Alex Smith: The Return of the Spread Offense?

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 17: Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers walks off the field after they beat the Oakland Raiders at Candlestick Park on October 17 2010 in San Francisco California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Fooch's Note: For those jonesing to talk about the 49ers defensive woes, we'll have a post up at 10am about that.

After news broke yesterday that the 49ers had decided to reinstall Alex Smith as the team's starting QB this Sunday, we had a fairly in-depth discussion in the comments on just about every aspect of the decision. One area that was brought up but got a bit buried amidst all the comments is the idea that this might lead the opening up of the offense that people have been demanding for who knows how long. Whether that's actually going to happen or not, I wanted to pull that particular aspect of this out for discussion.

It's been tweeted all over, but Matt Barrows had a few of the more useful comments in his post about this decision. We've seen the team attempt the spread offense at times in the past to various forms of success. As drummer mentioned last night, one problem with the 49ers use of the spread is that it has mostly been a fire-drill type offense. As with many other aspects of the team, it seems like it is in fact a mish-mash of offensive play-calling and nobody really has a clear idea of a single coherent philosophy. It's one reason I've lost faith in the coaching staff.

HOWEVER, Barrows did bring up some interesting points about the players on the field. His points in brief were as follows:

  • Troy Smith's late signing means he knows the offensive plays but doesn't know enough nuances to fully open the playbook for him
  • Alex Smith is well-versed in the spread and knows the playbook
  • The loss of Frank Gore brings in two running backs that could be well-used as a duo in the spread. Anthony Dixon played in a spread offense at Mississippi State and took most of the handoffs his senior year in the shotgun. Brian Westbrook has been one of the best receiving running backs in the NFL over the last decade

I'm not here to say that these factors are going to make the 49ers offense suddenly come to life and run swimmingly against the Seahawks. As mentioned above, the 49ers have stuck primarily to their run it up the middle offense. Although they have thrown in some big plays, they are rarely employing a coherent philosophy with anything but the run it up the middle plays. They can try out everything they want, but without a coherent philosophy it's questionable whether it'll work.

At the same time, I do find myself going back to the well and getting curious as to whether Mike Johnson will finally open things up in some form or fashion. As this season has shown, I'm not holding my breath for things to get much more interesting. However, I will be keeping an eye on how the team utilizes Westbrook and Dixon this week.

Westbrook has played extensively the last two games but has been held without a reception. The last time he went without a reception in consecutive games was during his rookie year. Is it possible the team might actually try and mix him into the receiving game more? Of course, given Alex Smith's development into Captain Checkdown, if Westbrook does get more passes his way, what can we really take from it?

And with Dixon's experience running out of the shotgun, will that really make much of a difference in this game? It almost makes me wish the 49ers were playing a better opponent. They could very well lose to the Seahawks, but if the team finds success on Sunday, can we really make many grand conclusions? I suppose if the team finds success using some more wide-open offense it's possible. But even then without a run of sustained success it really doesn't matter. Either way it at least provides me with a reason to watch the game, other than simply needing to keep NN updated and write up a recap!

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