Let me open this post by stating that I realize the 49ers have played one preseason game and we can only take so much from that performance. The NFL Lockout left the 49ers (and plenty of other teams) at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to implementing a new offensive and defensive schemes. Accordingly we all have to exhibit some level of patience as the 49ers get their feet wet in the preseason and figure out where they stand.
At the same time, I actually had one play in particular that frustrated me more than anything. Fittingly enough it was the 49ers first offensive play of the game. My knowledge of football technique is fairly limited as I never played the game and have not done a ton of research on technique. Thus, feel free to correct any assumptions I make in this post. In fact, I'd like people that have a bit more knowledge about football technique to chime in with your own thoughts on this topic.
On the first offensive play of the game, the 49ers ran a two wide receiver, two tight end set with Vernon Davis lined up immediately to the right of right tackle Anthony Davis. Vernon ran a quick little crossing pattern underneath and was open for the pass from Smith. Although the Saints did blitz on the play, the 49ers picked up the blitz and Alex Smith had time to get off a clean throw. However, Smith appeared to throw off his back foot and the ball was too low for Vernon to make the catch.
Head after the jump as we break it down a bit more with the help of some images. Some might argue this is nit-picking taking literally the first play of the new season, but even as an Alex Smith fan it sticks out to me.
As you can see here (it might be a little small), Frank Gore picks up the blitzer to Smith's left. Will Herring appears to be beating Anthony Davis on the play, but Davis actually pushed him right past Smith and out of the picture. That would seemingly create a nice little pocket for Smith to step up and fire a pass. You can see Vernon Davis open underneath and Alex made the quick decision to throw to his tight end.
I couldn't get a better shot showing Alex throwing from the back leg, but hopefully this at least starts to give you an idea of things. He wanted to get the pass off quickly, but rather than taking a single step up into the pocket, he stands upright and throws towards Vernon. Although Davis was open, the ball appears to end up down around his ankle and he is unable to haul it in.
Am I arguably correct in thinking that if Smith steps into that pass, he probably completes it to Vernon Davis? I suppose there is a worry that taking that second to step up gives the defender an extra split second to close the distance, but from this picture that seems an unlikely occurrence. Smith does not have the zip on his passes that we see from Colin Kaepernick. That's not to say CK should be starting, but rather that he simply has a much stronger arm.
As previously stated, I recognize that this was the very first play of the preseason and his subsequent struggles had just as much to do with poor offensive line play. However, the o-line struggles and the possible timing with his receivers and tight ends does not create an automatic free pass for issues with mechanics. I'm not prepared to declare this the end of Alex Smith as we know it, but it will be something I keep an eye on the rest of the preseason.