Sept. 17, 2011MAIOCCO ARCHIVE
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Jim Harbaugh and his 49ers coaching staff learned a lot about the team in the season-opener, he said this week.And, obviously, Harbaugh should have a better idea of how to use his personnel to game plan for an opponent after seeing the starters in action for a full regular-season game."I think we understand that better, more than we did," Harbaugh said.What he learned, of course, is a closely guarded secret. But we will probably see some more clues Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys that tell us what Harbaugh thinks about the personnel on his team.What does Harbaugh really think about quarterback Alex Smith's
ability to take control of the 49ers' offense? The game plan the 49ers unveil against the Cowboys should paint a clear picture.
Smith did everything asked of him against the Seattle Seahawks. Well, almost everything asked of him. The 49ers had the ball at the Seahawks' 1-yard line with :17 remaining in the first half with no timeouts. Harbaugh, who was mic'd up for NFL Films, reminded Smith of two pass options "or throw it away." Harbaugh added, "A field goal is big here, so nothing dumb."Smith rolled right, didn't see anyone open and ran for the end zone. He made it -- the un-dumb move -- or else the 49ers might not have gotten an opportunity to kick a field goal before time expired.Despite completing 15 of 20 pass attempts, Smith threw for just 124 yards. The 49ers relied on a lot of three-step drops and high-percentage passes. The implied instructions for the game: "Nothing dumb."
But this game lends itself as an opportunity for Smith and the 49ers' passing game to take a few more chances.The 49ers should be able to make more plays in the passing game on Sunday. The Cowboys ranked 26th in the NFL last season in pass defense, yielding an average of 243.4 yards throwing per game. And the Cowboys will not have the services of two of their top three cornerbacks, as Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick have been ruled out with injuries.Will the 49ers stick with Frank Gore and the run game against a depleted secondary? Or will Smith be asked to push the ball down the field? The answer will provide a strong indication of what Harbaugh learned about his passing game in Week 1.Here are some other elements of the 49ers' game plan that should be interesting to watch:Nickel defense: On third downs or when the Seahawks went with three wideouts, the 49ers put their nickel package onto the field. Starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga , outside linebacker Parys Haralson and free safety Madieu Williams were replaced by defensive end Aldon Smith , cornerback Tramaine Brock and safety Reggie Smith. Did that rotation work well enough? Does veteran cornerback Shawntae Spencer get some work on defense this week? He returned to full practice for the week of the opener after missing all of camp with a hamstring strain but was relegated to special teams. How about safety Dashon Goldson? Goldson (knee) returned to limited practice this week, but he might not even be active for the game.How to block Ware: Dallas pass-rusher supreme DeMarcus Ware lined up all over the place in the Cowboys' season-opener against the New York Jets. He'll be lined up over left tackle Joe Staley, and he'll see time against right tackle Anthony Davis
. But there is no way the 49ers will leave either of their tackles singled-up on Ware very often. Gore will be asked to chip him on occasion. Also, the 49ers added a third tight end this week, veteran Justin Peelle, who could have a role in assisting Staley and Davis.Changing of the guard:Chilo Rachal started at right guard, but Adam Snyder also saw some action in the opener. That was the only substitution along the offensive line that the 49ers made against the Seahawks. Rachal played most of the game, but it's clear that he's on a short leash. There continues to be competition at this position, and Snyder remains a candidate to replace Rachal as a starter.