49ers Mailbag: What's expected from Alex Smith?

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49ers Mailbag: What's expected from Alex Smith?

Rookies are scheduled to report to 49ers training camp on Saturday, July 21. The veterans show up Thursday, July 26, with the first full-squad practice slated for the next day.As we get closer to the opening of camp, we'll dig into the 49ers Mailbag to answer some questions. Let's continue with what we started Thursday with questions about the team's rookies and Dashon Goldson . . . Q: Based on what you've seen so far, is Alex Smith ready to take the next step, stay the same as last year or regress? (@kdottorres)
I appreciate the way you phrased that question -- "based on what you've seen so far."Based on what I've seen, yes, Alex Smith is ready to take the next step. The first couple practices I watched during camp, he seemed to struggle with his accuracy. Perhaps that was a result of the slight mechanical alternations he made to his throwing motion.By the time the offseason program had come to a conclusion, Smith looked to be playing on a different level than any of the other quarterbacks of the roster.I don't see any way Smith can match or do better than throwing five interceptions in 16 games. But there are other areas in which Smith and the 49ers' passing game can make dramatic improvements.RELATED: Alex Smith 2011 game logs
With a better knowledge of the offense, Smith should be able to make better pre-snap reads. His anticipation of what will happen based on the play call along with the defense (and type of pressure) should enable Smith to be more decisive and the offense to be more productive on third downs and in the red zone.Of course, the 49ers' receivers should also be better from Day 1, and that includes tight end Vernon Davis, who became comfortable with the offense late in the season.
Let there be no mistake, Smith is the player this season under the most pressure to perform this season. The contract he signed with the 49ers made it necessary for him to play well to earn a 8.5 million payout for the 2013 season.The 49ers structured the "three-year" deal in such a way that they would face only a 1 million cap hit next year if they decided to part ways with Smith rather than pay his 2013 salary. Therefore, coming off what many called his breakout season, Smith will be under more scrutiny that ever. Q: I'm not sure the 49ers improved on their major weaknesses... 3rd down coverage and interior o-line blocking. Improved only @ WR. (@mrtapout1975)
I'd argue that third-down coverage and interior offensive-line blocking were not the 49ers' major weaknesses last season.After all, the 49ers' defense ranked 11th in the NFL in third down defense. The opposition converted on 35.2 percent of third downs. But, true, the 49ers did not add any pass-rushers. Aldon Smith is slated to be an every-down player, and that could make him less effective on third downs. Their top three or four cornerbacks from a year ago will be back in the same roles, but Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver should be improved.
As far as interior offensive line, the 49ers figure Alex Boone will be a better right guard than Adam Snyder. That's why the 49ers made no attempt to re-sign Snyder. The reason the 49ers did not try Boone at guard last year is because there was not enough time to make the transition to a new position due to the lockout.

Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

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Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

There is no shortage of blame to go around for the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl 51.

The Falcons built a 28-3 lead in the middle of the third quarter and let it slip away, ultimately falling to the New England Patriots, 34-28, in overtime.

Matt Ryan voiced one previously undisclosed factor in the collapse this week in an interview with Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, pointing the finger at the new coach of the 49ers.

Kyle Shanahan has been the focus of a lot of the blame, but critique from the league MVP was a new one.

The Falcons quarterback faulted his former offensive coordinator for taking too much time to relay the play calls. Ryan said he did not have enough time to change any of the plays – presumably checking out of called pass plays to run the ball.

Here’s what Ryan told Prisco:

"Kyle's play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in. As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you're talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, 'There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.' You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

"With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You're not being aggressive not running it there."

The 49ers can point to mismanagement of the clock for their own Super Bowl heartbreak. The 49ers’ offense had the perfect play call at the perfect time against the Baltimore Ravens late in Super Bowl XLVII.

But with the play clock striking :00, coach Jim Harbaugh was forced to call a timeout from the sideline. A split-second later, the ball was snapped and it appeared the quarterback run would have easily ended up with Colin Kaepernick in the end zone.

Much like after the 49ers’ loss, the Falcons left plenty of room for second-guessing.

Two of Shanahan’s plays calls, which directly led to the collapse, will forever be scrutinized.

The first came with 8:31 remaining in regulation and the Falcons holding a 28-12 lead. On third and 1 from the Atlanta 36, Shanahan did not remain conservative with an expected run play. He swung for the fence.

Receiver Aldrick Robinson, whom the 49ers added this offseason as a free-agent pickup, was breaking free past the Patriots secondary for what could have been a touchdown. But just as Ryan was unloading, New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower hit him and forced the fumble. Running back Devonta Freeman whiffed on blitz pickup, which would have provided Ryan with enough time to target Robinson deep.

Ryan’s explanation does not appear applicable on this play, though. In watching the replay, the Falcons broke the huddle with more than 25 seconds remaining on the play clock and the snap occurred with :15 to spare.

The other questionable sequence came after the Falcons – leading by eight points -- got to the New England 22-yard line with less than five minutes to play. The Falcons lost 1 yard on a run play on first down.

On second down, Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss. Before that play, the Falcons broke the huddle with :19 on the play clock. The snap occurred with :04 remaining. The game clock was running, so the Falcons had reason to attempt to burn as much clock as possible.

In the fourth quarter, the Falcons never seemed rushed to get off a play. The closest they came to delay-of-game penalties were when they snapped the ball with :04 on the one play and :03 another time. The majority of their snaps occurred with :10 or more seconds to spare.

If the Falcons were guilty of anything when it came to the play clock, it was that the offense did not waste more time. After New England pulled to within 28-9 late in the third quarter, the Falcons ran only six offensive plays while the game clock was running.

On those six plays, the Falcons snapped the ball with :13, :09, :14, :20, :13 and :04 remaining on the play clock. If they’d snapped the ball with one second remaining each time, they could have shortened the game by 1 minute, 7 seconds. The Patriots scored the game-tying touchdown with :57 remaining in regulation.

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Until now, Kyle Shanahan’s hiring by the San Fracisco 49ers looked great because of his two-and-a-half predecessors – the last days of Jim Harbaugh, the misplaced concept of Jim Tomsula and the couldn’t-make-chicken-marsala-out-of-old-Kleenex problems surrounding Chip Kelly.

But now, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has told us all that Shanahan has a gift we in the Bay Area know all too well. Specifically, that Shanahan took too long to call plays to the Super Bowl the Falcons vomited up to the New England Patriots.

Now who does that remind you of, over and over again?

Yes, some things are evergreen, and too many options in this overly technological age seems to be one of them. Data in is helpful, but command going out is what bells the cow. Ryan said Shanahan was, well, almost Harbaugh-tastic in his timing.

“Kyle’s play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in,” Ryan told Bleacher Report. “As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you’re talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, ‘There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.’ You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

“With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You’re not being aggressive not running it there.”

And the reason this matters is because the Atlanta Shanahan had multiple good options on every play. In San Francsco, at least in the short term, he’ll be dealing with minimal options. That could speed up his choices, as in “What the hell, we don’t have Julio Jones.” But it could also mean more delays, as in, “Okay, him . . . no, maybe not . . . no, he just screwed up that play last series . . . oh, damn it, time out!”

In short, it’s growing pains season here, children. On the field, on the sidelines, and maybe even in Kyle Shanahan’s head.