Conventional wisdom suggests that players win games and not coaches. True. The San Francisco 49ers' key players were a bigger factor than the Oakland Raiders in a 23-20 win at Network Associates Coliseum Sunday but so were the coaches.
In a way, it compels one to think that perhaps the Raider coaches are listening too much to the players. Before the Raiders 20-10 loss at Kansas City, wide receiver Tim Brown addressed how he had become a more secondary part of the offense. Bingo. Brown caught 13 passes for 144 yards. In the week leading into Sunday's contest, running back Charlie Garner voiced his displeasure of not being a big factor recently. Garner carried 14 times for 52 yards and a touchdown. One time might be an aberration but twice is perhaps a trend.
Granted, Oakland's offense perhaps had become too dependent on the pass recently but it appeared that head coach Bill Callahan seemed intent on running the ball right at San Francisco to prove a point. The 49ers entered the game rated No. 21 in the NFL against the run but they also have a strong a pair of defensive tackles in the NFL with Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield. The only success Oakland had running the ball was on pitch plays to the perimeter.
When the Raiders threw the ball, they had some success with Rich Gannon completing 9-of-10 passes to his wide receivers in the second half. In addition, Oakland seems to have gone from unpredictable to predictable. Midway into the fourth quarter before the play even unfolded, FOX color commentator Cris Collinsworth said drawing a circle with his monitor, "I can tell you right now where the play is going. It will be a short pass play in the middle to a wide receiver." Sure enough, Gannon completes a 7-yard pass to Jerry Porter.
Offense was not the only part of the game the Raiders plan had flaws. San Francisco won the toss in overtime averaged 2.5 yards on first and second down on its decisive drive but 6.4 on third down and fourth down. Basically, Oakland would bring pressure with its linebackers on first and second down to force the long yardage situation but played a softer coverage on third down. Oakland permitted San Francisco to convert 13-of-20 third down plays.
On the flip side, the 49ers made sure it got the ball into the hands of its star player – wide receiver Terrell Owens. San Francisco also used Kevan Barlow (15 carries, 60 yards) and quarterback Jeff Garcia (10 carries, 46 yards) runs to keep drives alive. The 49ers already came into the game with a balanced offense and did not feel compelled to divert from its game plan.
The Raiders (4-4), meanwhile, have lost four straight after a tremendous 4-0 start. True, two of those losses came in overtime but championship teams find a way to win those games – especially at home. Oakland's season now rests with a Monday night road game at Denver, a venue that has been about as appealing as a root canal. Oakland has not won in Denver since 1994.