49ers Mailbag: Smith makes it too easy for defenses

49ers Mailbag: Smith makes it too easy for defenses
October 19, 2012, 7:05 pm
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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.