. Norton needs to review the textbook chapter on Leverage 101.
Eric Mangini, a coach whose career seemed on the wane, created a brilliant defensive game plan, throttled Adrian Peterson. Mangini was not daunted by the loss of Aldon and Justin Smith or Patrick Willis. Again, we’re talking one game only.
The Raiders head coach, Jack Del Rio, did not have his coaches or players ready. This was Del Rio’s Raiders debut, for heaven’s sake. The Raiders played at half-speed as if they were still in the preseason. And don’t forget Del Rio went for it on fourth down in his own territory and failed and then the Bengals scored a touchdown. Ugh!
After the game, Del Rio, who has a good reputation, seemed in a state of shock and psychologically unprepared for what he saw on the field. He needs to regain his equilibrium. Not to mention his leverage.
Finally this: The Raiders are not healthy and the 49ers are. The Raiders lost to injury both starting safeties, Charles Woodson and Nate Allen. The Niners have no one hurt except running back Reggie Bush. And Bush being hurt may be a good thing. It means Hyde plays more. And the Niners probably will activate rookie Mike Davis, a real comer.
So, that’s the story after one game. But Chapter Two looms. Narratives do change. Keep reading.
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 at firstname.lastname@example.org.