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49ers vs. Chargers: Alex Smith and Vernon Davis Re-Connecting, Part 2

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Last Friday I put together a post discussing the potential for Vernon Davis and Alex Smith to reconnect on the field against the Seahawks. Vernon has found great success with Alex at QB and that is a connection that needed to happen if the offense was going to find some consistent success. I won't call myself clairvoyant, but Alex and Vernon hooked up for a couple big plays on the first drive that put the 49ers up 7-0. There were a lot of other reasons the 49ers won on Sunday, but that early connection was an important start to the game.

Although Vernon Davis had three more catches on the day, those first two were his biggest of the day by a long shot (64 of his 70 yards). On the first catch, Davis was lined up in the traditional tight end spot on the right side of the offensive line. He ran up about nine yards with a slight out and turned around to catch Alex's pass. He then turned up field and completed a 22 yard catch and run.

On the second catch, Davis lined up a couple yards wide to the right and then ran a bit of a crossing pattern. He caught the ball thirteen yards up in the middle of the field with a linebacker down low three yards in front of him and a safety up high about three yards above him. The pass was a bit high but I'd argue that was due as much to the linemen on both sides bunching up in front of Alex, as well as the linebacker in front of Davis. Vernon jumped and caught it then turned towards the left sideline and up field for the touchdown. There was a safety that appeared to be spying on him a bit but he was not fast enough to catch Davis.

I bring all this up because of some comments made by 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Johnson when he spoke with the media today (transcript down below):

On whether [Alex] has to be more versatile with TE Vernon Davis due to opposing defenses taking away the seam route:

"Well when you score 13 touchdowns as a tight end and you are running down the road, everyone knows that and they see it, but they can't do that and take everything away, so we are going to do other things to make sure we get him the ball in space and allow him to be who he is."

It's not all that surprising that Davis hasn't gotten all those seam route touchdowns thus far. At some point after the season I want to go back and look at his various touchdowns and what kind of routes he's run to get open. Sunday was a case of working him underneath more than working the deep mismatches. It's possible the 49ers have been running him on seam routes as frequently as last year, but with the connection not happening we rarely see it on TV.

As with last week, connecting with Davis early and often will be key. He's had a couple bad drops this season, but for the most part he's been able to hold onto the ball. Of course it seems like he does a better job holding on when he's taking a big hit, but I can live with that given the limited number of drops we see from Vernon. With Michael Crabtree have some issues with drops and whatnot, the 49ers will need a big game from Davis if that want to upset the Chargers.

Offensive Coordinator Mike Johnson
Post - Walk Thru - December 14, 2010
San Francisco 49ers 

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On the Chargers defense and what makes them sound:

"Well they are sound, they do a lot of things well. They run well, their secondary is excellent, they do a good job of re-routing wide receivers and passing things off and pattern reads. They do a good job and they are well coached."

On whether he and QB Alex Smith talked about ‘pressing':

"It's something that we coach, definitely. He did an excellent job this past week of making good decisions. When you do that, it makes the game easier. He did a decent job. We called a lot of plays down in the red zone that we had potential to make big plays and he did a good job of taking what the defense gave him and he got points every single time we were down there. Even though all those points were not touchdowns, he did a good job of executing our offense."

On how often he audibled against Seattle:

"He didn't make too many audibles this week. He did a good job of taking what was given to him and executing them. He followed the plan to a T and I thought he played well."

On whether he will have to throw more passes outside of the numbers against the Chargers:

"We have plays that are designed to go outside the numbers and I'm not concerned about that, I just want him to execute each play and take what the defense gives him, and then eventually the stuff outside the numbers will open up."

On what Alex's role is in making sure that the receivers continue to gain more yards after the catch:

"Well, just making sure that you execute each play, take what they give you, and don't try to force the issue. We have plays that are designed for deeper routes and things that are underneath in case they take those things away. All we want him to do is make his read, take what they give him and not force the ball."

On whether the idea for Alex is to put the ball in a certain spot to try and lead to more yards after the catch:

"That's always important, we do that with certain drills, to get the ball to the receivers in certain areas where they can turn away from coverage and allow them to be runners after the catch. This last week I thought he did a good job of that."

On whether he has to be more versatile with TE Vernon Davis due to opposing defenses taking away the seam route:

"Well when you score 13 touchdowns as a tight end and you are running down the road, everyone knows that and they see it, but they can't do that and take everything away, so we are going to do other things to make sure we get him the ball in space and allow him to be who he is."

On the development of WR Michael Crabtree and his inability to get open:

"No, I mean he's a part of the offense also and when he runs a route the way he's supposed to run it, when we throw the ball the way we're supposed to throw it, and when we block the way we are supposed to block, guys will have opportunities to make plays. I think we threw at him and in the last game for some reason he didn't have a lot of catches and WR Josh Morgan did. I mean that's just the way it works out sometimes, but I think he's working hard, I think his work ethic is good, I think he's coming along just fine. Last week just wasn't his week to make a lot of big plays."

On whether he agrees with Brian Billick that Crabtree is not a good route runner:

"Well that's something that a lot of the young wide receivers have to go through, they have to go through a progression of understanding how to run routes the way true route runners run them. That's not a knock against Crabtree, that's just a fact of him being a young football player and still learning and developing, but I think he's working hard at his craft."

On whether that calls for patience with him:

"Patience as coaches, but I think that's something that you have to allow nature to take its course. I think Michael Crabtree is going to be a very good football player in this league, but he's still trying to find his way to get all the potential that he has inside of him out."

On whether the little misfires between Crabtree and his quarterback are a matter of them not being on the same page:

"It could be a number of things. It could be the offensive line protection, running back protection, it could be the wide receiver, it could be the quarterback. It could be a number of factors and I think every ball is different. I can't pin point and say one ball is this or that, but there are factors that play into it."

On how the short week is affecting the game plan:

"Well we have a core set of plays that we can pull from and I think the core plays that everyone knows. I think when you get into a week like this, you pull from the core. This is something that we are prepared for. We worked a little bit on it last week, we put a game plan together for this week, and we're ready to go."

On whether Alex Smith gives you a better chance to win this week:

"I don't know if I can say he gives us the better chance. I think we want Alex Smith to play the way he played last week, and as long as he plays the way he played last week, he's going to give us a chance to win every game. I'm just trying to put together a plan where guys don't have to do a lot of thinking, things where they can just line up, play, and give us a chance to go get this one on Thursday."

On whether there is a different feel when you have to win:

"No, I mean that's the nature of the National Football League, you have to win and that's the bottom line. We put ourselves in this situation, now we have a chance to dig our way out and we are prepared for the challenge. I think our guys are focused, I think they're working hard, and we are going to go in there on Thursday and give it our best shot."

On whether he has seen a difference with Alex's comfort level lately:

"Well he was focused, he was calm, and he played well. For whatever reason we liked, as a staff, what we saw, and it's something that we hope we can get each and every week going forward. That gives us the best chance to win the game, but I thought he played well."

On what Alex showed to you:

"He shows that he has the potential to be a good quarterback, if he can do the things necessary to be a good quarterback. He was extremely disciplined, focused, and he made great decisions with the ball last week. That's something that we hopefully can get from him this week and every week going forward."

On whether he expects G Mike Iupati in Thursday's lineup:

"Yeah I hope so. I think he's still trying to get his strength back from what happened to him last week, but from what I understand I think he may be ready to go."

On whether Iupati is the spearhead for the 49ers running attack:

"He's a good, young player and we are excited to have him. I don't know if he's the spearhead, but I think he's progressing well. He's a tough, physical guy that we like having on our team and I think he's doing a good job for us."