Alex Smith and the entire 49ers offense has matured over the course of the 2010 season. It just took a win to truly manifest itself.
On Sunday, Smith was patient with the football, often throwing the ball away when pressured instead of trying to force throws that weren’t there. As a result, the 49ers didn’t commit any turnovers for the first time this season in their 17-9 win over the Oakland Raiders.
Smith began the game 8-of-20 in the first half, but improved as the game went on, completing 8-of-10 passes in the second half with two touchdown passes, a 32 yarder to wide receiver Michael Crabtree and a 17 yarder to tight end Vernon Davis.
On Sunday, Smith challenged and encouraged his offensive linemen, more visibly and vocally than seen before.
And in addition to their work on the practice fields, Smith has been throwing before games to Michael Crabtree and the other 49ers wideouts hours before kickoff as a way to improve on-field chemistry.
Timing is everything. And for the 49ers to continue digging themselves out of their 0-5 start, wins like Sunday’s against the Raiders prove that the team is improving as the season wears on.
Smith is, Crabtree is, and so is the 49ers offense. The pregame work is just a glimpse as to the work being put in behind the scenes to right the ship.
“I know I like doing it, the last couple of weeks the guys have come out to throw and I think it does help a lot,” Smith said.
“We had to do something to get better timing and rhythm.”
Sluggish performances early in the season led to the pregame passing sessions, and since they’ve been implemented, Crabtree and Smith have looked to be playing their best football together.
The past two weeks, Smith has targeted Crabtree 20 times, resulting in 13 catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think it’s a credit to him,” Smith said of Crabtree’s increased production. “He’s practiced really well the last few weeks and it has showed up on gameday.”
Another reason for Crabtree’s big day was strong game-planning by the 49ers coaching staff. The 49ers recognized the Raiders propensity to run zone defense to combat bunch sets, where receivers line up closer to the offensive linemen.
Early in the game, Crabtree appeared to be open running a post on the backside of a bunch formation when Smith rolled out of the pocket to avoid pressure. The 49ers went back to play later in the game, and got the matchup, and outcome they had hoped for.
Crabtree was left running free off the line and wasn’t picked up by Raiders cornerback Chris Johnson until it was too late; the ball was out of Smith’s hand and on its way to Crabtree for the touchdown.
Even after the 49ers entered the win column, there’s plenty of work to be done. It starts with solid preparation this week for Sunday’s next game in Carolina followed by a week-long trip to London, where the 49ers will host the Broncos on Halloween.
“There will be some distractions this week, getting ready to pack and go away, but we’re going to have to stay focused on who we’re playing and not look past to London,” Smith said.
Crabtree spoke along the same lines as his quarterback.
“As soon as the game is over you’ve got to get ready for the next one. We watch film and see what we didn’t do right and what we did do right. But I’m just ready to carry it over to next week.”
Isaac Sopoaga isn’t replacing Moran Norris at fullback anytime soon.
The starting defensive end lined up at fullback for two plays in the fourth quarter and helped the 49ers pick up a first down with a solid lead block on Raiders defensive end Trevor Scott. Sopoaga was inserted by Mike Singletary’s request to help the 49ers gain one last first down to ice the game.
The substitution was fitting, mainly because Sopoaga’s nickname is in fact, “Ice.”
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Sopoaga said. “It’s an awesome feeling to try something new at the professional level. The last time I was on offense was in high school.”
Sopoaga’s teammates felt the same way.
“That was the best things to see in a game,” said defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, who recorded his first career sack in the fourth quarter. “Nobody was on the bench at the time; everybody was up to see it happen.”
The head coach wasn’t taking full credit for the idea however.
“You got to remember; the whole ‘big guy in the backfield’ started here with (former 49ers head coach) Bill Walsh and (former 49ers offensive lineman) Guy McIntyre, and that’s really where Chicago got it from (with William “Refrigerator” Perry). I just think we wanted to get a big body in there.”
Notes and Quotes
Singletary announced that cornerback Nate Clements (leg contusion), linebacker Manny Lawson (rib contusion), wide receiver Josh Morgan (thigh contusion), linebacker Parys Haralson (calf bruise), defensive tackle Justin Smith (hand lacerations) will all be day-to-day with minor injuries suffered against Oakland. Singletary also said Vernon Davis will undergo an MRI on his knee just to be safe and to make sure everything is stable.
Singletary also said tight end Delanie Walker may be questionable for next week, as he’s recovering from an ankle injury suffered against Atlanta.
Asked how we would handle his players being overconfident for this week’s matchup against a winless Carolina team, Singletary replied, “I think we will not be overconfident. We just have to work our tails off. Right now where we are, we’ve got to work. And we’ve got to do everything that we can to stay focused and keep going in the right direction.”
Tags: Alex Smith, Isaac Sopoaga, Michael Crabtree
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