Feeling like Hamburger Helper
October 11, 2005 at 12:00 AM
Inside Monster Park in San Francisco California, rookie quarterback and first round pick, Alex Smith, made his long anticipated debut before the throngs of 49er fans in attendance.
The Indianapolis Colts under quarterback extraordinaire Peyton Manning rode into town to give him the proper welcoming to the NFL. Blitz style and sack style in that Alex Smith was literally pulverized into the turf as if he were the very grass sod that had been rooted there for years.
Pressure and defensive schemes were abundant as the Indianapolis Colts defense disguised plays and brought the kitchen sink to cash in on Alex Smith's inexperience for their 28-3 victory. Alex Smith looked nervous and uneasy in the pocket, for what time he had in the pocket that is.
He was constantly looking for targets of opportunity, but he became too fixated on just one that turned out to be a reading the Indianapolis defensive backs took to their advantage by intercepting him for four times on that dreadful Sunday of indoctrination to reality in the NFL.
In fact Alex Smith by all intents and purposes felt like a pound of hamburger ready to be cooked. and the Indianapolis Colts defense were the helpers. The San Francisco 49ers offensive game plan was easily read by the Indianapolis Colts defensive coaches and players, because it was simplified to allow Alex Smith to cash in where he could.
This of course led the Indianapolis Colts defense to feed on these formations of opportunity like buzzards flying high over a rotting carcass on the Kenyan tundra.
Pressure was brought from all directions and Alex Smith, desperate to find plays, was easily diagnosed by the veteran defensive backs covering his tempting targets to be.
Locking his eyes on one receiver in particular cost Alex Smith a heavy price far too often. Holding the ball in a secure position and falling down was also something Alex needed to learn the hard way as well.
"I don't want to give our secret away, but, yes, he does that," Indianapolis Colts cornerback Nick Harper said. "He definitely looked at his target. He stared down his first read. All we did was take it away."
San Francisco's offensive line formations also gave the Indianapolis Colt defense something to drool over. Colts linebacker Cato June noted after the game that the 49ers tend to pass whenever a tight end lines up on the left side. This tip-off indicates to the Colts that the offense wants to have an extra blocker to protect the quarterback's blind side.
"They've been doing that the past couple of weeks," Cato June said. "Guys have been lining up all flexed to tip our ends, because they know we get great pressure. That gives us in the back seven the opportunity to key in on the receivers."
Before this game ever started, the San Francisco 49ers were worried about the Indianapolis Colts defense right from the very prospect of playing against them. They admitted that they were intimidated by sack master right defensive end Dwight Freeney.
Although Freeney himself only managed one sack during this game, his mere presence kept the 49er game plan well in check. The 49ers ran a lot of their plays to the right side and limited Alex Smith to mostly three and five-step drops.
What I don't understand, knowing that the Indianapolis Colts defense would be relentless in pursuit of Alex Smith, was why the offensive line didn't step up to the task of protecting him better than it did. The line cracked relentlessly in several different areas. One such area being on the left side with left tackle Anthony Clement filling in for injured starter Jonas Jennings.
Anthony Clement couldn't block or pass- protect his own grandmother let alone a seasoned and successful front line like the Indianapolis Colts. Picking him off the scrap heap in the free agent pool was obviously a mistake as seen from the last two games played. Even right tackle Kwame Harris played sporadically well, often allowing defensive linemen access to Alex Smith with little or no effort.
"We didn't blitz a whole lot," Freeney said. "We usually don't have to because we get good pressure from the guys up front. Our idea was to put as much pressure on him with our front four and drop everybody else back into coverage."
The San Francisco 49er offensive line looked like a spaghetti strainer, which allowed the tentacles of the Indianapolis Colts defensive front four and the backfield to fly into the face of quarterback Alex Smith. Turn the water facet on high and let it fly, there was no stopping them.
The Indianapolis Colts defensive backs had made an agenda in a team meeting prior to the game to intercept Alex Smith five times. They didn't share that information with their common brethren but delivered it almost to the penny. The Colt defense intercepted him four times and sacked him five times.
Many of Alex Smith's interceptions came under heavy pressure with defensive back bodies flying all over the place and right in his vision of play. The Indianapolis Colts front four defensive linemen provided immense pressure that opened lanes of opportunity for immediate access to crush Alex Smith.
There were many times where you could see Alex Smith throwing the ball as he was going down or just at the final second throwing before his feet ever even hit the ground because the freight train of Colt defenders came headlong into his face and wrapped him up.
"Before he even set his feet, we were in his face," cornerback Nick Harper said.
Alex Smith completed just 9-of-23 passes for 74 yards. The passing game long revered by many 49er fans was non-existent due to Smith's inexperience and his inability to have adequate protection provided by his offensive line.
"He's a tough guy," Freeney said. "We hit him quite a few times, but he always popped back up. That should be very encouraging for him. He's not the type of guy you can intimidate."
Here is a statement I can vouch for in that I saw Alex Smith play the game like everything was on the line at all times. Regardless of the score, this guy loves the game and appreciates it. He fought hard and made many mistakes but he'll grow and become better as the season wears onward.
He is a warrior and he wants to be out there making a difference. With all that, the Indianapolis Colts, who are probably the best NFL team on record at this time, threw everything at him but he managed to keep his composure, dust himself off and continue to play at a great level.
The San Francisco 49er defense on the other side of the ball played their hearts out despite being riddled apart by injuries. They even managed to do the impossible and sack Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning for the first time this season.
They also suppressed a record that could've occurred between Peyton Manning and wide receiver Marvin Harrison for most touchdowns by a quarterback-receiver tandem. The record is tied between Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison for 85 as well as Steve Young to Jerry Rice for 85.
In fact Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison only connected twice for 17 yards and on one throw from Manning to Harrison in the end zone, the 44-yard pass was deflected by former 49er practice squad cornerback Bruce Thornton who came down with the impending touchdown.
The San Francisco 49er offense also had some positive breathing room in that they moved the ball well on the ground. The 49ers had 133 yards of rushing with 99 of those yards from running back Kevan Barlow. One thing the Colt defense showed was a weakness to defend was the run and we exploited that where we could to alleviate pressure off Alex Smith.
Besides Bruce Thornton's interception, the 49er defense forced two other turnovers. One being at the start of the second quarter when linebacker Jeff Ulbrich forced a fumble that safety Mike Adams recovered in the end zone for a touchback to prevent an Indianapolis Colts touchdown.
"I thought the defense played well today," said Mike Nolan. "They got Indianapolis out of their game. They forced Indianapolis into making a few mistakes. Certainly, Indianapolis thought they'd be able to take better advantage of some things, but our defense did a good job and continued to play hard."
I must say I was impressed with Mike Nolan mixing things up a bit after we were trailing two touchdowns at the half; we surprised the Colts with an onside kick, a trick that was used successfully against the St. Louis Rams in our home opener. Joe Nedney's kick went well and was recovered by Terry Jackson that in turn led to our only score of the game on a short field by Joe Nedney's field goal.
"It doesn't feel good to throw so many interceptions," said Smith. "No one said this was going to be easy. I have a long road to go down. I have to learn from this game and take away what I can."
Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich suffered a torn left biceps injury during this game that looks to end his season as well. His arm snapped back in a tackle on running back Edgerrin James, which in turn tore the muscle from the bone and requires surgery.
As much as he continued to play through pain, the honorable thing to do is to play it safe and have the surgery. Jeff, we need you for next season as well my friend.
I am still very optimistic about this season despite the fact that we are (1-4) and have started a new quarterback. He is the future and what better time to watch him audition for us than now.
I believe in Mike Nolan and what he's doing for this franchise. I believe we are on the right track and we can still be competitive within our division, if we can just manufacture some kind of offense.
The long and winding road has been very tough on all of us, but one we know in our hearts is the one to follow. I will do that with you as one of the faithful. I will be there with all of you and watch Alex Smith grow into a possible Montana or Young right before our eyes.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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