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We break down Alex Smith's three interceptions in the 49ers loss to the Giants.
A lot of things went wrong in the 49ers 26-3 loss to the New York Giants, and blame can be spread among most of the team. One thing that did stick out however has to be Alex Smith's three interceptions. They stick out in my mind simply because of the fact that this was a guy who had one interception on the season and had not been intercepted at home since last November. To see him throw in one game is going to stick out.
I wanted to wait until the coaches film came out before breaking down the interceptions. Unfortunately the telestrator function was not working on my iPad, so I went with some basic screenshots. The circles and lines are a big help, but for this round of analysis I'll try and talk you through each picture.
Alex Smith briefly spoke about the three interceptions after the game, and had this to say:
"They were all different. On the first one, I stepped up in the pocket and didn't have great visibility but was trying to let [TE] Delanie Walker make a play, and they made a play on the ball. It was a force, trying to get a shot down field. The second one, on the third down, I believe the second one was on the slant. The ball just got up on me. I was trying to work [WR] Mario [Manningham] on the slant there, I felt like he was getting grabbed, try to make the throw to see if he can get the call. All of a sudden the ball gets up and picked off. The third one, yeah, they got me in a good play, coming down, stepping in front of [WR Michael] Crabtree. Once again, third and long, you're trying to make a play and forcing it."
Interception No. 1
Smith: "On the first one, I stepped up in the pocket and didn't have great visibility but was trying to let [TE] Delanie Walker make a play, and they made a play on the ball. It was a force, trying to get a shot down field."
I took the most pictures of this one because the other two are much easier to explain. With this first interception, in the picture above it seemed like Amukamara was in a bit of disguised coverage, and if Smith was looking in on Walker, I can see how he might otherwise miss Amukamara. In this first picture, Walker is bottom center and Amukamara is bottom to the left of Walker (as we are looking at it). From the snap he looked like he was paralleling Mario Manningham deep, although obviously there was plenty of space between them.
In the second picture, Alex Smith is throwing and Amukamara has cut off whatever path he was following and begins to turn around. He collapsed on Walker and made the relatively easy peak. It seems like he disguised the coverage, but I can't tell for certain. My intuition says that's the case, but unless Prince has spoken about it, I am not certain.
10forTech mentioned yesterday how Mario Manningham had gotten open on that same play, so I took a look at that from the end zone camera that is part of the Coaches Film. The first picture above was after Smith play-faked to the running back. He had first looked to his right, but as 10forTech mentioned, Michael Crabtree was double-covered (off right side of the screen). That left the safety over the top with Manningham coming up the seam.
This next picture shows Smith beginning to throw towards Walker down the sideline. Manningham is turning his head at that point and is fairly open. My only guess on Smith not throwing to Manningham is some concern that safety would have been able to close in time to break up the pass or grab the interception. Smith was not asked about Manningham on that play, so we don't know what was going through his head.
Interception No. 2
Smith: "The second one, on the third down, I believe the second one was on the slant. The ball just got up on me. I was trying to work [WR] Mario [Manningham] on the slant there, I felt like he was getting grabbed, try to make the throw to see if he can get the call. All of a sudden the ball gets up and picked off."
As Smith said, the ball did get up on him. I can't get a good view of it here, but when Smith threw the ball he seemed to be jumping a bit.To his right you'll see one defender engaged by Anthony Davis and another one coming in. That second defender (more clearly seen in the above a picture) had run a stunt from the opposite side of the line. In the picture below, he is the Giants defender on the far left side of the screen. After the snap, he made his way across and got a handup, as did the Giants other end. It appeared like Smith went a bit high to try and get it around those two defenders. It got away and was picked, and that's about that.
Interception No. 3
Smith: "The third one, yeah, they got me in a good play, coming down, stepping in front of [WR Michael] Crabtree. Once again, third and long, you're trying to make a play and forcing it."
This last interception is fairly straight forward. Trailing 20-3 in the third quarter, Alex Smith made a bad decision. Michael Crabtree was the intended receiver (far left receiver surrounded by three Giants defenders) but it was very clear that there were plenty of defenders around him. In case, the above picture isn't clear enough, the bottom picture is a bit more blown up.
There are three defenders around Crabtree, and then a linebacker on the far right side of the screen who could potentially get a shorter, underneath throw. Alex Smith admitted to forcing it in this situation, which was unfortunate. It was a 3rd and 11 so I suppose the forced play seemed necessary at the time. There weren't other great options on the play, although his receivers on the other side of the field had slightly better matchups. Even if the play would have resulted in an incompletion, punting away would have been much better than setting up the Giants in 49ers territory. Who knows if the 49ers come back, but it would have given them a better opportunity.
It was not a pretty performance by Alex Smith, but hopefully these are some basic struggles that can be overcome moving forward. One was a disguised coverage, one was a high throw and one was a forced, bad throw. None are good, but I don't think it's necessarily the end of the world. The team has not spent a ton of time reviewing the Giants film because of the quick turnaround. Although the film gives us some answers, it's safe to say Alex and the offensive staff know what happened on these plays. Now it's just a matter of not repeating these mistakes.