When healthy last year, we had one of the deepest, most talented offenses in the league.
Morgan, Edwards, Crabtree, Ginn, Davis, Walker, Gore, Hunter, Miller. That's a deep group of very solid offensive skill players. Obviously, we had major issues with health and the WR corps was reduced to Crabtree and scrubs by the playoffs. Nonetheless, I and a lot of others felt we had the talent to be an elite offense, as we should be next year adding a couple WRs in FA and the draft. Instead, we were average at best. There were some great moments (Philly, Detroit, Saints), but for the most part we plodded along, couldn't score in the RZ, and couldn't convert 3rd downs. Is that due to Alex or play calling? I'm more inclined to fault play calling, and here's why. (Disclaimer: the unique offseason necessitated a conservative offensive approach the first few games; I'm talking about once we got to mid season)
Alex Smith demonstrated that he can be a competent, game managing QB who makes the crucial play when he has to have. Look at Philly, DET, NO for proof, along with big-time throws against PIT, at SEA, etc. He did enough to get us to the SB if not for KW's first bout of ineptitude and idiocy. He has his faults, but he made a gigantic leap under Harbaugh in year one and only figures to get better with a full offseason and first-ever year in the same system (I still find it unbelievable that we can't evaluate Alex in year 2 of an O and he's entering his 8th year). If Harbuagh can get Smith to play the entire game with the same urgency as he displayed in his comebacks, he's going to be very dangerous.
Given Smith's demonstrated crunch-time ability, I believe more of the fault lies with play calling. Now, Harbuagh's "every possession must end with a kick (KO, FG, or Punt)" philosophy is a great strategy and won us a lot of games. It also cost us the Dallas game, and forced us settle for tons of FGs that should have been TDs. How many times did we reach the RZ only to run 3 consecutive times up the gut from the start of the season up to the AZ loss. For example, I attended the game vs. the Skins where we reached the RZ 3 times but ran on each play. Later in the season, we seemed to become too pass-heavy, eschewing the run when it was working well for us. This was never more glaring than the NFCC, where Gore and Hunter were gashing the Giants, yet Roman/Harbaugh opted to put the game on Alex's shoulders, forcing him to throw in the face of a strong pass rush to a double-covered VD, an off-his-game Crabtree, and scrubs. Over the course of the entire season, we rarely ran screen plays, despite facing a lot of pressure and having Hunter, Davis, and Walker as proven threats on these routes. We called questionable trick plays in crucial games, such as the failed half-back pass vs NO and the KW fumbled reverse vs NYG. We just never seemed to get in to a good rhythm as an O, pounding the rock early in the season and then forgetting about it late; too often we got away from going with what was working in games.
I know I'll probably take some heat for criticizing play calling, as every fan imagines him/herself as a better OC than the guys actually doing the job. I still have the utmost faith in Harbuagh and his staff, and the glimpses of greatness (for example, the 2 late TDs vs NO) give me hope that they will adjust the game plan and make better use of our considerable offensive talent going forward.