49ers Mailbag: Smith makes it too easy for defenses

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49ers Mailbag: Smith makes it too easy for defenses

Yes, the 49ers won a hard-fought game Thursday night against a team that began the night tied atop the NFC West standings.The defense put the clamps down in the second half against an overmatched Seattle passing game. No big surprise there. Marshawn Lynch had a lot of success against the 49ers' run defense, but they kept him out the end zone.So it goes to reason we go to the Monday Morning Mailbag (special Friday afternoon edition) to answer questions about the 49ers' offense following the 49ers' 13-6 victory at Candlestick Park. . . How come Alex Smith is back to blowing hot and cold again? (Matt Healey)
Smith has been programmed to live in fear of making mistakes. Even before the arrival of the current coaching staff, one of the knocks on him was that he had to see a receiver wide open in order to pull the trigger.That cautious approach was a big reason he threw only five interceptions last season in 18 games, including the playoffs. But it's also a reason the offense is susceptible to sputtering along at times.And it kind of leads into the next question, too...
Where is Vernon Davis?
That question or some form of it came from several folks via Facebook and Twitter, including James Clevenger and Tom Cox.The New York Giants took Davis out of the picture last week. And the Seahawks did the same Thursday night with their coverages.If Smith sees double coverage -- or just tight single coverage -- on anyone, he is going to look to go elsewhere with the football. That was part of Michael Crabtree's frustration after the 49ers' loss in the NFC championship game to the New York Giants.It's easy to fault the play-calling as vanilla, but you can be sure that few of those short throws that Smith made Thursday were No. 1 on the progression. I don't believe the coaching staff ties Smith's hands, as much as Smith chooses to be cautious based on his own decision-making after the snap of the ball.On the touchdown drive, it's difficult to fault Smith. He checked down five times to underneath targets. Those pass plays gained 15, 11, 12, 10 and 12 yards.According to Pro Football Focus, on pass attempts of 10-plus yards downfield, Smith completed only 2 of 6 for 32 yards with one interception. (Randy Moss, the intended target on the interception, was a little more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage as he ran the back line of the end zone.)Seattle's physical play from their cornerbacks is the perfect defense for the 49ers' passing game. If Smith sees a receiver being held up against press coverage, he's likely going to immediately look elsewhere.There is no reason the 49ers should not have been able to make some plays in the passing game with the amount of time the 49ers' offensive line supplied for Smith on Thursday. Smith was sacked twice for minus-2 yards, but the offensive line was not responsible for any sacks or quarterback hits, according to PFF.Davis is an important part of the 49ers' offense. He's the one pass target that scares teams. Teams want to the 49ers to look elsewhere. And regardless of what defenses are doing to Davis, Smith has to find a way to give him chances.On Thursday, Davis was not targeted on any pass attempts.
Will Brandon Jacobs ever find a role in this offense? (James Guzikowski)
If either Frank Gore or Kendall Hunter is ever unavailable for a game, Jacobs would slide into the role of the backup and he might get a half-dozen touches.Right now, Jacobs is the 49ers' No. 3 running back. But he is also the No. 4 running back in line to be active for games because Anthony Dixon gets the nod ahead of him based on his value on special teams.Others asked, "Why the 49ers signed Brandon Jacobs if they aren't playing him?"The 49ers felt good about Gore and Hunter. They did not feel all that great about Dixon as the No. 3 running back, so they looked to upgrade that spot on the depth chart. The 49ers wanted to strengthen the back end of their roster. They signed Jacobs to a one-year deal to get him on the team to see if he could help.Games such as Thursday night's brutal affair with the Seahawks is a reminder of how depth is needed. Gore exited in the fourth quarter with bruised ribs. Jacobs may yet be needed for a significant role.The decision to draft LaMichael James in the second round is more difficult to explain than the signing of Jacobs. James and Hunter are similar, though Hunter is better suited as an every-down back. And Hunter figures to be around for a while.

Kirk Cousins watches Kyle Shanahan's offense carve up Packers

Kirk Cousins watches Kyle Shanahan's offense carve up Packers

Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. His uncertain status has led to speculation presumptive 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan will be interested in acquiring him in the offseason.

On Sunday, Cousins got a first-hand look at his former coach’s offense.

Cousins posted a photo on Instagram from the stands at the Georgia Dome, where the Atlanta Falcons and their high-octane offense blasted the Green Bay Packers, 44-21, in the NFC Championship game.

Cousins wrote the caption, “Watching two of the best in the world do what they do & taking notes to make it to this game next year -score a lot of points!”

Washington finished third in the NFC East and out of the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record.

Shanahan, the Falcons’ offensive coordinator, coached Cousins for the first two seasons of his NFL career with Washington on the staff of his father, Mike Shanahan. Cousins appeared in just eight games with four starts in 2012 and ’13.

Cousins' career has taken off in the past two seasons while starting all 32 regular-season games. He completed 67 percent of his passes this season with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and a passer rating of 97.2.

Washington placed the franchise tag on Cousins this season at nearly $20 million. He franchise tag is expected to be approximately $24 million in 2017.

If Washington places the non-exclusive franchise tag on Cousins, a team could sign him to an offer sheet at the cost of two first-round draft picks or negotiate a trade with Washington for a lesser amount.

Conflicting reports over Tomsula to Washington

Conflicting reports over Tomsula to Washington

Former 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula reportedly might be back in the NFL after a one-year hiatus.

Tomsula, who spent his first eight NFL seasons as a defensive line coach, could be returning to that job with Washington, Carol Maloney of NBC4 reported on Sunday. But according to the Washington Post, a deal is not done between the two sides.

If the deal were to happen Tomsula would be rejoining Washington defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and general manager Scot McCloughan, both of whom he worked with while members of the 49ers organization.

Tomsula was promoted to the head-coaching job over finalist Adam Gase two years ago after the 49ers' “mututal parting” with coach Jim Harbaugh. Tomsula was fired after the 49ers went 5-11 in 2015. Chip Kelly was hired to replace Tomsula. Kelly was fired after the 49ers went 2-14, including a franchise-worst 13-game losing streak.