49ers Mailbag: Smith makes it too easy for defenses


49ers Mailbag: Smith makes it too easy for defenses

Yes, the 49ers won a hard-fought game Thursday night against a team that began the night tied atop the NFC West standings.The defense put the clamps down in the second half against an overmatched Seattle passing game. No big surprise there. Marshawn Lynch had a lot of success against the 49ers' run defense, but they kept him out the end zone.So it goes to reason we go to the Monday Morning Mailbag (special Friday afternoon edition) to answer questions about the 49ers' offense following the 49ers' 13-6 victory at Candlestick Park. . . How come Alex Smith is back to blowing hot and cold again? (Matt Healey)
Smith has been programmed to live in fear of making mistakes. Even before the arrival of the current coaching staff, one of the knocks on him was that he had to see a receiver wide open in order to pull the trigger.That cautious approach was a big reason he threw only five interceptions last season in 18 games, including the playoffs. But it's also a reason the offense is susceptible to sputtering along at times.And it kind of leads into the next question, too...
Where is Vernon Davis?
That question or some form of it came from several folks via Facebook and Twitter, including James Clevenger and Tom Cox.The New York Giants took Davis out of the picture last week. And the Seahawks did the same Thursday night with their coverages.If Smith sees double coverage -- or just tight single coverage -- on anyone, he is going to look to go elsewhere with the football. That was part of Michael Crabtree's frustration after the 49ers' loss in the NFC championship game to the New York Giants.It's easy to fault the play-calling as vanilla, but you can be sure that few of those short throws that Smith made Thursday were No. 1 on the progression. I don't believe the coaching staff ties Smith's hands, as much as Smith chooses to be cautious based on his own decision-making after the snap of the ball.On the touchdown drive, it's difficult to fault Smith. He checked down five times to underneath targets. Those pass plays gained 15, 11, 12, 10 and 12 yards.According to Pro Football Focus, on pass attempts of 10-plus yards downfield, Smith completed only 2 of 6 for 32 yards with one interception. (Randy Moss, the intended target on the interception, was a little more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage as he ran the back line of the end zone.)Seattle's physical play from their cornerbacks is the perfect defense for the 49ers' passing game. If Smith sees a receiver being held up against press coverage, he's likely going to immediately look elsewhere.There is no reason the 49ers should not have been able to make some plays in the passing game with the amount of time the 49ers' offensive line supplied for Smith on Thursday. Smith was sacked twice for minus-2 yards, but the offensive line was not responsible for any sacks or quarterback hits, according to PFF.Davis is an important part of the 49ers' offense. He's the one pass target that scares teams. Teams want to the 49ers to look elsewhere. And regardless of what defenses are doing to Davis, Smith has to find a way to give him chances.On Thursday, Davis was not targeted on any pass attempts.
Will Brandon Jacobs ever find a role in this offense? (James Guzikowski)
If either Frank Gore or Kendall Hunter is ever unavailable for a game, Jacobs would slide into the role of the backup and he might get a half-dozen touches.Right now, Jacobs is the 49ers' No. 3 running back. But he is also the No. 4 running back in line to be active for games because Anthony Dixon gets the nod ahead of him based on his value on special teams.Others asked, "Why the 49ers signed Brandon Jacobs if they aren't playing him?"The 49ers felt good about Gore and Hunter. They did not feel all that great about Dixon as the No. 3 running back, so they looked to upgrade that spot on the depth chart. The 49ers wanted to strengthen the back end of their roster. They signed Jacobs to a one-year deal to get him on the team to see if he could help.Games such as Thursday night's brutal affair with the Seahawks is a reminder of how depth is needed. Gore exited in the fourth quarter with bruised ribs. Jacobs may yet be needed for a significant role.The decision to draft LaMichael James in the second round is more difficult to explain than the signing of Jacobs. James and Hunter are similar, though Hunter is better suited as an every-down back. And Hunter figures to be around for a while.

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals


Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blaine Gabbert will get his first start for the Arizona Cardinals when they play the Texans in Houston on Sunday.

Coach Bruce Arians announced the decision after Friday's practice.

Drew Stanton, the starter the last two games, bruised his knee early in the Thursday night loss to Seattle last week. He stayed in the game but has been limited in practice all week.

Arians said it will be a game-time decision as to whether Stanton or recently signed Matt Barkley would be Gabbert's backup.

Gabbert will be making his 41st NFL start. He has a 9-31 record. He signed with Arizona last offseason and was the third quarterback until Carson Palmer broke his arm against the Los Angeles Rams in London and was lost for the season.

49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?


49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?

Believe it or not, the 49ers’ offense is improved from last season.

The 49ers ranked 31st in the NFL in 2016, averaging 308.1 yards per game. Although the offense is producing just a little better (325.9 yards per game), their ranking this season has shot up to 21st in the league.

The 49ers have had a different head coach and different person running the offense in each of the past four seasons, so their continuity has been severely lacking.

Next season, the 49ers should finally have carryover from one season to the next.

The direction of the offense is one of the topics addressed on this edition of 49ers Mailbag (questions were submitted via Facebook):

Now that we have Jimmy G do you see 49ers getting an offensive coordinator or will it still be Kyle calling the plays? (Julio Orozco)
I'm not sure why the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo would have any impact on the 49ers’ offensive structure, but in any event, the answer is a resounding, “No.”

Kyle Shanahan has been hailed as one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL. The reason he was hired as 49ers head coach was, in large part, because of the success he achieved while designing offenses and calling plays.

Why would he give that up? It makes no sense.

Rob Demovsky of ESPN this week identified the 32 primary play-callers. There are 18 NFL head coaches with offensive backgrounds. Twelve of those coaches call their own plays.

Shanahan has a staff of assistant coaches on whom he leans. Passing game specialist Mike LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello are closely involved in working with Shanahan on the passing game, while running game specialist Mike McDaniel, offensive line coach John Benton and running backs coach Bobby Turner spearhead the involvement in the ground game.

But, make no mistake, it is Shanahan who calls the shots. And that's the way it should be. If Shanahan stepped aside as his own offensive coordinator, he would be diminishing his biggest strength as a coach.

What do you see happing with the Hyde situation? We drafted Joe Williams and Breida seems to be a bright spot. There’s a lot of talk about Barkley from Penn State with that high 1st rounder. (Manny Hinojos)
There does not seem to be any movement toward a long-term extension for Hyde. It is getting to the point in the season where it makes a lot more sense for Hyde to play out his contract and hit the open market.

There is no question in my mind the 49ers like Hyde a lot. He has scored some major points with the organization for his performance on the field and how he has responded off the field.

GM John Lynch loved it when Hyde came to the defense of quarterback C.J. Beathard, tussled with Arizona lineman Frostee Rucker and got ejected from the game.

That said, the 49ers are not going to break the bank for Hyde. A multi-year agreement has to come at the right price. My personal feeling is that running backs are luxury pieces when the remainder of a team’s roster -- especially the offensive line -- is set.

Shanahan and his father, Mike Shanahan, and Turner (the assistant coach who served on both of their staffs) have achieved a lot of success without investing heavily in running backs. That’s why I think the 49ers would be best-served by investing elsewhere and using another mid-round draft pick on a running back.

With Joshua Garnett coming back next season how aggressive will Lynch and Shanahan be in trying to get guards this offseason? (David Hartless)
Garnett is not a particularly good fit for this offensive scheme. The presence of Garnett can help increase the competition next offseason, but I do not believe he is being penciled in as a starter.

The 49ers will certainly be aggressive in an attempt to upgrade the guard positions. Currently, Laken Tomlinson and Brandon Fusco are the starters. Neither will be assured a starting job when the offseason begins.

The 49ers did not see enough from Garnett to determine he has a future with the organization, but he will be given the opportunity to come back healthy and prove himself.

Is Eric Reid in long-term plans? (Grant Rasmussen)
I do not believe so. I think the 49ers would like their starting safeties next season to be Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt – with Adrian Colbert as the front-runner for the No. 3 job.

The 49ers can also be expected to add a player or two in free agency, as well as the draft, to provide a competitive environment in the offseason. The 49ers seemed to telegraph their intention with Reid when they moved him to linebacker with Ward and Tartt remaining as the starting safeties.

That position change lasted about a week, as Ward’s injury prompted the team to move Reid back to safety. Reid is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. It's entirely possible there will not be a big market for him, but I do not believe the 49ers are going to be ultra-competitive in retaining him on the open market.