Crabtree's role vs. Bengals

541214.jpg

Crabtree's role vs. Bengals

The 49ers tried to conserve receiver Michael Crabtree this week in the practices before Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Upon being medically cleared to play in early September after recovering from surgery to repair a left foot fracture, Crabtree took part in full practices leading up to the first game of the regular season. That approach didn't work too well.Crabtree played 13 snaps in the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks, then missed the following game, against the Dallas Cowboys, with soreness in his foot.This week, Crabtree was limited in practices but is listed as probable for against the Bengals. Coach Jim Harbaugh said Crabtree has a role in the 49ers' game plan.But what is that role?

Crabtree might not start the game, as Joshua Morgan and Ted Ginn have been full participants in practices. Crabtree could be worked into the mix as the third-down slot receiver. Then, depending on how he looks, Crabtree could see more and more action, along with Morgan, in two-receiver formations.Braylon Edwards is expected to miss approximately a month after undergoing arthroscopic surgery this week to repair a torn meniscus cartilage in his right knee.Kyle Williams, who played 16 snaps Sunday against the Cowboys, will be active. But he'll probably return to his role as the fourth man on a team that has not put more than three wideouts on the field at the same time this season.Here are a few more elements of worth watching in Sunday's game:Offensive plan: Aside from the multiple looks, including a dose of seven-linemen formations, the 49ers' offense has resembled the stodgy philosophy employed by former head coach Mike Singletary and ex-offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Quarterback Alex Smith has gotten off to an efficient beginning to the season. His 95.2 passer rating is 11th in the league, and his 70.5 completion percentage is tied for fourth. But the 49ers have not asked much from him. Smith has attempted 44 passes (31st in the league) and his 303 yards passing is 29th. Are the 49ers even capable of breaking out into a multi-receiver spread formation and attacking? "(It's) part of the scheme," Harbaugh said. "It's what we're working on. We've got the ability to do it, yes." The 49ers want to provide a threat through the air, so the Bengals can't afford to load the box to stop running back Frank Gore. But the 49ers, clearly, also want to protect Smith, who sustained a concussion last week against the Dallas Cowboys. Rookie backup Colin Kaepernick took more practice snaps this week in practice . . . just in case.Goldson's return: Safety Dashon Goldson got all the practice time this week at free safety, a strong indication he'll return to his accustomed starting role on defense. Goldson missed the final exhibition game and the first two games of the regular season with a knee injury. The 49ers need him to return to his playmaking form of 2009, when he recorded four interceptions, forced three fumbles and recorded two sacks. He might get some chances to take advantage of the inexperience at quarterback with Bengals rookie Andy Dalton making his third career start.Spencer in secondary: Veteran Shawntae Spencer has 72 career starts, but he's been on the field for just one snap of defense this season. He will likely see a lot more action Sunday, but how much? Carlos Rogers' starting job is secure. Tarell Brown started the 49ers' first two games at right cornerback with mixed results. Second-year player Tramaine Brock has worked as the 49ers' third cornerback. "You've got to remember, he (Spencer) got hurt very early on the second practice so he had zero training camp for us," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "So, his body, mind is still in training camp, physically and mentally."Conversion complete:Bruce Miller was the Conference USA defensive player of the year at Central Florida as a defensive end. But Miller was shocked when the 49ers drafted him in the seventh round . . . as a fullback. Miller will see his first action of the season on offense, as he takes over for Moran Norris, who is expected to miss four to six weeks with a fractured fibula. Miller said he has finally gotten accustomed to the idea of playing offense and, even, just saying the word "fullback." Said Miller, "Going through the preseason it was a little bit different. As we've made our way through it's gotten easier and easier." If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section. When I arrive in Cincinnati, I'll answer as many as possible. Thank you.

Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

ryan-shanahan.jpg

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.