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.
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.
- 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)
On to Game 2 against the Cowboys.
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.
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.
GAME 4 ON THE ROAD AGAINST THE EAGLES:
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 ]