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49ers vs. Seahawks: Alex Smith, Mike Singletary & End of Half Play-Calling

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SAN FRANCISCO - DECEMBER 12: Head coach Mike Singletary of the San Francisco 49ers looks on against the Seattle Seahawks during an NFL game at Candlestick Park on December 12 2010 in San Francisco California.(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO - DECEMBER 12: Head coach Mike Singletary of the San Francisco 49ers looks on against the Seattle Seahawks during an NFL game at Candlestick Park on December 12 2010 in San Francisco California.(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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Late in the second quarter, the 49ers made a huge pick of Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck that set them up on the Seattle 11 leading 27-7 with 1:26 to go. It set the 49ers up in a position to really go for the jugular heading into the half and put this game away. They walked away with three points to close out the half, but the sequence of events led to some frustrations, including from myself. There were questions about the time management and also some comments about the team's seeming disinterest in going for the jugular. Upon further review, I'm not so sure the criticisms are nearly as warranted as previously thought, although I'm sure some will disagree with me.

1:26 remaining: 1st and 10, Seattle 11
The 49ers started at the 11 with 1:26 to go and three timeouts at their disposal. Combine all that together and the 49ers had a lifetime of time if they so chose. On the first play, Smith lined up in the shotgun with four receivers (counting Vernon Davis) split out (Crabtree, Davis, and Morgan bunched to Smith's right, Ted Ginn to the left, Westbrook in the backfield). After the hike, Josh Morgan appeared to cut across the field, Crabtree seemed to go out towards the sideline a bit and the other two seemed to go towards the end zone. Without the coaches tape it's impossible to tell, but that's what the situation appeared to present.

On that first play, Alex took a couple looks toward the end zone but then threw a dump off to Westbrook near the left sideline where he stepped out of bounds after a gain of two. It didn't gain much but it didn't really hurt either. Alex seemed to look for an opening, couldn't find it, and decided to dump it off rather than take a needless sack. Aside from no touchdown resulting on first down, the play was handled as perfectly as could be expected. I don't see anything worthy of criticism.

After the jump we look at second and third down, and make some conclusions...

1:21 remaining: 2nd and 8, Seattle 9
On 2nd and 8 from the Seahawks 9 yard line, with 1:21 let in the game, the 49ers lined up with Alex under center in what appeared to include a tackle eligible (although it didn't appear to be announced). Anthony Dixon lined up in the backfield, with Vernon Davis off the right tackle and Delanie Walker and Michael Crabtree bunched a couple yards wide to the left. Davis went in motion and lined up in the full back off tackle position.

After the snap, Crabtree made for the end zone and Delanie Walker ran up 5 yards and turned around. Vernon Davis chipped defensive end Chris Clemons and then made for a flat to the left while Brian Westbrook went in low to block Clemons after Davis. The play involved a quick play action just before Westbrook went for the block. After that, Alex took one look towards the end zone once and then turned and dumped it off to Vernon Davis who was stopped (but not actually brought down to the ground) in bounds as the clock continued. When Alex looked straight ahead Walker was covered and there was enough busy work going on that Crabtree either appeared covered or Alex simply couldn't tell.

In re-watching the play, Alex had a lot of time as the offensive line had created a fairly huge pocket for him. I understand wanting to make the completion at least to Vernon, but there were enough defenders around him that the odds of him getting a significant gain were fairly low. I honestly think Smith could have waited another two or three seconds and then just thrown the ball away. Instead Davis gained no yards and the clock was ticking. I'm fine with the play-call, but the execution was a bit lacking.

:35 remaining: 3rd and 8, Seattle 9
At this point, things got a little dicey. If they so chose, the 49ers could have called timeout with 1:11 or so remaining. Instead, the 49ers elected not to take a timeout and instead huddled up like normal before lining up for 3rd and 8 ans snapping the ball with 35 seconds to go. We'll get back to the time management issue in a second. First, we'll take a look at the play choice on 3rd and 8.

The 49ers lined up in the shotgun with Westbrook in the backfield, Walker in the traditional TE slot off the left tackle, Crabtree split wide right, Morgan wide left, and Davis in the slot. Crabtree, Morgan and Davis all appeared to make a move towards the end zone, while Walker ran a flat to the left and Westbrook ran a short route up the middle to the Seahawks 5. Alex took a couple looks and then dumped off to Brian Westbrook who was tackled at the Seattle 4 yard line. It was fourth down at that point so the 49ers let the clock tick down to two seconds and kicked the field goal to go into the half up 30-7. Maybe he again should have thrown deep in the end zone, but I don't think it was the worst choice in the world.

The main argument was with the clock management, but all things considered was Mike Singletary's decision to not use the timeout after Davis was stopped inbounds really all that poor a choice? That play resulted in a third and long and the 49ers did not have to run any sort of hurry-up had they been out of timeouts. I'd argue the play-calling and the clock management really wasn't a problem. At most it came down more to some execution problems that really weren't a big deal in that situation.

Play-calling: Two of the three plays were from the shotgun with the big guns (Davis, Morgan, Crabtree) split out wide and at least two of them running routes towards the end zone. The one play that wasn't a shotgun play saw Crabtree and Walker split out and Crabtree making a play for the end zone. They didn't maximize the number of guys in the end zone, but it wasn't the worst play-call in the world. It gave them a chance to pick up some distance or a touchdown but it was covered well by the Seahawks.

The only other argument about play-calling was going for a touchdown on fourth down, but up 27-7 I think you just take three more points and call it a half. Maybe it's worth the gamble, but I'm fine just taking the three points.

Execution: The only poor decision was probably going to Vernon Davis on second down when Alex probably should have either thrown deep in the end zone or over Vernon's head. However, maybe he thought Vernon could get out of bounds. Not great execution, but really not the end of the world. On the other two short dump-offs, Alex did look end zone first. Had he tried to force something, who knows if Seattle doesn't run it back for a touchdown or at least get a field goal (there was plenty of time left on first and second down) and get some momentum in their favor. I can live with the execution.

Clock Management: The only real clock management issue was after Davis was stopped in-bounds on 2nd and 8. The offense took its time and ran the 3rd down play with 35 seconds left when they could have called timeout at 1:10 to go. But given the fact that it was third down and a first down inside the 1 was probably not all that likely, was a timeout necessary in that situation? The team had plenty of time and never seemed to be rushing the play. If you think you can get a touchdown on that third down play, it makes sense to give Seattle as little time as possible on any potential ensuing kickoff. So you take your time and run the play you want.

The play didn't work out, but that happens sometimes. I suppose the 49ers could have taken some time to think about the play, but if they were in that situation with 10 minutes left in a quarter they wouldn't have called a timeout. So why do it then?

Mike Singletary has had plenty of problems with his time management this season, but I just don't see the problem here. When you consider the context of the time of the game and the plays called, one might even argue that it was excellent clock management. If they scored a touchdown on third down the Seahawks would have had only 20 or so seconds left. Had they called a timeout, Seattle would have had upwards of a minute on the game clock.

In my review of this situation am I missing some key aspect? When the sequence happened in real time I was a bit confused much like the FOX announcers, but upon further review, I think I was incorrect in my assumption that it was poor clock management. Now that's not to say Coach Singletary knew what he was doing throughout this sequence of events. He may have known or it may have just happened that way without his understanding. I have no idea. I'm simply concluding that based on a review of the situation, the clock management was not in fact a problem.