Alex Smith chatted with the media before practice yesterday and a good chunk of the discussion centered around some of the issues with the offense. The two most notable points were the red zone struggles and the incomplete passes that sailed on passes down the sideline. As he pointed out, the team is 10-2 but they are still just scratching the surface of where they can be as an offense. These mistakes take some time to clean up, but the upside is looking pretty impressive, the more time they have together.
This is all particularly pertinent in light of Steve Young's comments on the Razor & Mr. T Show on KNBR yesterday. Young goes on the show every week to chat about all things football. When he discusses the 49ers, he often has a certain fan vibe to his comments as he is getting excited about the team's development. He acknowledges some of the issues we've seen with the offense, but he also recognizes the tremendous upside of the offense.
In his appearance yesterday, Young discussed how he would love to see the team use some no-huddle in these remaining games to see how the offense can execute:
I'd love to see something that felt like, ‘Man, we're behind by 14, what do we do?' Just kind of react as if it was happening. I think you've got to test the boundaries of what the offense can do because at some point if you're going to win deep into January you figure you're going to be tested that way, so why not kind of practice that? Maybe open up the game in no-huddle. Maybe give Alex a little more ability to throw the ball downfield.
Running no-huddle when you're early in the game or playing with a lead isn't quite the same as forcing it down 14, but there is tremendous value in working that into the game plan at some point over these final four games. The team needs wins to secure the first round bye, but there are still opportunities to "explore the studio space." It will be interesting to see if the team tries that out or keeps a lot of its remaining tricks in the bag.
QB Alex Smith
Press Conference - December 7, 2011
San Francisco 49ers
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said the other day that the red zone was sort of the last thing to come together in an offense, do you feel like that's still forming with this offense? Is that an area that can improve?
"I certainly hope so. No question. The situational football, I think, are obviously the last things that you continue to get better at and the last things to kind of hone in on. No question, obviously there's room for improvement. We've left a lot of points on the field in the red zone, especially these last handful of weeks. So no question room for improvement, need to improve, and we will. But that's an encouraging thing, we're still doing a lot of good things. Not playing our best where it matters most down there in the red zone. So, need to get better, I think obviously a lot to be taken advantage of."
When you say room for improvement though, is it calling different plays, is it more technique, I mean what are you seeing the past couple of games?
"Yeah, I think all of the above. No question. You'd have to look at execution for sure. Just executing down there, we've left a lot of good plays out there and haven't finished and haven't executed. But no question, obviously just plays, scheme, all that stuff kind of goes into it."
Why or how is the game different first and goal from the eight as opposed to first and 10 from the 45?
"The field is just so much smaller. You're only operating with a limited space down there. So, it's obviously the windows are smaller, timing has to be better, the spacing has to be better, all of the above. The running windows are tighter. The safeties are that much closer to run support. So, all of those things come into effect down there. You just really have to be on the ball as far as executing. In the pass game, balls have to get turned loose down there. You've got to trust what you see and then the windows are smaller. All that stuff. So, all of it comes into play."
Despite all that, you're 10-2, and you've won a division. So, what does that say and how does that make you feel?
"Yeah, I've said this before, in a lot of ways it still can be frustrating, but it's encouraging. I've said this, I think we're still just kind of scratching at it, what we can become. And we're doing some good things in the meantime, but still I think, still kind of forming and becoming what our potential is. That's encouraging as well that we just need to continue to keep getting better these last few weeks, each and every week taking a step, and red zone's one of those areas."
We were just talking with Coach Harbaugh about WR Kyle Williams, you worked out with him in the offense, talk about his improvement and him taking advantage of his opportunities.
"Yeah, I don't think any of us that have been around Kyle are shocked at all. This isn't a surprise to any of us. He does it every single day on the practice field. Any time he seems to get a chance he makes plays. He worked his tail of this offseason. He was out there every day. So, not really a surprise, I think he's just a prime example of a guy that has just continued to work and wait for his opportunity. And finally got a little window and he hasn't let go of it. The guy's just made the most of it and that's what you've got to have. I think all good teams have that because injuries are going to happen and you need the next guy to step up and Kyle's been that for us."
Alex, I asked you about throwing deep passes a few weeks ago, on Sunday you were on point with them, especially over the middle of the field to WR Michael Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis. You didn't link up with the ones toward the sidelines to WR Ted Ginn Jr., is there a difference on those throws toward the middle?
"Yeah, just different types of throws. The ones down the middle are play action. The ones on the sideline were there were kind of the two-minute drill at the end of half, and we're getting-dropping eight guys, and they're playing coverage. So, different types of throws, obviously still down the field, but much different categories as far as in my head. But almost one of those, the couple to Ted, I'm just sailing. Didn't have clean vision on him and kind of sailing. There at the end of the half, when you're in a two-minute drill at the end of half, you're trying to get what you can, but obviously you're not going to force things, make the mistakes and give the ball back. Obviously would like to hit those, but it's just kind of educated sails, I'm going to miss it out of bounds."
On the one to Vernon, at what point do you see the defensive tackle bearing down on you?
"I didn't really. I was locked on the safety the whole way. We've kind of had it all week and thought how we were going to have it turn out, and the safety stayed backside and Vernon ended up just running right by him. I kind of caught that the last minute and just put it up over his head. Really wasn't until watching the tape the next day that I even felt the color. Didn't even notice it out there, I guess."
But you did, I think threw it and you did sort of take cover a little bit?
"Yeah, I guess, I watched it on the film and I didn't even realize I did it. So, you're kind of locked in downfield, you throw it, you see flashes of color in your face. I do remember kind of not being able to see what happened. I threw it and I'm trying to get vision of what happened and then just heard the crowd."
Three weeks ago you guys played Arizona, what did you like about the matchup of Crabtree vs. CB Patrick Peterson?
"He's a talented young corner, extremely talented. The guy does a lot and makes a lot of plays. They match him up, especially these last few weeks, against the opponent's top guy. It was no different when we played and him matching up with Michael. I remember after that game, obviously we watched the film, and Crabtree was sparking us all day, just seemed to spark us. For me, I think, really lifted us as an offense. Just kept continuing to make plays and when he was one-on-one, winning. So, I'm sure they both remember that and will be ready to go on Sunday. I anticipate, obviously, those two matching up."
Is he different these last couple of weeks than he was earlier just because he's gotten healthier and healthier?
"Yeah, a few different things, for sure just getting back healthy. Anytime you miss camp and you're coming in late and he's trying to go off the injury, you're still just catching up with the offense and how comfortable he is and understanding things. So, all that I think leads to just playing faster and knowing what you're doing. He's doing that right now, playing at a high level."
Different feeling this week knowing you're in the playoffs as you prepare?
"Yeah, a little different but at the same time these are still really meaningful games, division games. We played these first three division games all at home. Now we've got these chunks on the road. Going into Arizona, they've won four of their last five. I think we all recognize that and see that. Just beat a good Dallas team. So, a little different but at the same time no less pressure. These games are all big."
Did you ever run the fly sweep before this year?
"No, no, not that I can remember. In college, not in the NFL."
Does that take a while to develop?
"Well, in college you don't have the speed on defense that you have in the NFL, especially sideline to sideline. So, it's very rare to see it successful at least. Ted's a special guy and the guys up front are doing a great job, but obviously Ted's running ability makes it go."
Alex, what does it say about TE/LS Brian Jennings that he's survived as a long snapper with the same franchise for a dozen years, you know 12 years, and he's still the only one left from the last playoffs?
"He just consistently does his job. Long snapper is one of those positions if you're name ever usually gets said it's a bad thing. You're just expected to do your job out there and that's it, and he does that. He takes so much pride in it, in doing his job and how he goes about it, just a model of consistency."