Monday Morning Mailbag: Is Smith's finger a concern?


Monday Morning Mailbag: Is Smith's finger a concern?

In this edition of 49ers Monday Morning Mailbag, we solicited questions from Facebook followers. Here we go . . .Q: Any details on Alex Smith's finger injury and do you see it impacting his throws this week andor on Sunday? (Steve Busichio)
On Smith's last pass attempt of Sunday's game, Bills defensive end Mario Williams hit him as he was throwing incomplete to Vernon Davis. Smith braced himself with his right hand when he hit the ground.After the game, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was asked about Smith's finger injury."It looks like just a sprain," Harbaugh said. (Smith confirmed the injury was nothing about which to be concerned.)When asked if the finger in question was on Smith's throwing hand, Harbaugh paused a moment and then answered, "I don't think so."But, moments later, as Smith spoke to the media, it was clearly the middle finger on his throwing hand that wrapped.I'm sure when Harbaugh learned the truth -- that Smith's injury was to a finger on his quarterback's throwing hand -- the coach had to be concerned. After all, when Harbaugh spoke to the media, he was obviously under the mistaken impression Smith had a sprained finger on his non-throwing hand, right?Yeah, that's the ticket . . . Anyway, Smith's sprained middle finger should not be a hindrance when the 49ers take the field Sunday against the New York Giants.Q: As welcome as it was and great to see, why wasn't the offense really allowed to cut loose till this week bearing in mind just how great we were. (Matt Healey)
It's not necessarily a matter of play-calling or offensive philosophy, as much as it's a matter of execution.The 49ers had 38 rushing attempts on Sunday against the Bills. They attempted 25 passes. But the passes the 49ers threw were a lot more successful. Smith averaged 12.6 yards per attempt. He was able to take advantage of the opportunities unlike any other time this season.RELATED: Roman gets high marks for 49ers' record-setting displaySmith hit a play down the field to Vernon Davis early in the game. And the 49ers also got good yards-after-the-catch from others, such as Michael Crabtree.What you've seen the past two games from the Jets and Bills are defenses that, in effect, dared the 49ers to throw deep. The 49ers' offense is all about taking what's available. And what was available in the past two games are the deep balls."It's been a priority for us," Smith said Sunday on the topic of throwing deep, "and for whatever reason, I think it just came up today. Even last week week, it was a priority for us and we took some shots. There were some shots last week that didn't happen because of how they were playing. Today, they came up, we took them and were a little more aggressive."Q: Is it just coincidence, or the fact we've dominated the last two games came as the result of "Kaeper packages"? (Matt Purcell)
First off, here's a funny anecdote that Mindi Bach told me after the game. She spoke to right tackle on "49ers Postgame Live." She said Davis was very annoyed because every time Kaepernick entered the game, the Bills defensive players started yelling, "Tebow package! Tebow package!"Davis said he was offended because Kaepernick is way better that Jets' backup quarter, the power-running Tim Tebow.Anyway, yes, the 49ers have scored 79 points after the "Wolf Pack" has been introduced regularly into the 49ers' offense. Kaepernick ran four plays of offense through 3 12 quarters until mop-up time against the Jets. He opened the scoring in that game with a 7-yard touchdown run, which came on a third-and-6 play in the second quarter.On Sunday, Kaepernick was in the game for seven snaps before taking over for Smith for the final 12 snaps at quarterback. Two of those plays (a 14-yard gain by Kendall Hunter and a Kaepernick incomplete deep pass for Vernon Davis) were nullified by penalties.The other five plays consisted of three Frank Gore runs for a total of 24 yards, and two Kaepernick runs for 21 yards. So, yes, that 9.0-yard average per snap is very good.But where Kaepernick might have had an impact Sunday was with the Bills' preparation. It's impossible to measure, but Smith explains:"It's another thing that defenses are going to have to prepare for. You only have so many (practice) reps during the week to get ready. The more they have to think about, the better."

Jay Gruden anticipates Kirk Cousins returning to Washington

Jay Gruden anticipates Kirk Cousins returning to Washington

Quarterback Kirk Cousins is, perhaps, the top NFL player scheduled for unrestricted free agency in March.

But if Washington is unable to sign Cousins to a long-term contract before the start of the free-agent signing period, the club appears likely to place the franchise tag on him for the second year in a row.

Washington coach Jay Gruden appeared to confirm that suspicion on Tuesday while speaking to reporters at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

"We totally anticipate Kirk coming back to (Washington)," Gruden said via CSN Mid-Atlantic. "We're excited about parlaying two very good years as the starting quarterback with a third year and continue to watch him grow."

But does Gruden anticipate another team willing the pay the price it would take to acquire Cousins?

If Washington places the franchise tag on Cousins at approximately $24 million for one season, another team could sign him to an long-term offer sheet and pay the price of two first-round draft picks as compensation.

The 49ers – and presumptive head coach Kyle Shanahan -- are expected to be interested in acquiring Cousins. If the cost of two first-round draft picks is considered exorbitant, the 49ers could attempt to negotiate another deal with Washington.

Washington can end any possibility that the 49ers or any other team could acquire Cousins this offseason if they tag him as an exclusive franchise player at a cost expected to be slightly higher than $24 million.

Cousins, who turns 29 in August, started every game the past two seasons for Washington. In 2015, he completed 69.8 percent of his pass attempts while throwing 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a passer rating of 101.6. Last season, he finished third in the NFL behind Drew Brees and Matt Ryan with 4,917 yards. He averaged 8.1 yards per attempt and had a rating of 97.2.

Falcons C Mack explains what makes Shanahan's offense so effective

Falcons C Mack explains what makes Shanahan's offense so effective

The Atlanta Falcons had the highest scoring offense during the 2016 regular season, averaging 33.8 points per game, and they racked up 6,653 total yards.

In two playoff games, they've scored a combined 80 points.

The architect of that high-powered offense is Kyle Shanahan, who is the presumptive head coach of the 49ers.

So what makes Shanahan's scheme so effective?

Falcons starting center and former Cal Bears star Alex Mack answered that on ESPN's Mike and Mike show on Tuesday.

"He does a really good job of just having a very balanced offense. We want to run outside schemes. we want to run outside zone, we want to be really effective at doing that. And when a team stops you from doing that, when they put people over there, or they slant out or whatever they do to stop that, he has the backup plan," Mack said.

"He knows exactly when they bring that safety down to make it really tough to run outside zone, well that's going to open up some throws later down the field. And then when they put someone out there on the throws, well, there's a bigger cutback lane, so he calls a different run for that. So our offense is really built around being balanced and having an answer for what the defense wants to do to stop us," Mack continued.

Mack, Shanahan and the Falcons are set to put their No. 1 scoring offense to the test against the Patriots' No. 1 scoring defense in Super Bowl 51 in Houston on Feb. 5, 2017.