One of the keys to the 49ers victory over the Raiders was the victory in the turnover battle. Alex Smith, who currently leads the NFL in interceptions, avoided any ugly mistakes, and Frank Gore, tied for second in the NFL in fumbles with three, also held on to the battle in a much better fashion. Combine all that with a strong rushing performance from Gore and a very solid defensive effort and we would seem to have the formula for success for the 49ers. While it's great to get big plays from Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, it would seem apparent that the turnover battle, the rushing game, and the defense are really what could guide this team to future victories.
As we look ahead to the Panthers game, I thought it was worth looking at the Panthers in the turnover department. Given the 49ers ability to shoot themselves in the foot so frequently this season, that would seem to be the essential battle to worry about.
The Panthers are currently tied for fourth in the NFL with nine interceptions, and tied for 22nd with four forced fumbles. I'm thinking we'll focus primarily on the interception issue. The fumbles have been a problem but I find myself more concerned with Alex Smith making poor decisions than with Frank Gore coughing up the ball. Gore fumbles can happen but when I see him run I usually see a man who does his best to cover up the ball.
MM put together a rundown of some key battles and one of them is Alex Smith vs. Panthers safety Charles Godfrey. Godfrey leads the NFL with four interceptions. This past week saw Smith throwing a lot of balls away when he got in trouble, which was one of the reasons he had such a low completion percentage (48.5%). We can't really predict whether Smith will continue throwing the ball away on any sort of regular basis, but we can certainly hope for it. While you never want a guy to give up on a play, it's certainly better than forcing something that isn't there and in turn throwing an interception.
I guess I'm curious what people think of Smith's interceptions as a whole. He leads the NFL in interceptions, but is also in the top half of the league in touchdowns and 10th in the league in passing yards. Are we looking at a boom or bust scenario in a given game, or as the offense continues to evolve under Mike Johnson, will Smith become more efficient? A sub-50% completion percentage is not a good thing, but if Smith is efficient in the passes he is completing does it really matter?