We're two weeks into the season and while I am quite ecstatic to be 2-0, I have a feeling of wariness that I KNOW is shared by many of you. There are two pieces of good news. The first would be that this wariness is caused by heightened expectations, not seen in these parts for much of this decade. In the last couple of years if this time had started 2-0 it would not have mattered at all how it happened. The opposing QB could have accidentally booted the ball out of the end zone and we win 2-0 and I would be happy as a clam. I'm still happy to be winning, but as a team improves, style points become a bit more expected. Obviously a win is a win, but I'd like to live to see the end of the season.
The second bit of good news is that we know what the problems are with the team. They are not mysteries to be figured out over the course of several months. Rather, we know the offense is not performing up to expectations. The bad news? There has not been much of a correction to make this offense more effective. In each game, the 49ers have had a single drive that was exactly what you'd expect from a good offense. They would be the game-winning drive last Monday night and the first TD scoring drive yesterday. In those drives Smith was stepping up into the pocket firing passes and in the case of yesterday's drive, getting some consistent ground gains from Frank Gore. Obviously Gore had the big run for his second touchdown, but that was more because of him than on the offensive line.
I'm not going to go into detailed analysis about the offensive line because to be perfectly honest, that is not a strong suit of mine. I've noticed some commentary on the subject by people and would prefer to leave it to those of you who know more than I do to discuss the o-line. This allows me to beef up my knowledge on the subject, which is in part what this site is all about. There is a lot of talk about Smith rolling out and taking advantage of his legs. However, his best throws this season (aside from the toss to Hicks for the first down) have come when he was stepping up in the pocket and firing to his receivers. While Smith has the arm strength to make throws off his back foot, he seems to lose some accuracy (I'll try and research more into specific numbers). The good news though is that he is not trying to force bad throws and thus has no interceptions to this point.
Heading into Pittsburgh next week the 49ers clearly need an improved performance from the offense. The defense may continue to impress, but it won't matter if we put up a goose egg. The Steelers are the first legit defense we face this year and that team is clearly showing they'll be player in the AFC playoff race. Arizona and St. Louis were both very winnable games going into them. Before the season I thought Pittsburgh was very winnable as I was not sold on them. I was just a wee bit wrong on that one as the Steelers are rolling right now. If the 49ers perform like they did the last two weeks, this game will be impossible to win. The 49ers will be lucky to get a couple field goals at most and as good as the defense has been, I don't think they can pitch the shutout. Furthermore, they should not be expected to have to throw a shutout every time out. This offense is better than this. I agree that play-calling has been too vanilla, and that they need to open things up a little more.
I don't buy the idea that they don't trust Alex Smith because Smith has PROVEN he can make the plays. He has not reached the consistent level most of us would like, but there is no doubt he can make things happen with both his arm and his legs. I agree that we don't need to be rolling out a gadget play every series. Rather, why not mix in some draw plays to combat the rush and get Gore some yards? I also think they need to stretch the field with the receivers more often. And for goodness sake, GET ASHLEY LELIE ON THE FIELD! Maybe he'll be completely useless and do nothing for this team. However, he has a tremendously higher upside than Taylor Jacobs and I don't think that is even up for debate. The team signed him because of the potential and he's not getting a chance to show it. The only reasonable explanation is that he's in the doghouse. I understand the need to use the doghouse on occasion, but this offense is so anemic that Nolan needs to be a little more forgiving.
Of course when Lelie has 3 drops next no catches next week, ignore everything I just said about him.
In the end, this is primarily the ramblings of a frustrated football fan. I hate that we're 2-0 and I'm a little bummed out. I'll go to my grave convinced that this offense is better than they've performed.
So, now that I've vented, let's be constructive and avoid calling for Hostler's head for now. Rather, what do you think needs to be done on offense to break out? Do you see specific plays that could break things open or do you just have a more general philosophy? If you just want to say, run more draws and rollouts that's fine, but I (and most everybody else I assume) would love to hear your reasoning for whatever play-calling you suggest. Let's assume you're some combination of Mike Nolan and Jim Hostler. What do you do against the Steelers to get points on the board?