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"What's Changed?" - thru Game 4 of 2011

If you all recall last year, 'What's changed?" is one of the replies Alex gave to Mike Singletary and the coaching staff when he was recalled to be the starter, and help salvage what had been a disaster of a season already. It was like Alex was asking what was different about the coaching philosophy or other team dynamics that made it worth for him to be back as a starter. I suspect that at this point, Alex was already mentally checking out and getting ready for life as an ex-49er. Future events changed all that of course, foremost was the Harbaugh hiring - and that is the real point of this thread.

The purpose is to discuss changes (positive or negative) that we see through the 2011 games. Point of comparison are the Singletary and Nolan regimes.

Let's go.

Game 1 at home against the Seahawks:

Bottom line what's changed: Not a whole lot. Yet. A win is a win but we were also 3-1 thru 4 games in 2009, and that stretch just masked the mess that was yet to come over the next season.

What's changed?:
- Overall game and clock management has improved. I didn't see any hints of confusion or inefficiency getting any plays in. I thought Harbaugh may have been a little too zealous challenging that play on Leon Washington (where he may have touched it) but otherwise - no issues. And pretty remarkable since this was THE first game of the season. On the sidelines, you can tell that Harbaugh was very involved in the minutiae of eveything.


- The results don't show it, but the run game is more sophisticated. More movement, shifts, less predictable.

- Harbaugh and the staff had a vanilla passing game plan and are protecting Alex and treating him like a 7 year rookie, as opposed to Singletary and staff coming up with a vanilla game plan, exposing Alex, and leaving it up to him to sink or swim. There is a difference. What used to be run-run-pass became run, maybe pass, run - at least in this first game. This was a gameplan Colin Kaepernick or Scott Tolzien could have executed - but probably with slightly poorer results.

- David Akers looking more studly than even Joe Nedney who was a tough dude in his own right.

- Defensive speed at the DB positions and pass rush pressure off a 4 man rush (granted against a young, inexperienced Seattle O-line and undermanned receiver corps)



Your thoughts?

On to Game 2 against the Cowboys.

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GAME 2 AT HOME AGAINST THE COWBOYS:


Wow, what a tough loss. , Through 2 games at home, what's changed?

- Overall game management is still more organized than the Nolan/Singletary years. Constant moments of indecision and confusion, costing inopportune timeouts are much less. There was that instance in the 2nd half, when there seemed to be a mixup with Snyder reporting in as an eligible receiver (TE) and Harbaugh was arguing with the officials quite a bit, but he was the primary person INVOLVED as oppsed to Nolan and Singletary as being bystanders to the confusion.

- As for the decision to stay with the FG instead of taking the 1st down, that would have been a HUGE CHANGE, if he had taken points off the board (again)and shown agressiveness (remember Nolan's 3rd and AN INCH episode against the Rams). However, I can't fault him for the decision to stay with the FG. At that time, it seemed like a 50-50 call.

- HC handling of a QB after a tough series or an INT. After Alex had that poor throw and then the INT, notice that harbaugh and the staff immediately went to a long range pass play to get the QB right back into it. Alex ended up getting sacked, but this is a subtle but significant change. Nolan and Sing usually retreated farther into a shell and taken the ball away fron the QBs hands.

- Alex is more efficient and in more command of the huddle. He even seems like he's calling his own plays from his wristband based on the set that Harbaugh and Roman give him.

- Pressure from just the front four is much improved still, but it won't be enough with the porous secondary coverage we have, especially over the middle. We need to see those blitzes even more, I think.

- Pass Coverage on intermediate routes to Tight Ends and taller receivers has gotten much WORSE. This is where we miss what Manny Lawson and Nate Clements brought to us. Better coverage and more physical play at the covering linebacker, and how Clements would come up like a safety. We've gotten killed these past 2 games.

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Game 3 on the road against the Bengals

Several positive changes from this win and first 3 game set of 2011:

We've been competitive and have a chance to win in very game - LATE IN EVERY GAME. Just 3 games in, I no longer have the feeling that we've lost a game even before we started playing, like I did with Singletary last year.

We can win on the road in an early game against a non-divisional/ non NFC opponent we rarely see. This game was huge to the team's confidence - especially in a game we did not play well until late in the 4th quarter. Under Nolan and Singletary we would have lost this game, somehow. I feel confident we can go into Philly and have a very decent showing.

May be time to ease Frank Gore out (new contract or not). From his brief appearances, Hunter is just a more dangerous dude to have in our offense. He can run inside, outside, and catch the ball. Even if Frank Gore finds his legs, he's a purely inside runner at this point and he makes us too predictable. With Hunter in there, there is that extra bit of hesitation in the opposing defense which is good for us to sustain WCO type ball control drives.

Alex has had three decent performances in a row even with the degree of difficulty going up. We haven't seen "Killer-Mistake" Alex (so far) and while he's not lighting up the scoreboard, he's working within the offense efficiently enough to be the kind of QB that may give us a 9-7 season. Will still need an upgrade if we are to progress to 11-5 and 13-3 level and go deep in the playoffs.

David Akers is a game winning weapon. Holy Cow. May be the best kicker ever in 49ers history if he keeps this up.


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GAME 4 ON THE ROAD AGAINST THE EAGLES:

Great Win!

BIGGEST CHANGE. Alex Smith and the rest of the team played a "COLD-BLOODED GAME." This was Harbaugh's comment himslef - describing Alex and his central role in the comeback. These Niners are beginning to play with cold-blooded, matter of fact, efficiency when it is most needed. Singletary placed a premium on emotion; Harbaugh wants cold-blooded execution. I LOVE IT!!

VERSATILITY, VERSATILITY, VERSATILITY. For the second straight game, we saw great contributions from Kendall Hunter and Miller to complement Frank Gore's straight ahead running.

Alex Smith. The trend is going up. Yes, it is a bonafide positive trend that I'm close to thinking he will sustain for the long run. (I can't believe I just said that). He'll never be Mike Vick-esque in escaping pressure, but what he did in the 2nd half is something we've been waiting for a long time!

Aldon Smith and the rest of the front four/seven. Sustained pressure throughout the season. Any other QB, we would have had 4-6 sacks.

Turnover Ratio: Plus 8 after this game. And we got payback for the curse of Nate Clements, somewhat, with Justin Smith's fumble strip on Macklin. We may be at plus 17 or higher before the season is over. We just have it this year.
[ Edited by Bluefalcon61 on Oct 2, 2011 at 5:41 PM ]
I agree that our passing game was subpar, and mostly because of conservative play-calling...but I expected that in the first week. If we're not forced to throw the ball, Harbaugh will prefer not to throw it. No way a new offense can be fully installed in month and a half, and I just don't think Alex Smith has the full grasp of the offense (or the WRs) yet, nor does Harbaugh knows all the strengths or weaknesses of the QB and the WRs. In my opinion, that's the reason for over-protecting Alex Smith - and taking a conservative approach.

I expect the offense to open up as the season progresses. There is no question that Harbaugh likes to run the ball, that was evident at Stanfurd also...and only trusted Luck once he knew the ins-and-outs of the offense. I expect things to be different when we're behind and are forced to throw the ball. Dallas will throw the ball and put up points, and I expect Harbaugh to have a different game-plan for next game. I don't mean that we will come out throwing, but I expect him to take more chances in the passing game.

Our run blocking was terrible in week 1. I'm more concerned about that than anything else.
[ Edited by 49ersMyLife on Sep 12, 2011 at 5:35 AM ]
Alex Smith is a sorry quarterback. I mean 124 yards in year 7? Harbaugh is trying to win with Alex and inspite of Alex. 15 completions for 124 yards with an almost 70 percent completion rate tells me that Smith takes the shortest pass as quick as possible. I think what Jerry Rice said is true that the team will have to make A Smith look better and not the other way around. What has changed is that we seem to have better safety play and better pass rushers and the o line seemed to pass block better yesterday.
What did you think of Gore's performance?
Originally posted by Archie:
Alex Smith is a sorry quarterback. I mean 124 yards in year 7? Harbaugh is trying to win with Alex and inspite of Alex. 15 completions for 124 yards with an almost 70 percent completion rate tells me that Smith takes the shortest pass as quick as possible. I think what Jerry Rice said is true that the team will have to make A Smith look better and not the other way around. What has changed is that we seem to have better safety play and better pass rushers and the o line seemed to pass block better yesterday.

Seems like it, tho I'll wait and see if we continue it in the next games. Not sure it is a fundamental change (yet). The Seattle O-line was young and shaky and they were missing Sidney Rice.
What I saw different was a team that was having fun.

Some quick obvious stuff is the formations are more diverse. We actually ran sweeps, and off tackles, as well some tosses.

The defense is much more aggressive. Bowman looks like he could be the real deal.

The 2ndary was not torched for 500 yards.

This is a different team.

Also, it's obvious the first few games are going to be games that will be used for evaluation purposes of personnel since we didn't really have an offseason. Our offense will open up as well one week at a time.
Originally posted by OKC49erFan:
What did you think of Gore's performance?

He had a problem staying upright, I thought.
Maybe his hip injury is affecting his balance. Or it just isn't back yet.

Let's hope it's not a lingering effect thru the season.
Just from the first game of the year... usually one or more facet of the team loses the game for us in most games. Yesterday we witnessed a facet of the team make plays to win the game. If they can do this each and every week. Find a way to win, not waiting on a loss.
[ Edited by qnnhan7 on Sep 12, 2011 at 6:26 AM ]
Originally posted by Archie:
Alex Smith is a sorry quarterback. I mean 124 yards in year 7? Harbaugh is trying to win with Alex and inspite of Alex. 15 completions for 124 yards with an almost 70 percent completion rate tells me that Smith takes the shortest pass as quick as possible. I think what Jerry Rice said is true that the team will have to make A Smith look better and not the other way around. What has changed is that we seem to have better safety play and better pass rushers and the o line seemed to pass block better yesterday.

Yeah, he was so sorry looking running into the end zone for a TD, or making that chip block to spring Gore and continued downfield looking for some more. Or making that backside throw to Vernon past who was that... Earl Thomas?

A 7 years culmination under Nolan and Singletary

Originally posted by Bluefalcon61:
Originally posted by OKC49erFan:
What did you think of Gore's performance?

He had a problem staying upright, I thought.
Maybe his hip injury is affecting his balance. Or it just isn't back yet.

Let's hope it's not a lingering effect thru the season.

Yeah, I was thinking the same. Just didn't seem 100%. His vision didn't even see the same. Several times he had a cut-back open but he didn't take it. Usually he would. Hope it is just camp legs.
Originally posted by qnnhan7:
Just from the first game of the year... usually one or more facet of the team loses the game for us in most games. Yesterday we witnessed a facet of the team make plays to win the game. If they can do this each and every week. Find a way to win, not waiting on a loss.

This. Although the offensive performance was ugly, this team found a way to win, NOT a way to lose.

The 49ers always seemed to have a knack for blowing games and being on the short end of the stick in the luck department.

Luck was on our side yesterday. Bring on DAL!
I don't believe they're "protecting" him exactly. I think they were happy with what the defense was doing and called a simple game, which was frustrating, but we still won.
Although Alex played okay...the offense still wasn't productive enough. The playcalling was too conservative and we barely escaped with a win. If Ginn hadn't ran those back for TD's, we could be looking at an "L" this morning. The seahawks were on a run in the 2nd half. Our offense could not match score for score. Gore had no running lanes. We saw some glimpses of the ball down the field, which looks good. The Smith pass to Davis on the rollout was on the money. Yes we played a weak Seahawks team, but with the Cowboys coming into town, the offense is going to have to open it up more to score points. The cowboys can score more than 17 thats for sure, unless our defense plays excellent.

The defense was great in the first half, but the Seahawks moved the ball on them in the 2nd half. It started to remind me of the ole days again. Maybe they were tired because of no offensive production, which I give them that. We can say now that we have a pass rush. Although it was against a young OL. True test will be against the Cowboys next week. LB's were great and the secondary was great aside from the 55 yd TD in the 2nd half. Being this is the first game of the season, the defense can only get better. Fangio has this group geling together and we saw some glimplses yesterday of what they can do. Again true test will be next week against the Cowboys. Can we get to Romo? Can we cover the WR's? Can we limit the RB's? We shall see. The cowboys scored 30+ on the Jets and the Jets have a great defense.

Part of me wants to think we only played enough to win the game. The coaches didn't have to dip into the playbook to win because they were saving it for next week. I hope thats what it is....
Originally posted by Archie:
Alex Smith is a sorry quarterback. I mean 124 yards in year 7? Harbaugh is trying to win with Alex and inspite of Alex. 15 completions for 124 yards with an almost 70 percent completion rate tells me that Smith takes the shortest pass as quick as possible. I think what Jerry Rice said is true that the team will have to make A Smith look better and not the other way around. What has changed is that we seem to have better safety play and better pass rushers and the o line seemed to pass block better yesterday.


Originally posted by qnnhan7:
Originally posted by Archie:
Alex Smith is a sorry quarterback. I mean 124 yards in year 7? Harbaugh is trying to win with Alex and inspite of Alex. 15 completions for 124 yards with an almost 70 percent completion rate tells me that Smith takes the shortest pass as quick as possible. I think what Jerry Rice said is true that the team will have to make A Smith look better and not the other way around. What has changed is that we seem to have better safety play and better pass rushers and the o line seemed to pass block better yesterday.

Yeah, he was so sorry looking running into the end zone for a TD, or making that chip block to spring Gore and continued downfield looking for some more. Or making that backside throw to Vernon past who was that... Earl Thomas?

A 7 years culmination under Nolan and Singletary



Insert "Haters gonna Hate gif"

It's not Alex's fault that Harbaugh didn't open up the playbook for more plays downfield. Harbaugh had a pulse on the game and knew that he could rely on his defense and didn't have to take chances on offense. He was running plays around the line of scrimmage (screens, TE pass to the flats, etc.) to control the clock and keep it away from the other team's offense. That's called "Coaching Awareness".

...and by the way, it's not "almost 70%", it's actually 75%. Smith was quick and decisive in his progressions and in his throws. It really looked like a west coast version of the offense yesterday.

Part of me wants to think we only played enough to win the game. The coaches didn't have to dip into the playbook to win because they were saving it for next week. I hope thats what it is....

That is a good point haha, if today's game is all the tape the cowboys have on us then im fine with it.
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