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

November 16, 2010
Evolution: Niners offense expands coming out of the bye

Two major themes emerge after re-watching the 49ers' overtime win over the Rams Sunday. The first is that the offense, to start the second half of the season, looked different from the offense that started the first half. Color commentator Tim Ryan said something very pertinent during the 2-minute warning at the end of the first half. "What did the Rams players tell us?" he asked rhetorically. "If you follow Mike Iupati, he'll take you to the football. That's not the case today."

Indeed, the 49ers' running game over the first half of the season was predicated on which direction Iupati was pulling. The team's first play to open the first four games was the same - Frank Gore following Iupati through the hole. Against the Rams, however, offensive coordinator Mike Johnson often used Iupati as a decoy. If he pulled right, Troy Smith would pitch the ball to Gore left. It was a play that caught the Rams going in the wrong direction all afternoon.

The other theme is that while the 49ers cured their turnover problem, they have replaced it with untimely penalties. Penalties cost the 49ers eight points (they settled for field goals on two nullified touchdowns; a third to Vernon Davis was replaced by a touchdown to Michael Crabtree). Nate Clements also had an interception erased by an off-sides penalty on Ahmad Brooks. I'm not sure, however, that St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford would have thrown the pass had he not known that it was a free play.

Some thoughts ...

• Right tackle Anthony Davis had a rough outing against Chris Long, a guy he promises to face for, oh, a decade or so. Davis was best when he locked into Long right away. But he became over-eager to do that and got caught leaning forward a number of times. What is puzzling is why the 49ers don't give Davis more assistance - a tight end or a running back chipping -- from time to time. It seems like the 49ers were hoping that leaving him on an island early in the season would accelerate his learning curve so that he was better late in the season. That hasn't happened.

• Bradford should scare the hell out of 49ers fans. He hardly did anything wrong in the game. He gets rid of the football very quickly, and that skill matches up very well with Danny Amendola's quickness. You have to wonder if that combination is even more effective on St. Louis' man-made turf. The Rams seem to be grooming Brandon Gibson to be a deep threat. They'll also get Donnie Avery (ACL) back next year. It seems to me that all they need is a good tight end and some maturity from the offensive line and that could be a very, very good offense.

• The 49ers defense, meanwhile, did a much better job of taking away the big, back-breaking passes that killed them in their previous two outings. Bradford dinked and dunked them to death on a couple of drives, but apart from an overthrow to a wide-open Amendola in the third quarter (Dashon Goldson was beaten soundly) the 49ers secondary was stout down field.

• I thought one of Troy Smith's best plays came on a pass play in his own end zone. Smith had plenty of room to run on the right side of the field. He could have picked up 15 yards and a first down. But he stayed put and flipped the ball to Vernon Davis, who picked up 38 yards and a first down.

• What are the errors in Smith's game that Mike Singletary feels he must "weed out"? Smith has a tendency to lock into a receiver - as he did when he was sacked by C.J. Ah You - and he often throws to well-covered receivers. That last one is a touchy issue. Over the past two games, Smith hasn't gotten into trouble on those throws because his receivers (mainly Delanie Walker and Michael Crabtree) either have out-dueled the defenders for the ball or have induced pass-interference penalties. But you also have to wonder how many risky passes Smith can make before something bad happens ...

• I thought Justin Smith, Parys Haralson, Travis LaBoy and Takeo Spikes had solid games on defense. Smith is such a relentless pass rusher that he wears down his opponents toward the end of games, and his third-down sack in overtime was one of the five biggest plays for the 49ers on Sunday. Spikes continues to be surprisingly good in pass coverage.

• Both Goldson and LaBoy said yesterday that they expect to be fined this week for helmet-to-helmet hits. On the television broadcast, Ryan speculates that perhaps Nate Clements was called by the personal foul on a Rams pass play in the first quarter. Goldson said, no, it was him, even though he felt he didn't lead with his helmet.

-- 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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