Well kids, it is week 8, which means that we're almost halfway through the season. In this week's installment of "Upon Further Review", Diego and I will be discussing whether or not Alex Smith has peaked or is regressing (surprise!), the 49ers suddenly "conservative" play-calling, Frank Gore's role going forward and our picks for Week 8.
Smith, Yet Again…Has He Peaked? Is He Regressing?
: When it comes to 49er football, no discussion is complete without two fans starting a battle royale over the virtues of the 49ers' resident lightning rod, Alex Smith. After starting the season incredibly well, Smith has endured two underwhelming performances in a row. Some have surmised that the "flow" of the game has been disrupted by Colin Kaepernick's "Wild Kaep" cameos, and others that he just plain sucks.
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The answer is more complicated than that (isn't it always?), however. Smith has not magically begun to suck, nor has his flow been interrupted. Smith is going through what every quarterback does: the ebb and flow of a typical NFL season. Even the most consistent players have off weeks (check Eli Manning's QB ratings from week to week last season and you'll see what I mean), and Smith is no exception. So my answer is that Smith has neither peaked, nor has he regressed. I fully expect him to have a few more "lights out" performances this season, just as I expect him to have a few less than stellar outings, but over the long haul, I expect him to be the highly efficient QB that he has proven to be over his last 25 games.
: Immediately after last week's game against the Seahawks, I found myself in the car listening to 95.7 The Game and I heard caller after caller bash Alex Smith, the words "Arena League quarterback" still resonant in my head. Let's be clear about something: Smith has peaked … in this system. His job is to win football games, and (in this system) he has succeeded so far posting a 19-6 record with Jim Harbaugh as the head coach. It's been pointed out before but it's worth mentioning again: Tom Brady lost to the same Seahawks team the week before, he threw and completed more than twice the amount of passes Smith threw, yet only averaged 0.7 yards more per completion and had the same TD-INT ratio. Brady's team led 23-10 at the beginning of the fourth quarter when he was intercepted by Earl Thomas in the endzone. Seattle won by one point, the Patriots defense unable to hold the lead. In retrospective, Brady probably needed
to make that the throw that ended up on an interception.
Smith doesn't have that problem. He has been made well aware of the fact that if he doesn't force a throw, if he just tucks it and runs, if he takes a sack or throws it away, so long as he doesn't turn the ball over (and/or hurt himself) more likely than not he will get it back, the score the same as it was before, and he'll get another chance at putting up points on the board. In this offense, Smith is what he is: if the window is there to make a throw, he will make it - we saw it in the game against Buffalo. Yes, he is still not as accurate as you would like, and again that may not change, but so long as he continues to win why should the fan base scream for a change at QB? Furthermore, we have seen Smith thrive at times when asked to put the team on his shoulders. Sure, it doesn't always lead to a victory (at Houston and at Green Bay in '09, vs New Orleans and at Philadelphia in '10), but he has brought the team back into a game plenty of times putting them in a position to win, including his success last season in multiple times with the game on the line, chief among them the divisional playoff game against the Saints.
He will most likely continue to consistently inconsistent in the box score, but as long as he keep consistently winning he will continue to be the team's starting quarterback.
Why So Conservative on Offense?
: When the 49ers went out and signed Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, then went on to draft AJ Jenkins and LaMichael James, many thought that the 49ers would be opening things up. Almost across the board, fans were boldly prognosticating that the 49ers would finally evolve into a chuck n' duck offense.
Needless to say, the fan base at large has been disappointed. But not me.
The 49ers' formula for winning is not about perpetual deep throws, stretching the field or tossing the rock with impunity. The 49er formula is simple, and by modern standards, quite boring. This team is built to run the ball, control the clock, maintain field position advantage, and force opponents to play the same game. When the 49ers do this successfully, they are almost unbeatable. So while some see a conservative offense, I see an offense that serves its purpose in a proven formula for winning. As Justin Smith recently said, "stats are for losers". Wins are what counts, and the 49ers seem to be doing just fine in that department.
: While Smith has struggled these last couple of weeks, it is very short-sighted to place all the blame on him. Sure, it comes with being the quarterback, but we are starting to see teams around the league adjust to the 49ers' offense, and it is time that Greg Roman and company make some adjustments of their own. The running game is not the concern, the 49ers are averaging an outstanding 176.6 yards/game, good for second best in the league. The passing game is the complete opposite, at just 199.9/game, good for fourth worst in the league. The key to it all? Vernon Davis. It is no secret: if Alex Smith has a good game, chances are Vernon Davis was on the receiving end of several passes for a chunk of yards and a touchdown or tw. In the last two games both the Giants and the Seahawks made it a point to take Davis away as an option, and it is no coincidence Smith has struggled. So what is the adjustment? The onus is on the rest of the receiving corps to pick up the slack, but it wouldn't hurt to design their routes to fill in the spots where Davis drives away multiple defenders. Want to run that seam route with Davis? Run another receiver for a hook route right where the linebacker vacated. (see Michael Crabtree's 10-yard catch on 3rd & 9 in the 49ers touchdown drive vs the Seahawks). Wheel route? Run a drag route to the flat where Davis breaks for the vertical.
I had not seen anybody complaining about Greg Roman's play calling until just recently, less than a month ago he was being heralded as an evil genius, but sooner or later defenses were going to find ways to defend what was Roman was throwing at them, and now it is time for NFL defenses to be faced with new and improved wrinkles from this offense, which we all know has the potential to be a juggernaut.
Given His Recent Injury, How Do the 49ers Use Frank Gore Going Forward?
: Frank Gore is one of the best offensive players in the NFL today. But, he's also a running back with a lot of miles on him, entering a time in his career when many ball carriers begin to decline.
While Gore is hardly on the decline, the 49ers strategy of limiting his touches by spelling him on occasion with younger runners Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon has worked. Big time. Gore has rushed for 601 yards through 7 games, and is averaging a stellar 5.8 yards per carry. Given their success, look for Gore to continue to get around 15 carries per game in order to keep him productive.
: There is a second intent when folks ask these types of questions about Gore, and that is a lot of fans, for some reason I cannot understand, would like to turn the page on Gore sooner than later. Well, it is time that the fan base stops under appreciating Frank Gore. There it is, I said it. As a lesson in life: stop expressing concern about what you don't have (in Gore we're talking about killer speed, ankle-breaking moves) and start being grateful for what you do have (for Gore that would be, uh, I don't know: statistically a top-five rusher in the league, the franchise's all-time leading rusher who is averaging more yards per carry (5.8) than ever before, a complete-three-downs back who is a savvy runner, excellent pass-catcher, and arguably the best pass-blocking running back in the game, a leader … that's just off the top of my head).
Gore's workload has clearly decreased this season compared to previous years, on pace to have the least amount of rushing attempts since his rookie season, and at this point of his career that is actually a positive as the effective performances by Kendall Hunter and others in the rushing game are allowing Gore to remain fresh, which is undoubtedly a reason why he is having a career year. Gore's sore ribs were a result of some good hits on him, and he has been feeling better every day since last week's game. Thankfully he is getting a week and a half to heal up, and the 49ers should continue to use him as they have all season – not only is San Francisco's record 24-7 when Gore rushes for over 100 yards, but the team is also 8-0 in that same scenario under Jim Harbaugh's tutelage.
Week 8 Picks
In Week 7, AJ went a completely ridiculous 12 for 13 (.923). As such, he'll be changing his name to Nostradamus. Just kidding. Diego wasn't too far behind going 11 for 13, and he is tied for the lead in the overall standings of the Webzone staff NFL Pick 'em Contest
. Let's see how the UFR crew fares this week:
Bucs at Vikings:
: The Bucs almost pulled off a stunning win at home last week against the Saints. I expect more of the same this week. They'll almost do enough to win. But "almost" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Vikings
: Tampa Bay has yet to win on the road, they're inconsistent, they can't defend the pass, and I think I watched a very good running defense last week get consistently gashed on a short week. Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin will lead Minnesota to a 6-2 record. Wow. Vikings
Colts at Titans:
The Colts are led by a very good rookie QB. But "chuckstrong" or not, I'll need to see more from the Colts before I pick them to win on the road again. Titans.
: The last time Tennessee played at home I made the mistake of picking against them. Surely I won't do that again. Colts
Falcons at Eagles:
AJ: The Eagles are incredibly talented, and incredibly inconsistent. The Falcons are incredibly consistent, and that's all they'll need to win on the road. Falcons.
I don't want to pick the Eagles, I really don't, they continue to disappoint me, but they have so much talent, are coming off a bye week, and they have a chance to take the lead in their division. Down goes the last undefeated team. Eagles
Panthers at Bears:
Cam Newton is slumping…and pouting. Look for the Bears defense to give him something to pout about. Bears.
Carolina has collaboratively the most disappointing back field I have ever seen. Taking out Cam Newton's rushing yards, they are averaging just over 68 rushing yards per game. Are you kidding me? Bears
Redskins at Steelers:
RG III is good. But the Redskins are a season away from being able to win consistently on the road. Even against a team as old and beat up as the Steelers. Steelers.
RG3 has a good chance to put up another amazing performance for my fantasy teams, err, I mean the Redskins. Nonetheless, so long as Washington's pass defense continue to be flat out pathetic, quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger will continue to keep RG3's performances from translating into wins. Steelers
Raiders at Chiefs:
Brady Quinn is now the Chiefs starting quarterback. Seriously. Raiders.
It says a lot about the Raiders that this is probably the hardest pick for me to make even if they're facing Brady Quinn. Raiders
Saints at Broncos:
Drew Brees will probably throw for 350 yards and 3 TDs this week. Too bad the Saints are playing against Peyton Manning at home. Broncos.
Peyton Manning. Super Bowl XLIV. Never forget. Broncos
Chargers at Browns:
Phillip Rivers could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against almost any team…except the Browns, who are still the worst team in the NFL. Chargers.
Actually, AJ, you would be surprised ... Browns
Dolphins at Jets:
The Dolphins are improved…but not enough to pick them to win on the road against a hungry opponent. Jets.
The Jets' record doesn't show it, but they have been playing much better since the 49ers embarrassed them on their own field back in week 4. Jets
Jaguars at Packers:
The Packers have improved week over week since their disappointing start. The Jags haven't. Packers.
Murder has never been so blatantly announced. Packers
Patriots at Rams:
The Patriots haven't exactly impressed this season…but they have more than enough juice to beat the Rams, even on the road. Patriots.
I really think St. Louis can pull the upset. Rams
Seahawks at Lions:
Bold Prognostication: Megatron unleashes the fury on Richard Sherman. After the game, he chases Sherman off the field asking, "U mad bro?" Sherman then bursts into tears and gets a bro hug from Pete Carroll. Lions.
Wouldn't that be nice? But Detroit can't even beat a piñata right now. Seahawks
Giants at Cowboys:
Conventional wisdom says to pick the home underdog. My gut says that Tony Romo will be handing out interceptions like Halloween candy. Giants.
The Giants are on a three-game winning streak, and they will be ready to get revenge for their opening game loss to Dallas at home. Giants
49ers at Cardinals:
Calais Campbell told the media that he hated the 49ers "with a passion". That passion will run a little deeper after the 49ers beat the bejeezus out of the Cardinals on Monday Night Football. 49ers.
Fact: Arizona is averaging nearly four more rushing yards per game than ... Frank Gore. They are also giving up an average of five sacks per game. So they can't run and they can't pass protect. They average 2.5 takeaways per game in their four wins and less than 2 takeaways per game in their 3 losses. The 49ers are turning the ball over once per game. I don't even think it will be a close one. 49ers
Date: November 3, 2012 at 2:01 PM
Comment: Surround a defective player with good talent the mis-fire happened in the NFC title game last year. One superbowl out the door. How many more. Is Cap the guy certainly throws a better pass. What are the coaches doing to a tradition of spectacular Q.B play in S.F.
By: A.J. Dembroski
Date: October 30, 2012 at 2:06 PM
Comment: Alex's early performances, I believe, are going to be the typical for him from here out. His last two games, I think, are a result of four things coming together at once.
1. The finger... I know they down played it, said it was fine, but that finger is the one that's under the most stress when holding a football. It's likely Smith moved his hand back just a bit to ease the pressure, and that would naturally cause his passes to sail.
2. Mechanics... Alex's mechanics improved dramatically in the off-season. Last year he has a jerk in his head and a stiff front leg, this year those have been cleared up. Through the first few games, you could really see the difference... the propensity to overthrow the underneath routes was gone. With the finger hurt, he likely reverted a bit to compensate.
3. New defensive schemes. The constant chipping on Vernon... the bracket coverage on Vernon. Effectively, the willingness to let WRs run free in order to shut down Vernon Davis. The word's out on Davis, and teams are desperate to shut him down. This created a new wrinkle for Alex to absorb, all while dealing with the other things.
4. Everybody has bad games. Period.
Date: October 30, 2012 at 8:43 AM
Comment: For all of you that are hung up on the 300 YPG stat, get over it. This is not the type of offense we run. We are not a drop back and chuck it type offense, we run first then run some more and pass to keep them honest. There is only one stat that should be a concern, W/L.
By: Alex Smith
Date: October 29, 2012 at 7:09 PM
Comment: Yo Terry, Barry, Ken or whoever the hell you are:
What now? I'm carving the redbirds up like it's Thanksgiving. Take your hate, roll it up and f*ck yourself with it.
Gotta get back out for the second half. Suck on my success, biotch.
By: Randy D
Date: October 29, 2012 at 1:15 PM
Comment: I too am frustrated by the Wild Kaep that comes in for one play (good or bad) and then leaves only to have Smith come back in. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. My suggestion is that Harbaugh and Roman allow Kaep to run an entire series. He should run the "no-huddle" throughout. That would keep defenses on their heels and better allow Harbaugh and Roman to evaluate what they have in Kaep. If it works, do it more often. Bringing him in for one play here or there probably does more harm to the 49ers than to the opponents. Football is a game of momentum and emotion. What do you all think?
Date: October 29, 2012 at 1:14 PM
Comment: Thanks Gerry, I'm just a guy who loves talking 49er football haha. You're right there is nothing worse than Alex sucks comments with no rationale. The guy is obviously capable of good games, he just isn't the QB of my choice. He has had one 300 yard game in a winning effort. That's a concern to me. Simply because I don't believe you can build a year in year out SB team on strong D and record setting TO ratios. But obviously he must be the best option this year or Harbaugh wld have Kap in. As for the play calling my guess is they know what they have in smith and call plays accordingly. Lets be honest they called a QB draw and a QB sweep on the 2 biggest 3rd downs. That speaks volumes. The good news is, with this team it might just be enough!!.... Can't wait for tonight, enjoy the game brother. lets whip some ass!! 9ers 16-6.
By: Gerry Cable
Date: October 29, 2012 at 7:24 AM
Comment: My sprained finger comment was a reaction to the "hollow Alex sucks comments". I still don't think that the last two games should be seriously considered when we are evaluating Alex Smith's development. Hate to admit it though, but, Shane is right on! Some very good points he brings up. Many missed reads and passes down field before the finger got hurt. Whether he should be or not, Alex Smith is still a work in progress. Alex makes me shake my head sometimes too. Lol! Steve Young did the same thing for a while in the beginning. For the first couple years, when playing a good defense, he could never seem to find the open receiver. It was a lot of look, pump fake, and run for 4 yards when we needed 7 for a first down. We stuck with him though and it all turned out pretty good. Good comment Shane! Thanks! I wonder whether the progressions on these plays are dictated by Greg Roman and can Greg be influencing the "depth" of our passing attack?
Date: October 28, 2012 at 9:37 PM
Comment: Gerry. Your shaking your head but you are choosing to lean on the sprained finger arguement, and laughing that people dont get it. with all due respect what you dont get my man is: throwing a floater to a bracketed Walker, reading cover-2 when the coverage is cover-3 and some how missing a 6'4 WR (who was brought in to help the red zone) that your RB is pointing to and then forcing a ball into 3 Gmen 5 seconds too late has nothing to do with hurting your finger. If you look at most the comments (other than the hollow Alex sucks comments) no one is saying alex doesnt throw the ball hard enough or too wobbly, its typically his decision making and fear he plays with. he threw a 50 yard bomb to moss, was his finger healed for that play? I understand his style is by design, but at somepoint you have to make a play. Wld they be running this O with a top teir QB (NO) Im not going to say alex sucks, but im of the opinion that with a better QB we wld be a superbowl or bust team instead of always questioning how far can we go. I hope Kap is the guy!
Date: October 28, 2012 at 1:24 PM
Comment: Oh yeah...
While I like Kappy and think that he too has upside, he's mostly run designed plays. Plays that have a desired outcome. When the man that he's looking for is covered and there is noone else downfield to throw to, he tucks the ball and tries to make it with his legs. How did that fare against the Giants and the Seahawks. The kid got dumped in the backfield rolling to the Left. He was completely out of the tackle box and had plenty of time to chuck it out of bounds. Instead he took the sack and Smith had to come in to clean it up. Result? No points.
I like Kappy but only in the 4th Quarter and Garbage Time to get the Reps. In the first 3 Quarters of play I don't want Kappy on the field. When we're losing I don't want Kappy on the field. Roman needs to call a more balanced game for the rest of the season. Just cause we have the horses doesn't mean that we can fling the rock down the field at will. The other team gets paid to play the game too. They prepare for our team just like our team prepares for their Opponents. The teams that can do that are the teams who have low ranked Defenses cause they built up their Offenses. This team isn't like them. Stop asking them to be.
By: Gerry Cable
Date: October 27, 2012 at 6:55 PM
Comment: If it was Major League baseball and the pitcher sprained a finger on his throwing hand, then has two sub-par games in a row, would you all figure it out or what? Lol! Sometimes you guys make me shake my head!
Date: October 27, 2012 at 6:39 PM
Comment: Not to beat an already dead horse into paste or anything but I believe that Smith still has upside.
Obviously I'm square where I was when I got banned and most Zoners are running around like Chicken Little wanting him replaced. There's even a Smith thread that Eddie D. Would have chucked him after his 3rd year which is categorically false. Eddie D. appreciated his players and Smith's positive attitude and injury would have kept him around. And surprise of all surprises Eddie D. would have demanded he took a pay cut to stay around. What did Smith do without Eddie D? Took the pay cut anyway. Mooch would NEVER have made his 5th year. Eddie would have given him the boot before the Tampa debacle. I'm reasonably sure that after 2 Super Bowls that Eddie D. Would NOT have replaced Seifert.
But I've come to expect threads like that from the knee jerk reactionaries on the Zone.
I agree with pretty much everything you guys were saying here though. Keep up the good work. I look forward to what you have for us next week after the 9ers smack the Cards around. 9ers 27 Cards 6.
Date: October 27, 2012 at 2:24 PM
Comment: Smith has no intangibles, no downfield accuracy, no pocket presence, no quick reaction time, no quick ball release, takes too many sacks that get blamed on the OL, when pressured is a deer in the headlights. How many NFL QB's have been given 7 years to try and figured it out. Most likely none or very few. Smith had a good year last year because he had an awesome Defense to support him. After 7 years he still hasn't figured it out. He's never been a great QB nor will he. He's reached the ceiling. I grew up watching Brodie, Montana, Young….those QB's all had the right stuff. I wish the press would start calling out Smith for what he is. He is not the QB that takes this team to the Super bowl. Harbaugh isn't stupid. He realizes that and that's why you are starting to see more of Kaepernick. The more the better. Give him real game time experience and let's see what he has. Just like Walsh did with Montana subbing for Deberg at times. Kaepernick appears to have skills that need to be developed. Just needs some playing time throwing the ball to see if he is or isn't the future.
Date: October 26, 2012 at 9:42 PM
Comment: For the Alex haters and ones who want to throw Kap in the mix. How soon do you forget booing Alex off the field and Calling out We want Carr ? How'd that turn out for yuh ?
You'd think we were 2 and 5 instead of 5 and 2. Reminds me of politics. When there is good news the opposition always has to crap on it. Pathetic ! Enjoy the season and quit over analyzing especially when it is very evident you haters don't know diddly.
Date: October 26, 2012 at 1:28 PM
Comment: I am once again shocked by your picks being primarily teams you despise!
I applaud your attempts to speak logic about Smith to the masses, however, maybe for the next article you can make a comic strip, or try sign language? I don't think they're getting it. [insert shortbus & helmet joke about Terry here]
Date: October 26, 2012 at 12:09 PM
Comment: Guys, nobody yet has been able to explain to me why Alex Smith is so polarizing. I respect your opinion, but I feel he does nothing but hold the offense back. In other words, they win "in-spite" of him most of the time. He is supposedly a "game manager", but thats just another term for "check down-too timid to throw-cant hit an open WR". The main argument is why change QB when winning? My reply: Why not? I dont feel that Alex impacts the game enough to justify that he MUST be the QB. I might add that the win margins have been very close. Maybe with a better QB the margins wouldnt be so close.
By: Barry T.
Date: October 26, 2012 at 11:52 AM
Comment: "Well, here's my assertion: the 49er offense is not built around individual performance. It is built to complement a very good defense and a very good special teams unit (last week at least) to win games."
Translation: Alex sucks. We finally agree on something.
By: Alex Smith
Date: October 26, 2012 at 11:01 AM
Comment: Hey Barry, the next time I QB this team to a win, you are officially forbidden to cheer. This moratorium will be enforced by my boy, Patrick Willis. If you cheer the next time we whoop that ass, Patrick will find you and tackle you so hard that peeps will think you got "NIKE" tattooed on your forehead. Now you go back to surfing the web an whipping out your e-penis, and I'll go back to being a professional athlete that makes more than you, does not live in his mother's basement and doesn't have to pay skanks named "Candy" to get me off.
By: Marcus Ross
Date: October 26, 2012 at 9:03 AM
Comment: It's funny how some people scream start Kaepernick and sit smith. Why? We're 5-2 and our system led by Alex is working! People seem to forget that Alex also does a lot of coverage reading to roll with the initial play or change it which helps the running game based on his decision. Kaepernick is not ready for that yet! I recognize Smith's limitations but screaming for a guy who is clearly not ready to even do what Smith is doing is ludacris. People are also forgetting that Smith started the year as one of the best rated qb's in the league recieving praise from everyone. His play has slipped the last two games due to the injury he suffered against the Bills to his finger I believe. Is it coincidence? I dont know. But its funny he was playing lights out and then after the finger he goes out and throws four horrible interceptions in the next two games that were played within four days of each other. It seems that fans would be happier with a qb that threw for 300 yds a game and lose then one that wins however necessary.
Date: October 26, 2012 at 8:55 AM
Comment: Well Nostradamus, you're 0 for 1 so far this week, so maybe we can hold off on the nicknames for now.
By: Barry T.
Date: October 26, 2012 at 8:52 AM
Comment: I agree that Alex has not magically begun to suck. He's always sucked. And yes, every QB has off weeks. But not every one has off years. Or off careers. Your analysis of Smith's performance amounts to no analysis at all. If you want to see a top-notch analysis of Smith's performance, based on all-22 film, go here:
You may learn something.
Date: October 25, 2012 at 1:52 PM
Comment: AJ and Diego - great article. I like the fact that at least some of the writers on this site don't try to turn every article into a drama production predicting the end of the football world!
Agree about Kaep. He's young, he's not nearly as "football smart" as Alex Smith, and the fact that this discussion is beat to death on 49erswebzone.com is getting rather annoying.
To your article: What's the plan of attack when corners are physical at the line of scrimmage? I think that threw Smith off against Seattle. He's a quick-step guy, and his receivers didn't get off the ball. Was missing Manningham an issue?
One more thought: why don't the 49ers throw more WR screens? Middle screens especially...
Date: October 25, 2012 at 1:21 PM
Comment: Why would you say it is a discussion about whether Smith has regressed or not? Of course you will say he hasnt. Frank Gore is and always has been the offense, Alex just hands him the ball. Of course Gore has alot of miles on him, that's because his QB sucks!!
Start Kaepernick. He can hand the ball off to Gore too!
By: Eddie vaouli
Date: October 25, 2012 at 11:54 AM
Comment: I don't think Alex Smith should
Be mentioned in the same sentence as Brady or Manning. He is not type of quarteback. I don't feel Alex Smith is a NFL caliber quartebac, period.
You say "he's 19 - 6" since Harbaugh, but we all know that it's not because of Alex Smith running the offense.
He can't read defenses, takes tge passing out of the game on his own. Doesn't take enough chances, doesn't give his receivers chances.
You want to compare him to someone, compare him to the rookies coming into the NFL every year he plays. START Kapaernik!!!