For my first FanPost in a few weeks, I would like to share my thoughts on the 49ers offensive performance against the Raiders. However, before I delve in to the meat of the post I would like to comment that I was impressed with the 49ers defense after the Raiders first 2 drives. As Takeo Spikes pointed out, the Raiders had their tricks and emotion drive them downfield for a few field goals, but once the game settled down, the Raiders couldn't do a damn thing against the 49ers defense. Props to the defense for keeping the game in check.
And now to the 49ers offense. That oh-so ugly 49ers offense. Or is it?
Per-usual for the NFL, QBs get the blame or the credit. With the 49ers, even when the QB deserves credit, he rarely receives any unless he was near-perfect, which is almost never in the last 7 years. And that is understandable. We are fans that watched Hall Of Fame QBing for two entire decades.
And then there's Alex Smith. Some love him, some hate him. He has always been an easy target for a losing team. It is what it is, regardless what you feel about him.
Smith had some... interesting numbers. His 16 for 33 (below 50%) doesn't garner much confidence, but he didn't turn the ball over, and he threw two late touchdown passes that were the defining difference in the game. And yet nobody seems to be crediting him for this win. And they shouldn't. The defense kept the Raiders offense out of the endzone, and that almost always leads to a victory.
However, Smith always gets the blame when the 49ers lose. Am I missing something? This is a team sport, and only teams, not individuals, win or lose games. Never has Smith been solely responsible for a loss or a win. He contributes to winning or losing, but is never "the reason." I can never get that point across enough. NFL teams have 53 players for a reason.
With that said, I think a minimum of a half-dozen of Smith's incompletions were on either the offensive line or Josh Morgan. 16-33 looks bad, but if the O-line played decently and Morgan did his job, I could easily see the stat line looking more like 22-33 for 250+ and possibly 3+ TD passes. That would have looked a hell of a lot better. Smith was climbing uphill the entire game. Wet, slick balls (he has never handled that too well, but is not alone in that problem). Terrible pass protection. Bad routes and efforts by Morgan on promising opportunities. Booing crowd. Forget the fact Alex was trying to play another NFL team; he was trying to survive his own team from killing him. Thank God for Frank Gore and the O-line being better at run-blocking.
My entire point is this: The offensive line and the receivers (ahem, Josh Morgan) must do their jobs for Smith to have any success.
Singletary seemed to over-look the offensive line, and I find that heretical. Sure, they played much better in the second half. And yes, as Sing pointed out, a lot of bootlegs led Smith right into defenders (we'll get to that later). However, to say they played well is insane. How many clean pockets did Smith have to work with in the first half? 2? 3? It was pathetically few. If A. Davis wasn't whiffing on a block, Staley would. Even Davis Baas whiffed on a few assignments. In fact, on the 49ers opening drive, there was a play in which Baas, Rachal, and Davis (if you're keeping count, 3 players) only blocked one player combined. Baas whiffed and Rachal and Davis double-teamed one guy as two defenders ran right passed all 3 of them. If that is what Singletary calls playing well, this team will go 1-15 and think they did "a good job."
Josh Morgan started this game out getting behind the Raiders defense. Why? Because finally, FINALLY, to Mike Johnson's credit, the 49ers play-action passed on the opening offensive play of the game and took a deep shot downfield. Not only was the play there to be had, but Smith (getting one of his few clean pockets) made a near-perfect pass down field that should have been a 40-50 yard play, if not a TD. What did Morgan do? Slowed up, made a half-assed attempt at the ball and let it slip right through his hands. Sure, it just goes down as an incomplete pass, but that play would have meant everything to this team. A good receiver catches that ball every time, and a great receiver turns that into a touchdown. Morgan did neither, and he killed any chance the 49ers had at gutting the Raiders early momentum. I'm not even going to get into the rest of Morgan's lame performance. Sure, he had that one nice catch when Smith rolled out late in the 2nd quarter, but Morgan's miscues were consistently hurting the team. If Alex Smith, the nicest guy of them all (not to mention a smart player), is taking you aside and shouting at you... I'm pretty sure you're screwing up. It was nice to see Smith take that leadership role, though. All good QBs get on their WRs when they don't do their job, as they should. The QB has the most responsibility on the field, and he can't do his job without his teammates.
Alex Smith is not without blame here, either. While he was battling uphill in this game as I mentioned before, he is really losing trust in his line, and it is causing him to regress in pocket presence. Of all things Smith may have improved this off-season, it was his footwork, mechanics, and pocket presence. In pre-season and at times in the regular season we saw him regularly stepping up in the pocket or even running downhill at the line of scrimmage before making a throw. It was very promising. However, the more the line and team struggles, the more he is reverting to his run to the right and throw it away history. And while that doesn't hurt the team badly, it is preventing him from having the success he is capable of having. But I don't blame him. The line has been terrible in pass protection. However, he can help the team if he learns to stick in there just a hair longer, and rather than bail and run, just shuffle step forward or sideways to avoid the rush. I'm not saying he needs to be a pure pocket passer (his mobility should be utilized), but I think he could help his struggling line out by stepping up rather than backing up and running away. If your tackle is beaten outside, the best way to help him recover is to step forward so he can get back inside the defender. If you back away and run, your blocker will simply be chasing both of you.
And speaking of that, I have seen way, WAY too many 49ers offensive lineman facing backwards. They are getting beaten immediately, and they end up with their backs to the line of scrimmage as they watch their man chase the quarterback. This MUST stop happening so often.
Oh btw, I'm quite surprised nobody is talking about the wet & slick breast cancer balls (...er, that sentence sounded perverted to all hell, lmao). I think it is rather impressive what Smith was able to do. I could tell both QBs could not get a consistently good grip on the ball, as both of them were not only sailing balls on simple dump off passes, but they were soaring them out of bounds. All the criticism you want to give Smith and Campbell, they are not THAT inaccurate. I have watched each of them enough over the years to know the balls were affecting their accuracy.
One last note: while I appreciate Mike Johnson calling bootlegs during the game, his timing has been terrible. I can't think of a single bootleg where Smith wasn't immediately under pressure. And sure, that happens with bootlegs, but well-designed and planned bootlegs can gash defenses. This may be a simple result of Jimmy Raye's playbook, but it hasn't been having much success. I'm not saying to give up on bootlegs, but I would like to see Smith actually have the chance to run and read a half of the defense before having a guy in his face. I will say the misdirection play-action rollout for Davis' touchdown was fantastic, and has always been one of my favorite plays. In fact, I believe Davis' first career TD reception was on a similar play in Norv Turner's offense back in 2006 against the Cardinals.
Summary: the offensive line must improve, but to be fair, I'm not so sure the footing was great during Sunday's rainy game. Foul conditions always, always, always favor the defense. I was very glad to see the 49ers offense recover in the 2nd half and actually score points. I hope Morgan bounces back with a sound performance at Carolina. As for Alex Smith, I personally think he could be on the verge of very good things. Some may think I'm insane, but I think he could explode... if his teammates help him out. And there is an endless list of former QBs (some hall of famers) that would agree with that assessment. You may be frustrated, or even "done" with Smith, but I advice you to stick it out. You don't have to listen to me, and you can call me crazy or stupid, but I really don't think all hope is lost with this kid. He is still in his infancy when it comes to QBing in the NFL. I could be off by a mile, but what does it matter? This team is 1-5 and might as well see what Smith can do from here on out.
Hey, at least he has 5 TD passes in his last 2 games combined. That's a start.