Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Way of Strategy (#21): Assessing the Grand Settings and Other Matters

Compass Team Strategy Rules
  • A team that masters the fundamentals first, has the option to implement great strategic moves with ease. (A top Taiji player used to remind me that one who masters the small moves, will be able to make the big moves.)
  • A team that operates together, must have the same access to all relevant information.

[ The day after ]
So what are we left to think after the 49ers' 45-10 head slap by the Falcons? The loss seemed most stunning to the 49ers themselves and particularly to head coach Mike Singletary. In his postgame news conference, Singletary said he never expected the blowout and he believed his team had established a standard that would have made such shattering losses no longer possible.

The 49ers firmly believed they were the better team going into Sunday's game. That's why Singletary showed his players a clip of the American relay team from the Beijing Olympics. Viewed as far more talented than the rest of the field, the relay team faltered because they dropped the baton. Singletary's message was to remember to execute the small details.

Mike Singletary's coaching powers will now be tested.

The 49ers never got to the small details because they were overwhelmed by the big details of the Falcons superior offense, defense and special teams.

So instead of getting a new standard established as a solidly good team in the NFL, what Singletary might have done in his first four games is lift the team up by his Herculean acts of motivation, discipline and hard work. It's possible that the immensely rigorous training camp made the players believe they had been forged into a better team.

That might be true, but what's also true is that they're the same group that went 7-9 last season and they are still adjusting to another new offensive coordinator.

The Falcons proved to be far more agile in the preparation. Over their bye week, the Falcons ditched their defensive identity as a zone team and installed a blitzing, man coverage scheme. Even though they were unfamiliar with such a style they pulled it off magnificently and flummoxed the 49ers as a result. That's quite a feat for a team in only their second year under head coach Mike Smith and with five new starters on defense.

Part of the switch in tactics included playing a five-man, two-linebacker, four-linemen defense against the 49ers predominate use of their twin tight-end offense. The 49ers never seemed to get comfortable with that adjustment, particularly tight end Vernon Davis, who reverted back to his old ways of tentative route running.

The one not startled by the switch was quarterback Shaun Hill. Like a couple of research nerds in white lab coats, Hill and fellow quarterback Alex Smith scoured video from the 2008 Falcons searching for changes the Falcons might adopt during their bye week. They discovered that Atlanta at times blitzed and played man coverage last season, and Hill and Smith figured they would try it again.

The problem is Hill knew it, but the rest of his offense didn't and a quarterback can only do so much if the rest of his offense was unprepared.

From that standpoint the 49ers were clearly and thoroughly out-coached.

So what the 49ers may have discovered is that there are limits to the Singletary philosophy of just playing basic football and allowing the other team to make a mistake. If the other team is talented and if they throw something completely different at the 49ers, they can knock San Francisco out of their comfort zone and the stunning results were all there, exposed in the soft autumnal light of a glaring 45-10 loss.

Lesson: A team that focuses on mastering the basics, will always lose to a team who mastered the basics many months ago.

Lesson: In a high risk and high reward scenario, one cannot continuously live off the same set of plays. The world class competitor must always be prepared for that day where he or she must adjust to a scenario where the opposition knows their modus operandi (i.e., the strategic approach, the plays, the adjustments, etc.) In a life and death scenario, the competitor must either evolve or perish.


If a certain fan base is paying their professional sport team many millions of dollars per year for the privilege of watching their team perform professionally and efficiently, should that team have spend more time and effort, properly preparing for the game? ... Is that how a professional should operate?

A world class professional is the expert who knows the compass of their grand settings by having a comprehensive understanding of the basics, the technicalities and the cycles. He or she also knows how their competitive arena is being affected by the other parts of the globe.

The world class professional is someone who is always focusing on the now, while being mindfully aware what could happen next.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009 (SF Chronicle)

Singletary says 49ers must prepare better
John Crumpacker, Chronicle Staff Writer

(10-12) 18:37 PDT -- If the 49ers looked unprepared in Sunday's didn't-see-it-coming blowout loss to Atlanta, it's because they were. So said coach Mike Singletary.

"We learned that preparation is everything," Singletary said after absorbing the worst defeat of his nascent coaching career. "Yesterday ... on the defensive side of the ball, I felt they (the Falcons) had a good game plan and we had a difficult time getting on track. The preparation on
our behalf, starting with me, was not good. Just did not do a good job overall."

Singletary suggested changes in the lineup might be in the offing, probably at right guard where second-year player Chilo Rachal has struggled in pass protection. The 49ers have this week to tinker before returning to play at Houston on Oct. 25, when running back Frank Gore
should be back and wide receiver Michael Crabtree likely will be active for his first NFL game.

The coach said deficiencies on the offensive line contributed to Shaun Hill having his worst game as a starting quarterback. Hill completed 15 of 38 passes for 198 yards, was sacked three times and had one pass intercepted for a passer rating of 45.7.

"Overall, the inconsistency in terms of the blitz pickups caused him to get rid of the ball prematurely," Singletary said. "It was more a case of some of the offensive-line breakdowns in pass protection. We will address that this week, next week. We may have to make some changes there."

Asked if one of those changes could be at right guard, the coach said, "Quite possibly."

The 49ers would have several options if that's the case. They could install versatile backup Tony Wragge at right guard and leave Adam Snyder and Tony Pashos alternating at right tackle. Or they could start Pashos at right tackle and move Snyder to right guard, where he has started six games in his career.

During this bye week, Singletary said his task is to evaluate the 53-man roster to determine "whatever changes we need to make, we make them now. That's the most important thing."

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