49ers

Smith-Crabtree connection picks up where run game left off

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Smith-Crabtree connection picks up where run game left off

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The 49ers established their run game in the first quarter.And when the Arizona Cardinals established the fact they were going to load up in hopes of preventing running back Frank Gore from having continued success on the ground, the 49ers were able to do something that has not always come easily.They turned seamlessly to quarterback Alex Smith and the passing game for a 24-3 rout of the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night.MAIOCCO'S INSTANT REPLAY: 49ers make Monday night statement
Smith enjoyed a record-setting night as he completed 18 of 19 passing attempts for 232 yards and three touchdowns. Smith's passer rating was 157.1, just a shade below a perfect rating of 158.3.Smith's 94.7 completion percentage sets the NFL single-game record with a minimum of 15 passes attempted. Craig Morton (Denver, 1981) and Fran Tarkenton (Minnesota, 1977) previously shared the record at 94.4 percent by completing 17 of 18 attempts.
"I wasn't worried about any incompletions or anything like that," Smith said. "I was just kind of in a good rhythm. The whole offense was."Midway through the season, Smith tops the NFL with a 69.4 completion percentage. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is second with a 69.0 completion percentage. Smith's only incomplete throw Monday came in the second quarter when tight end Delanie Walker dropped a pass.Tight end Vernon Davis had his third consecutive quiet game. Davis caught two passes for 34 yards. But this time, some of the 49ers' other players were able to pick up the slack.Wide receiver Michael Crabtree caught five passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns, and Randy Moss got involved with a 47-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the third quarter."It was fun to see guys in space and getting the ball to them quick and letting them make plays," Smith said. "Guys were having fun. Randy had the great block on Crabtree's third-down conversion in the third quarter and then to seen him turn around and make the play on his touchdown run was fun."Perhaps the most encouraging play from the 49ers offense came on a play in which Crabtree was not wide open. Crabtree's first touchdown came on a 3-yard pass in which Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson had tight coverage at the goal line.Crabtree has yearned to get more passes thrown his way even on plays in which a defender is nearby. Smith has often been reluctant to attempt to throw the ball into tight windows. But Smith finally gave Crabtree that chance when he threw quickly to beat an all-out blitz. "I just tried to get it out before the DB could turn around," Smith said, "and Crab made a great catch."Said Crabtree, "Yeah, that's really my first time getting it in the red zone, and I've been working so hard with him at practice to be a threat in the red zone and he trusted me. Alex Smith threw it up and I just went to go get it."The 49ers' victory improves their record to 6-2 and extends their lead in the NFC West to two full games over the Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks. The Cardinals fell to 4-4 after opening the season with four consecutive victories.After the 49ers' offense sputtered in back-to-back games against the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers showed good balance against a Cardinals defense that entered the game ranked No. 7 in the NFL.Coach Jim Harbaugh characterized the victory as a "good team win," but he pointed to Crabtree's effort with yards after the catch as well as his willingness to fight off Peterson to score the first touchdown of the game."It was a great play by Michael," Harbaugh said. "It was a great throw by Alex, really strong hands catch by Michael Crabtree, and Alex lasered it right in there. It was very good coverage, very contested coverage and great catch, strong catch."Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter helped set the tone for the 49ers' offense, as they combined for 66 yards rushing on 11 carries. Gore said the Cardinals then moved an eighth defender in the box in hopes of forcing the 49ers to turn to their passing game.Left tackle Joe Staley, who lost 10 pounds last week with a nasty case of pneumonia, said he saw a TV interview earlier Monday in which one of the Cardinals defensive backs said their goal was to make Alex Smith try to beat them."And he beat their (butts)," Staley said.After initial success on the ground, Gore finished with 55 yards rushing on 16 carries. Hunter had 43 yards on 10 rushing attempts.
Smith had a lot of help from Crabtree, who had the second two-touchdown game of his career. Crabtree scored his second touchdown when he caught a third-and-goal pass at the 7-yard line, made a move of Peterson and scored for a 9-yard touchdown.Crabtree also had a 22-yard reception in the second quarter on a third-and-23 play to set up David Akers for a 43-yard field goal.In the third quarter, Moss joined the fun with he schooled rookie cornerback Jamell Fleming on a 47-yard catch-and-run for his second touchdown with the 49ers."It was just great execution from the whole offense," Moss said. "Great protection from the O-line. It was a five-wide-receiver set, so we didn't really have the ends protected. The O-line protected, the quarterback delivered, I caught it, ran and had some blocks downfield and it was as simple as that."It was Moss' only catch of the game, but it made an impression on both sides of the ball."He's still got it," 49ers safety Dashon Goldson said. "People still ask me, 'Is Moss still fast?' He showed it out there. It was big time."Said Crabtree, "That guy's been doing it for so long, and I was just happy to see it. I was smiling from ear to ear."Moss said he was also pleased to see Crabtree come up big with a couple of touchdowns."Crab's having a good year," Moss said. "It's good to see guys that you come to work with every day out there making plays. Crab made some key plays in the first half. He's having a hell of a year. I hope it continues."

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

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AP

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?

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USATSI

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.