Steve Young figures the 49ers have to go 8-4 from here on out to make the playoffs and he believes there's enough offensive talent to do so. But to accomplish that feat, the Hall of Famer said yesterday, two things must happen. 1.) Mike Singletary, a defensive-minded coach, must give full control of the offense to new coordinator Mike Johnson and 2.) Alex Smith needs to let 'er rip.
Young told Ralph Barbieri and Tom Tolbert on KNBR that he could sympathize with Smith. Smith is a bright quarterback who listens to everyone around him, Young said. He dutifully follows the direction of his coaches. But at the end of the day he has so many voices in his head that he plays too tightly. "He gets so careful that no one is open," Young said.
In other words, Smith is so afraid of making a mistake that he is constantly checking down to his shorter and safer second and third options. The statistics show this. The Chron's David White yesterday found two fantastic stats. The 49ers' 3.6 yards-per-catch average (at the point of the reception) is the lowest in the league. And Smith has completed only one throw of 21 or more yards, the worst in the league for a starting quarterback.
The irony -- at least in Smith's case -- is that short passes aren't necessarily safe passes. His short passes (my take, not Young's) often arrive high and with too much zip, which has been the case with most of his seven interceptions this season. It also forces the 49ers to matriculate slowly down the field, increasing the chance that a mistake - interception, fumble, penalty, sack - will kill the drive.
Said Young on Smith's mentality: "I understand it. I get where he is. But you're going to lose either way." That is, you're not going to score enough points with the short, safe dump offs to win (see: Atlanta), so you might as well take risks downfield.
He struck a similar note about the offensive coaching. He said the 49ers must lift the defensive-minded yoke and allow Johnson to have the license to do what he thinks is best. "I'm seeing talent on offense that I want to see unlocked," Young said. "(But) it's tied up in a defensive mentality. I can't express it in another way."
-- Matt Barrows