A week ago, discussing the difficulties the Niners will face in repeating last year's stunning success, we talked about a statistically likely "regression to the mean." According to wikipedia—the lazy writer's most helpful resource—regression to the mean "is the phenomenon that if a variable is extreme on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on a second measurement." In other words (and more importantly, in simpler
words): things don't go your way for long.
As we discussed, last year most things went our way. Thus, this year, they likely won't. (Cue Brandon Jacobs on Aldon Smith's cart.)
But here's the good news. Obviously, a regression in some
areas can be overcome—or at least counteracted—by a pro
gression in other
areas. And the Niners surely had room to progress, particularly in one notable area.
Stop me if you've heard this one, but the Niners could do a bit more with their passing game.
As I said during my—shameless plug alert—interview
on the Blog Talk Radio show "2-Minute Drill," the best way (or is it the only
way?) for the Niners to improve this year is to convert a few of last year's crazy
44 field goals into touchdowns, and the best way for the Niners to do that
is to add some explosiveness to their passing game. This, of course, is hardly news; Trent Baalke spent his entire offseason collecting weapons for Alex Smith. The last piece of the puzzle, though, wasn't any of those acquisitions. It was, instead, what was already here.
Let's start by giving credit where it's due. After six years of ups and downs—mostly downs—Smith proved last year that he was good. He was carefully managed, of course; but in light of all those awful years, becoming steadily efficient was no small feat. And, at times, he was more than that; at times, indeed, he was simply great. I needn't remind you of Exhibit A, those last four minutes against the Saints. I dare you to show me four better minutes—or at least four better non-Super-Bowl
minutes—by any quarterback who ever lived.
So Smith showed he was capable of producing explosive plays. But when a team kicks 44 field goals, it needs a lot more
explosive plays. And when the Niners flirted with Peyton Manning—regardless of whether they merely "evaluated" him—they did so for a reason, one reason alone.
They doubted that Smith could deliver.
Yet doubts are nothing new for Smith, and training-camp reports suggested that he was up to the challenge. Beat-writers raved that Smith was our best offensive player, going deep with confidence and rarely letting the ball hit the ground. Jim Harbaugh, having declared last year that Smith was "elite," now added that Smith was an "expert" in Harbaugh's intricate scheme. There was no mistaking the implication: this year Smith will maximize the scheme's potential, as well as his own. He'll make those more explosive plays. He'll convert those field goals into TDs.
He'll open up the Niners' world.
The preseason, of course, is not the time to be showing your opponents your new open world. But you can't just count on flipping a switch when the games start to matter. That's why I told my interviewer that all I wanted, during our upcoming game against Houston, was "just a little taste, to show that [we] do have that potential in a game situation to really come up with some big-time passing plays, especially in the red zone, to get some touchdowns."
And boy, did Smith have the perfect chance.
You know the play. Opening drive, second-and-seven at the Texans' 26. To Smith's left, Randy Moss is facing one-on-one coverage. Now any "expert," in any offense, is going to do two things. First, he's going to notice this. And second, upon receiving the snap, he's going to look to be throwing to Moss. It doesn't matter what the assigned progressions are. When Moss is one-on-one outside, an "expert" is gonna start smelling a touchdown. And damn it all, he's gonna go
Evidently, Smith never even saw Moss juke his defender and cruise, wide open, into the end zone. Instead, he locked onto Vernon Davis on a shallow cross, and delivered a pass that Davis dropped. Admittedly, Davis should've caught that ball, and he should've gained a first down or more. But instead of seizing the chance for the touchdown, Smith didn't even notice
it. And predictably enough, the drive ended with three, not seven.
Over the years, Moss has taken a lot of flak for bitching when throws don't go his way. But on Saturday, he was fully entitled to wonder what he was doing here.
You may say, if you wish, that I'm overreacting, but I was demoralized by that play. Last year, and repeatedly
, Smith failed to exploit opportunities for explosive plays. Of course, last year, he'd been trained to be cautious. But this year these weapons are here for a reason. They're here to create the one thing we lacked last year, a consistently explosive O. But it's still Smith who must throw 'em the ball. And on Saturday, it was still Smith who didn't.
Damn it, Alex. I want so much to believe in you. Oh, sure, I've declared an end to your Niners career, at least a half-dozen times. As recently as a year ago, I predicted that Colin Kaepernick would beat you out this preseason, if you were even around here at all. (Why Kaepernick seems to be not even close is a disturbing issue for another day.) And even as you were piling up fourth-quarter comebacks, I resisted, demanding to see more yards and scores.
But then came that Saints game, when, as I wrote, you "stole my heart." The naysayers pointed out that you'd had countless other such "breakthroughs" before, only to then, shall we say, regress to the mean. And then they pointed to your showing against the Giants, and they rested their case.
I believed, though. I believed that the Saints you was the real
you, unleashed at last. I believed that the Giants game was due to your lack of weapons, not to any regression of yours. I believed that once you had
those weapons, nothing would stop you. And then Baalke got you those weapons, and Harbaugh said you were on your way.
But then, Randy Moss streaked uncovered into the end zone, and you didn't even see him.
And in that instant, in more ways than one, I could not believe.
Date: September 13, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Comment: Seriously, this article and comments look silly after the first game, last season, and the playoffs.
Date: September 3, 2012 at 3:31 AM
Comment: I think Alex just isn't accurate enough. That's enough of a fatal flaw that the conversation should move toward finding his replacement. He CAN hit but often doesn't. That's why the deep threat isn't there, and also why as the field shrinks and it becomes crucial to be accurate we end up kicking. I liked Tolzien. Don't care about passer rating, receivers dropped too many of his balls. But he gets the ball downfield in a hurry! Not saying start him but I can't see why he didn't get a better look. If I have Moss and a lights-out defense, I want a QB that can hit deep fast and trust Moss will come down with it, or our defense will get it back for me. If it's me I give Tolzien 3 quarters of a preseason game. He seems to have a strong arm and pretty good instincts on anticipating where the ball needs to be when the receiver turns for the catch. Hope in a couple years to see him develop. Until then Smith is what we can afford, he will be frustrating but effective.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 7:30 AM
Comment: Jeff: Always excited to read your articles on the Niners. I truly agree w/ you. I too am excited about the Niners' new offensive weapons. Do you think Gore will eventually be phased out on his carries?
Thanks for your insight.
Date: September 1, 2012 at 2:10 AM
Good read, although I think you are getting ahead of yourself. Let's see what this season brings, I think Alex Smith will be above the mean. One variable other than weapons is coaching which was nearly absent for most of Alex's career.
Hypothesis: A. Smith is an average QB.
Null Hypothesis: A. Smith is a top ten QB and worthy of elite status.
By: Chris P.
Date: August 31, 2012 at 11:14 PM
Comment: Hahaha...and this is 49er land for you. We go from running Smith out of town to the NFC Championship back to "I don't know if he's our guy." Doris pull it together, what kind of question was that? And Ben, Kaplan hasn't been right about anything for a long time. He wanted Baalke out, York out, Harbaugh was a questionable hire, and Smith he wanted burned at the stake. Then he flip-flopped halfway thru the season and you guys all applauded his journalism. It's comical.
By: Doris Perez
Date: August 30, 2012 at 7:20 PM
Comment: alex showed last year that he could get the job done. But this year he looks like years past. alex did you lose the self-confidence or is there an inside problem?
Date: August 29, 2012 at 8:45 PM
Comment: The problem with saying don't worry it's just preseason occurs when you look at the good qbs - they are showing good decision making and throwing for big yards (see Brees and Peyton for example). Until Alex at least makes a pro bowl I'm over him too (I was in my 20s when this saga began).
Date: August 28, 2012 at 7:14 PM
Comment: Jeff i think you are right about Alex. I said it when Singletary was there, and now I'm saying it again. Alex Smith is just not our man. Sure he earned a spot to come back; however, if you don't make the grade...well you just flunked out. I say it's a matter of time before everybody else figures out this slow azz footwork, and those little hands just won't get the job done. We need to bring back the 7 step drop. Look at Montana's footwork in the old film. The 7 step drop works with the west coast offense. Always has.
Date: August 25, 2012 at 9:11 AM
Comment: Fanatical ramblings are required fare for the fans. I've always had hope for Alex and he finally got a chance last year. He proved that he can shine but to the fanatic Alex must be perfect every play even in preseason. I wonder if it stops after a Super Bowl win or if we will get fanatics that notice Alex missed some play even as he is proclaimed a hero by other fans. When Montana was traded I bashed Young and wished we had traded Young instead. Once Young learned how to pass 1st then run I came around a little.
Date: August 24, 2012 at 6:49 AM
Comment: I wonder if you really believe your moment of revelation really is that significant to Alex Smith or anyone else? I will say though, it makes for humorous banter. Keep up the fun!
By: one more time
Date: August 23, 2012 at 7:51 PM
Comment: alex got beat up, colin did not, he looked comfortable and got rid of the ball quickly. Alex should know by now.
By: Chris P.
Date: August 23, 2012 at 7:19 PM
Comment: Lol, did you really just write an entire article based on one preseason play? Kaplan at his finest.
Date: August 23, 2012 at 6:09 PM
Comment: So often wrong, more often annoying, and naively negative. Jeff, will you never learn to keep this drivel to yourself? It's tiresome and you always end up looking the fool.
Date: August 23, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Comment: preseason good sirs. preseason. Keep writing Jeff! Love your articles even though i do not agree with them all the time lol. Go 9ers!
Date: August 23, 2012 at 12:14 PM
Comment: Good point, looks like someone agrees with you.
Date: August 23, 2012 at 8:47 AM
Comment: Vernon was the first read on that play and had one on one, he threw the ball as designed by the play.
Date: August 23, 2012 at 7:02 AM
Comment: I agree that it's too early to panic. The Niners finally have a deep threat and I would imagine the offense is adjusting to actually having quality - or any - wide receivers to throw the ball to. But, Jeff, I can certainly see your concern. After our futile years of football, one season of success doesn't make a dynasty. I'm anxious to see how the entire team plays this year, but especially Alex.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: August 22, 2012 at 8:39 PM
Comment: Here You Go DieHard!...................... Man, you are a crybaby. Removing my comment calling you chicken little? I assume you'll remove this one too because you have no spine, so this is for your eyes only. Don't want you to miss it. By the way have you read any good books lately? Chicken Little? Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb? Go Train Go? All good books, enjoy! And instead of kicking the neighbors' dog tonight and talking crap to Kaplan every week, add my name to the list instead.
Date: August 22, 2012 at 8:22 PM
Comment: Give it time Jeff, Alex and Vernon have a good chemistry built over years of repetition, Vernon has his trust in game time situations. He's used to throwing it to him and seeing him turn up field for huge gains. Alex has never had a deep threat he could rely on and just chuck it deep for, so it's not that shocking that he feels more comfortable with the sure thing (well not so sure in this play because Vernon dropped it).
In a few weeks time once they build a stronger connection we will see Alex make more deep passes to Moss and Manningham.
Date: August 22, 2012 at 4:18 PM
Comment: Man, you are a crybaby. Removing my comment calling you chicken little? I assume you'll remove this one too because you have no spine, so this is for your eyes only.
Date: August 22, 2012 at 5:07 AM
Comment: Last year Alex and the entire team got better as the season progressed. I don't expect Alex or the team to look or be good during preseason or the 1st few games of the season. They may win some games cuz of the defense, but it will take a while for the offense to catch up. I'll judge Alex's progress the 2nd half of the season.
Date: August 21, 2012 at 6:44 PM
Comment: Great article, Kaplan, well-written. However, you seem to change emotions weekly. Understandably, your feelings toward Alex Smith are viable but I believe that it is premature to regard one play as a sign that Alex may be incapable of providing that "explosiveness" that the 49ers so desperately need to move forward. I wouldn't be surprised if Alex Smith in the season opener against the Packers shows that big-play awareness, resulting in you, Mr. Kaplan, writing an article about how Alex Smith has made you 'believe' again.
Date: August 21, 2012 at 4:13 PM
Comment: I do agree Jeff, 'a little taste' downfield would have been nice though. I'm sitting in Reliant stadium with my Crabtree jersey on, and taking a ribbing, by the Texans fans, before, during, and after the game. All I could say, was just wait, you'll see. So I guess we'll see. 1 play though, just to quiet them down a little bit, would have been cool.
Date: August 21, 2012 at 3:36 PM
Comment: I really hate to agree with you......and I hope you are wrong and it was just the second preseason game.
Date: August 21, 2012 at 3:23 PM
Comment: Jeff I dont know if you have NFLreplay and watched that using the coaches view. Moss didnt break open till Smith had committed to his first read. If VD had caught the ball we would not be having this conversation. He would of easily gotten the first down and possibly a TD. I understand your reluctance to give Smith the credit that is going to be due him after this year. Its only preseason, dont worry about it - yet.
By: Nick S.
Date: August 21, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Comment: Moss is facing man-to-man with a single high safety in zone coverage. If Smith throws deep, the safety comes over and Moss now has two men on him. Meanwhile, the left side of the field is cleared out for Vernon Davis on the drag route. This is the exact same play Vernon Davis scored his touchdown on against the New York Giants during the regular season. The EXACT same play.
Date: August 21, 2012 at 10:54 AM
Comment: Jeff, your views are normally very much in sync with my own, especially regarding Smith. Like you, Smith "stole my heart" with that win over New Orleans. It showed me that he actually, deep down, did have the intangibles I thought he never had or would amass during his career. I think putting all of that postseason glory down the tubes because of one missed read in a preseason game with a new WR is excessive (then again, you admitted as much within the article). Have faith. For the first time in 8 years, I truly believe Smith is poised for a good year and everything otherwise points to that. If you need an alternative perspective, see that beauty of a rollout pass he fired to Ted Ginn on the run. Two things Smith has never been very good at are keeping his eyes downfield and completing passes on the run. Showed some nice improvement in both areas with that pass.
Date: August 21, 2012 at 10:12 AM
Comment: After reviewing the game again, I wholeheartedly disagree with your assessment that Moss was "wide open". He was not. He had beaten Jackson initially, but the route was a skinny post that would have led Moss towards the waiting safety at the middle of the field. It looks as though it was a Roman designed play to Davis. Had he caught it, he had open field as the WR on the other side cleared out the CB. It was our bread n butter play last year. Had Alex thrown it to Moss it was two on one. Nope, Alex made the right call as called by his OC. At least, that's my POV.
Date: August 21, 2012 at 9:35 AM
Comment: "Regression to the mean" makes the faulty assumption that turnovers are only a matter of chance. I submit that SF's low turnover count last season had much more to do with the offensive philosophy than pure chance. Those of you who think the 49ers are going to come out slinging the ball around this year should go ahead and prepare yourself for disappointment. SF's offense will be all about ball control, efficiency, and managing risk just like last year. Look for low yards, low turnovers, but high points and high win totals.
Date: August 21, 2012 at 8:10 AM
Comment: Let it go! Do you think every 80 yard touchdown from Montana to Rice was a deep bomb? They were 8 yard crossing routes that Jerry took to the house! The sure reception to keep the drive going was the pass to Vernon Davis. That was the presnap read. Who says we don't score a couple plays later? Stop the what if....based on past mistakes! Stop walking on egg shells and hoping and praying that omg he may regress. Look to the future. Train yourself to not look at the play and say....what did Alex do wrong. What did he do right? He found his target and the ball was dropped. That's football. That happens to Brady, Rodgers and Manning also! I could care less if Moss catches deep balls for touchdowns. I do not think he is here for that. Yes he will catch his share but he is here to spread and stretch the field to be part of the "team". One of eleven as Jim likes to say!!! Enjoy the season. See the positive in every play. I guarantee that the film has already been looked at and that pass will be Smith to Moss...six points next time! Alex is too bright for it not to be. Coaching my friend. Works every time! Be positive Jeff Kaplan! Don't see the negative!
Date: August 20, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Comment: Jeff you are right on the money brother...keep being a truth teller and not letting your fandom overshadow the reality that Smith will never be an above average qb...we were foolish to disregard 6 years of bad play for one great saints game...now we are back to reality...
Date: August 20, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Comment: For those that say this is just preseason and that it doesn't count, that gives a better argument to go for moss on that play. Who cares if it's an interception, it's just a preseason game. And the people that say that moss isn't open, he's 6'4" and that's the reason we brought him to this team.....to outjump the CB and the safety. Oh yeah, didn't schaub throw the ball to Johnson and he outjumped tramaine brock and the safety for about a forty yd play......just saying.
Date: August 20, 2012 at 9:26 PM
Comment: There's a reason why Alex Smith's nickname is "Captain Check-down."
Analyst Tim Ryan mentioned that opposing quarterback Matt Schaub looks deep first, then progresses to his dump-off check-downs.
Smith does the opposite - his progressions read almost automatically to the short yardage dump-off gain.
Plus, he always seems to run into the opposing defensive line when scrambling out of pressure.
Kap, Tolzien & Johnson were playing behind the 2nd & 3rd string lines, and they don't usually suffer the same affliction.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: August 20, 2012 at 7:58 PM
Comment: Jeff, I think we are going to see early this year how aggressive this offense is going to be. I'm really looking forward to the season opener in Green Bay. If we are going to win this game, we need to pass early and put some points on the board. I would rather go into half-time with a 10 point lead and slow the game down with the running game in the 2nd half than try to come from behind like we did early in the season last year against Philly. If we are not throwing the ball deep against GB (especially to Moss early) I'll be as PO'd as I know you will be.
By: Terry B.
Date: August 20, 2012 at 7:17 PM
Comment: To all those who claim that Moss was just a decoy on the play, and that it was never designed to go to him, that is absolutely false. How do we know? Because when Moss knows the play is not coming to him, his body language shows it. He lollygags down the field and doesn't even try to create the impression that he cares. As Moss worked to get open here, he must have thought the ball might come to him. And to those who say that the play couldn't have been made because of where the "ballhawking" safety was playing, go to message 139 at this link and watch the play.
If Alex can't hit that throw because of the safety, then I don't want him as my QB. If he can't make that throw, he has no business being in the NFL. And to those who still come to this column looking for homerism, you should know by now that you should go elsewhere... like to every other Webzone columnist.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: August 20, 2012 at 4:59 PM
Comment: LOL! Jeff youre back in a blaze of glory. I was surprised to see this article was posted yesterday, and you have 50 comments already. LOL. It's good to see the old Jeff Kaplan back. I love it when the monkeys start throwing the turd at the walls. About the article though, I was more pissed off that VD dropped another easy pass that hit him in the hands, than Alex's decision. Granted, he had Moss open for a TD, but it's difficult to say whether the coaches would support Alex's decision to throw to VD or Moss. I don't put the blame on Alex, I believe JH is still too conservative and would rather take a 1st down (VD would have easily gotten 10 yards after the catch to take it at least to the 15 yd. line) than risk a 35 yd throw. I have confidence Alex can make that TD pass, but some QB's have the confidence to throw it, some don't. Until JH says throw that damn pass to Moss, I don't think Alex makes that throw. In defense of Alex though, that pass to VD could have been run in for a TD. That LB never would have caught him.
Date: August 20, 2012 at 4:42 PM
Comment: Well Jeff, I was at the game, and I did see that play, I had great seats, but I think that play was clearly on Vernon Davis, if he catches the ball it's a 1st down, and more.
Date: August 20, 2012 at 2:54 PM
Comment: I actually thought I was going to read a meaningful article. Complete waste of time from a couch potato slob who knows nothing about the NFL.
Date: August 20, 2012 at 2:20 PM
Comment: That's a lot to write about one preseason snap, so you were won over by the saints game, way to not be a believer until then, and then one preseason snap ruined it for you? You sound like a female with those kind of emotional swings. I'm just going to tell you what I tell the little lady that time of the month. Chill out.
Date: August 20, 2012 at 1:29 PM
Comment: everything this guy writes is beyond ridiculous. what an overreaction... if moss catches 1 td pass next week... this guy will write a 3 page blog explaining why smith and moss are the greatest qb, wr tandem.... How this guy allowed to write such nonsense????
Date: August 20, 2012 at 1:16 PM
Comment: Anyone else notice the pic on this page has been photoshopped to remove Kareem Jackson from the shot? And yes, it was Jackson not Johnathan Joseph who Tim Ryan kept saying.
Date: August 20, 2012 at 1:12 PM
Comment: This was a bad blog entry for you. Very revealing on how much you understand what is going on in the game. Your credibility will take a hit after this one. At least for me. Hard to take you seriously now.
Date: August 20, 2012 at 12:51 PM
Comment: You would never talk about this if that dope of a commentator didnt bring it up. You probably also side with the commentator that got on Tolzien for missing the "OPEN TE" in the first game when his linemen were downfield.
He did not miss Moss. The safety was BACK. The safety did not come up til after the ball was thrown and gave Moss the appearance of 1on1.
Date: August 20, 2012 at 11:12 AM
Comment: All it took was ONE play and blamo! Slap Alex in the face? But that's you, Jeff. You wear it on your sleeve. I understand, but don't empathize. One play in one game in the preseason doesn't warrant this kind of article, but it will garner attention for your attack on Alex, *Sniff Sniff* "That's my Quarterback" empathy from the masses. I surely pray that our hope and faith will overcome your fear and disbelief. Only time will tell.
Date: August 20, 2012 at 11:00 AM
Comment: Come on guys - what about the clear pass that RM dropped (in one on one) - Alex put it there perfect. The other great play by Alex when the receiver was held but not called by Refs - both of those plays could have ended in TDs. So far Alex looks good - not all plays are going to work out and not all open plays will be made - get real.
By: brian scott
Date: August 20, 2012 at 10:52 AM
Comment: Dude...its a shame that whoever actually decides on articles on this website...that they have any confidence in Jeff Kaplan to quarterback it...and if Jeff is the the main man on decisions...I dont believe in the website anymore...It cant be trusted. Obviously the Yorks should quickly replace Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman with Jeff Kaplan and give them Jeff's fantasy team to learn how to do things right. Jeff is so unreliable in his commentary and reporting...wishy-washy really...one week this...one week that...so inconsistent and inaccurate. What an arrogant loser Jeff Kaplan is...and who cares what he believes! Time to find another Media QB.
By: Debbie Q. Downer
Date: August 20, 2012 at 9:18 AM
Comment: I could not believe you were hiding all this time! Welcome back! I missed you sooooooooooo much.
Let's face it, honey. You will never believe in Alex Smith. Just call yourself an Alex Smith hater and get it over with. I believe in you.
By: Mr G
Date: August 20, 2012 at 9:04 AM
Comment: Completely agree. Smith has no vision. He's done the same thing in the past. Given all the good writeups about how Moss was doing in training camp, seeing that he was one on one, Smith should have known he was going to beat his man. Also, if the primary receiver is covered, Smith looks to either dump off or run instead of looking for his secondary receivers.
Date: August 20, 2012 at 8:50 AM
Comment: Thanks Jeff! We need to call out this QB behavior now and address it before the real games begin. Alex may have had a very good reason for not throwing to Moss but if the missed opportunity was simply an oversight, it needs to be discovered and corrected. No doubt Alex is aware of this now.
By: Dallas Niner Fan
Date: August 20, 2012 at 7:32 AM
Comment: Come on JK this is not on Alex. VD dropped a catchable ball. How come nobody is ragging on him?