(Disclaimer: I know this subject will be discussed numerous times, but I think I have a unique take on this that I would prefer to flesh out here as opposed to over and over again in the comments of other posts. Enjoy!)
Does anybody know what caveman football is? I didn't until last year. After a healthy dose of watching an offense run by That Guy with the Hat, I now know exactly what caveman football is. For those who don't know, it goes something like this: "Huh, you think you can stop me with that big stick? Well we got big sticks too! We're gonna come out and we're gonna beat you over the head with our sticks until you give up!" That is NOT caveman football in a nutshell. On the contrary, that is caveman football in its entirety. Of course, this method of offense does not work well if the other team has bigger sticks, does not mind getting beat over the head, or simply is smart enough to beat you another way.
After Sunday's game against the Seahawks, it would appear that we have graduated. We are now running caveman football 2.0! Now you might wonder, what is the difference between the original version and 2.0? Simply put, 2.0 is the same as 1.0 except 2.0 includes flashing. Yup you heard me right: flashing! I know, I know, I'm probably losing you at this point. Before you give up on this fanpost entirely, let me give you an analogy to help you out. Caveman football 2.0 is like the offensive strategy of Scottish Highland Clans.
Hear me out on this one. In olden times, Scottish Highland Clans Warriors used a very simple, yet very effective battle strategy. They would work themselves into a frenzy through a process similar to the Viking berserkers. When they were good and pumped up, these Scots would throw off their kilts and charge upon the enemy screaming their clan battle cry. The enemy would look up and see these wild men charging towards them with their bare legs exposed and their shirt tails flapping behind them revealing everything down below. Such a sight was terrifying, particularly so to the genteel English who never came close to exposing their bodies in public. However, this strategy was not very effective against those who knew this strategy was coming and were not frightened by it.
Now what in the heck do perverted warriors have to do with the 49ers? Simply put: Greg Roman. No, I do not propose we try this strategy ourselves. As interesting as it would be to see the entire Niners offense drop their pants before hiking the ball, such an idea is hardly practical nowadays. What I AM saying is that our offense against the Seahawks bore a striking resemblance to Scottish kilt warfare. We would line up in fancy formations, run dazzling shifts, and then waste it all on a stupid handoff (often straight up the middle). This flashing technique worked reasonably well for the first half, but once the Seahawks got used to it it became worthless. I understand we're still finding our footing on offense, so this version of offense can be forgiven for now. However, we had better start seeing something better than Caveman 2.0 pretty soon. This brings up a couple of questions.
The first question is "We have the infrastructure to run 3.0...but will we choose to go that route?" Last year our offense could have been very explosive, but our coaches criminally misused that talent and chose instead to keep running it up the middle. Will Greg Roman be any different? I like to think so, but who knows? That brings me to the next question.
Assuming that Greg Roman wants to run an offense above caveman level, can Alex Smith handle it? I saw a lot of things about our offense on Sunday that were horrible and ugly. Most of those things were a matter of scheme and game planning. However, I saw a fair amount of ugly stuff coming from Alex that he's been doing for quite some time. I'm an Alex Smith believer and even have him on my fantasy team. However, I'm starting to become disillusioned. What am I talking about? Well, for example, Smith's go-to receiver was Frank Gore. Over and over again, when we had a pass play, Alex just dumped it off to Gore instead of waiting for something to come open down-field. Then of course there was "The Bird-Man Play". You know, the one where Crabtree was wide open in the end zone flapping his arms but Alex Smith dumped it short to Gore instead. It wasn't just the dump-offs either. Alex continued to make dumb throws. For example, numerous times he threw it to someone who was standing behind the line of scrimmage and was heavily covered. I don't know what goes on in Alex Smith's brain, but even I know that negative yardage is not going to help us. In those situations you have to either buy some time for the guys downfield, scramble towards the line of scrimmage to free up the short yardage receiver, or simply chuck it out of bounds. Alex Smith won't do that though. He keeps on making negative yardage plays or gaining 2-3 yards on 2nd or 3rd and 15. Can anybody explain that to me? He's been doing that for some time and it just doesn't make any sense to me.
As I said, I'm an Alex Smith believer. However, if he can't be broken of these bad habits, we're going to be in for a long season. If we can't run the ball, the coaching staff needs to be able to trust Alex to air it out for 5, 10, 15 yard passes. If Alex continues to dink and dunk with no success, he's going to have to be pulled. As much it scares me to say it, that's the reality. We can't rely on our defense or our special teams to score enough points to keep us in the game against teams like the Eagles, the Lions, and the Ravens.
So, now that the optimism drugs are wearing off, the ugly question shines through: "Can Alex Smith play at super-hero level, or is caveman football really all he can handle?" This might seem like an over-reaction after just one game. However, this is way more than one game. Alex Smith has been playing this way for as long as I can remember. I hoped Harbaugh could coach it out of him. It appears that I was wrong. I think Harbaugh might be realizing this too. His praises of Alex diminished over the course of the pre-season, and he was careful to praise Kaepernick just as much. I may be reading too much into it, but it seems to me that Harbaugh left himself just enough room that's he's able to bench Smith without ruining his credibility.
Anyway, we will see, we will see. What do you guys think? Can Alex Smith re-wire his brain? Can Harbaugh train this out of him? If Alex doesn't change and we continue to have a sluggish, ugly, unreliable passing game, when would we pull Alex? Would we let him finish the season even though we clearly aren't going to make any progress as far as the passing game goes (essentially tanking the season)? Or would we give him a couple of games and then try throwing Kaepernick into the fire? Kaep isn't very good at touch passes yet, but for slants, stick routes, deep routes, and things like that he is really, really good. He is also very mobile which adds yet another element to our offense. As raw as he might be, which is worse, throwing Kaep into the fire and seeing how he does or continuing to watch Alex Smith sputter away?
I know this is all hypothetical, but it may be a lot more real and closer to happening than we realize. Try and keep the discussion civil and avoid stupid comments like "Alex sucks!". State your opinion and then give some reasoning for it and be prepared to defend it calmly and quietly.
Note, whatever your opinion of Alex Smith, I think we can all agree that he is the weakest link and the most unknown of any of our offensive starters. Our WRs stack up to just about any in the league, as do our TEs and RBs. Our offensive line is better than the Macgyver line that Aaron Rodgers somehow survived behind to win the Super Bowl. Alex Smith, until he proves otherwise, is our weakest link on offense. Even Chilo Rachal and Anthony Davis have shown they can play at an extremely high level. What they lack is consistency. Alex Smith has never had more than 1 or 2 games, if that, in which looked like an elite qb. Other qbs manage it. Despite scheme, coaches, or surrounding talent, they somehow manage to have huge games occasionally.. Even Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 208 yards and 4 touchdowns today. Alex Smith has a tremendous supporting cast, and we do sometimes call pass plays. Why can't he break out for big games? Personally, I think it has a lot to do with the problems I discussed above. He is very reluctant to throw it down-field, and he tends to throw it to any receiver who is open, regardless of how close they are.
DISCUSS IN THE COMMENTS! Thank you for reading.