49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

September 18, 2007
Tuesday morning (er, evening) quarterback

After two games in which the 49ers failed to reach the 200-yard marker on offense, there's been plenty of kicking and screaming about Alex Smith. After watching my TiVoed version of the game this afternoon, I'd like to paraphrase Robin Williams' character in "Good Will Hunting": It's not his fault. Smith was accurate on every throw that left his hand. The problem was there were very few throws that actually left that hand against the Rams.

The 49ers' coaches are not giving Smith a chance to make plays. There were five plays Sunday in which, whether because of a penalty or a sack, the 49ers had to go 14 or more yards for a first down. You're thinking that the 49ers perhaps ran a few crossing patterns or deep outs in order to gain those yards. Wrong. On each one of those plays - EACH ONE! - the 49ers ran the ball. Sure, long passes are usually low-percentage plays. But running the ball on third and 18 is pure capitulation. You might as well punt on third down.

Smith, of course, shares some of the blame. He held the ball too long on several plays. On the play in which he fumbled - his second fumble in as many games - he stood like a statue while the Rams defensive linemen bowled over Eric Heitmann, who did not have one of his best games. Perhaps Smith was holding the ball because there were no open receivers. Maybe he's still not familiar enough with Darrell Jackson and Vernon Davis, with whom he's only played a handful of games. He seems cautious, but I wonder how much of that caution is being channeled to him from offensive coordinator Jim Hostler and Mike Nolan. At some point, they're going to have to set Alex free.

Now in defense of Hostler: That end around to Taylor Jacobs in the third quarter should have been a huge gain. Jacobs had Heitmann and Justin Smiley in front of him. The only Rams defender on that side of the field was cornerback Ron Bartell. The problem is that Heitmann whiffed on his block of Bartell and Bartell made the tackle for an eight-yard loss.

Just as big a concern as the somniferous passing game, in my opinion, is the running game. Frank Gore's 43-yard scamper was great, but the Rams really should have stopped him after a one- or two-yard gain. It was poor tackling. Without that run, Gore rushes for 39 yards and has a 1.95 yards-per-carry average. The alarming part is that the Rams D (and they're not the 1979 Steelers by any stretch) was stopping Gore just as easily at the end of the game as it was at the beginning. The 49ers offensive line should have been getting more of a push at that point.

The 49ers have a great player in the secondary, Nate Clements, and a great linebacker in Patrick Willis. They don't have anyone who is great along the defensive line, but Marques Douglas deserves praise. He's a gritty, blue-collar guy who makes a lot of plays.

Tully Banta-Cain does a lot of head-bobbing and spinning when he's rushing the passer. But is it me, or is he most effective when he just bull-rushes his opponent? He had a nice hit on Marc Bulger at the end of the game by doing just that.

The 49ers coverage units are pretty special. It seems as if there are three guys - Keith Lewis, Jeff Ulbrich and Marcus Hudson - who are in the middle of every play. If Andy Lee keeps it up, he should be getting Pro Bowl attention at the end of the year.

I have to give kudos to referee Jeff Triplette and his crew. Nothing bothers me more than a conspicuous officiating crew that ruins the flow of a game. (I'm talking to you, Ed Hochuli). Triplette and co. called seven penalties, many of them in the opening minutes. It sent an early message to the players that the officials were watching them. After that the zebras receded into the background and let the game play out ... just as a good crew should.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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