The performance of the 49ers offense, Alex Smith in particular, has been a hot topic following their victory over the Jets on Sunday. I must admit, I was not impressed with their performance while watching the game unfold. After taking the time to review the game film, I have a slightly different take.
The 49ers put together 379 total yards on Sunday while rushing for 245 yards on 44 carries (5.6 avg) and throwing for 134 yards on 12-22 passing (6.1 yards per pass/11.2 yards per completion) from Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. All told, Greg Roman called 28 pass plays on the day when you include those called back due to penalty, sacks, or QB scrambles.
While Smith made many nice plays on the day, let's focus on a few that highlight the concerns being brought up regarding his performance on Sunday, the deep throws and the 2 consecutive sacks that he took that led up to a missed 55 yard FG attempt by David Akers.
It was apparent from the onset that the 49ers had decided that they were going to test Kyle Wilson, who was making his first start in place of injured CB Darrelle Revis.
- 14:56 1st Quarter, 1st & 10 at SF 20 - Crabtree motions from left to right, and runs a double move, out and up. Wilson bites on the out cut, and interferes with Crabtree as he begins his move upfield. Result of play - 14 yard PI on Jets
- 4:56 1st Quarter, 3rd & 7 at NY 45 - Smith throws incomplete on a fade route outside the numbers to Mario Manningham who is being covered by Kyle Wilson with safety help over the top. It is obvious that they are targeting Wilson here, because Smith has a much better matchup on the other side of the field where the Jets have left Michael Crabtree in 1-on-1 coverage with Antonio Cromartie. Crabtree has Cromartie beat but Smith never looks to that side of the field. Crabtree is left with the favorable matchup to the the extra safety help be provided to Wilson, and bracket coverage between the ILB and the other Safety on Vernon Davis who is also running a seam route.
- 9:51 2nd Quarter, 2nd & 2 at NY 38 - This is a called "Shot" play by Greg Roman. Manningham motions from right to left. After play action to Kendall Hunter, Smith has Kyle Williams running a deep post which is covered by the Safety over the top, so Smith does a nice job of coming off that and hitting Manningham for a 9 yard completion to the Jets 29.
- 8:37 2nd Quarter, 2nd & 9 at NY 28 - The 49ers line up in a heavy formation with Celek, Walker and Davis all lined up on the right side of the line in that order. Smith is looking right all the way and has Davis running a seam up the middle of the field, Davis on a wheel route to the outside, and Celek on a 9 yard curl in the middle of the field. Smith appears to be looking for Davis down the seam, as he starts his motion to him he realizes he is well covered and pulls it in. As he reloads he is sacked from the blind side by the OLB. This appears to have been a misread on the part of Smith, as they had a favorable matchup with Calvin Pace trying to cover Walker on the wheel, advantage 49ers. Unfortunately the ball was not delivered, but they would come back to a similar play later.
- 7:57 2nd Quarter, 3rd & 13 at NY 32 - On the very next play Smith does a poor job of staying composed in the pocket, and flushes to the left. Had he slid to the right he could have bought the necessary time to hit Manningham coming open on a dig route over the middle about 15 yards down field.
- 10:11 3rd Quarter, 1st & 10 at SF 40 - 49ers line up with an offset I to the TE side on the right with Walker at FB, and both receivers to the opposite side. Smith audibles at the LOS. Davis runs a seam route and is covered by both Kyle Wilson and the safety over the top, leaving Walker who is running a wheel route in single man coverage by Calvin Pace. Smith sees it this time, but his pass is too flat, causing Walker to have to go up and get it and come down out of bounds. Had Smith put the ball up for Walker to make a play it likely results in a big play for the offense. Instead it is an incompletion.
Smith really struggled in this game throwing vertical routes outside the numbers. By not putting enough air on the ball he took away the ability for the WR's to make a play on the ball. Definitely an area that he can improve on as the team heads into the 2nd quarter of the season.
Another area of discussion this week has revolved around the 49ers use of "Gadget" run plays. These plays paid big dividends for the team this week, and further illustrate the creativeness of Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman in the run game.
The triple read option play that led to the 17 yard run by Kaepernick is nothing more than the addition of a pitch man, in this case Delanie Walker, to the Read Option that the team has effectively run since Harbaugh and Romans arrival with Alex Smith at QB. The TD run by Kaepernick was nothing more than the same QB9 play that Alex Smith used to score against the Saints in the dramatic playoff win. In fact, they used this same play again later with Smith, unfortunately it was quite a bit further out and did not lead to the same result as the blocking was not as crisp as on Kaepernicks TD.
For me the most impressive creativity in the run game went mostly unnoticed. It occured late in the 1st quarter with the team having 1st and 10 at the NY 22 with :51 seconds remaining. On this play the 49ers inserted Leonard Davis in at RT, and moved the entire left side of the line over one position, ending up with Anthony Davis at RG next to Mike Iupati. In addition they had a tight bunch formation featuring Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, and Bruce Miller on that left side. The pitch sweep play to Kendall Hunter netted an 11 yard gain and a first down to continue the drive that would eventually lead to the CK TD.
For the most part the defense was stellar on the day, shutting down he run and putting tremendous pressure on Mark Sanchez all day. The one concern that I saw for the second week in a row was the play of Carlos Rogers in the Nickle. Of the Jets first 9 pass plays, 4 were targeted at Rogers, and he did not hold up well. On back to back plays he was beaten for the first down, the first being called back due to a holding penalty, then on the next play he did not do a good job of covering the flat in his zone responsibility, allowing Sanchez to hit former Raider Chaz Schillens for a 1st down. This will definitely be an area to watch for this week with Ryan Fitzpatrick coming to Candlestick. While he may not be in the upper echelon of NFL QB's he is a much more proficient QB than Mark Sanchez.