SANTA CLARA – Yesterday I asked the defense five questions. Today I asked Greg Roman and Alex Smith four questions. Here are their responses followed by my conclusions.
Question 1: Now that Moss and Manningham are on the team, can we expect more long passes in the games?
ROMAN: It all depends on who we’re playing. If (the cornerbacks) are playing way off (the line of scrimmage) then I doubt it. If they’re playing up close, I would say yes.
ALEX SMITH: In the end I’m still going to take what the defense gives me. I’m still going through my reads. I’m not just going to drop back and throw it up. Now, Randy does provide some opportunities where if he’s one-on-one you’re going to take some shots. He plays the ball that well in the air. But I’m still going to go through my progressions and reads and take what the defense gives me.
My follow-up question: Does Moss change your reads?
ALEX SMITH: Yeah, for sure.
My conclusion: I don’t expect Alex Smith to throw significantly more deep passes this season. He had Randy Moss single-covered on a deep route against the Texans and he didn’t throw to him. As he said, he’s still going to take what the defenses give him, which is mostly short passes.
Question 2: Who are your starting wide receivers?
ROMAN: (Turns to the PR director) Who are our starting wide receivers?
P.R. DIRECTOR: Are you asking me?
My conclusion: Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree are the starters, but Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham should be the starters. Manningham is better right now, but Moss will get the start for fear they’ll lose him if he doesn’t start.
My conclusion No.2: The PR director secretly draws up the game plan.
Question 3: Why do you think the offense will be better on third down this season than it was last season?
ROMAN: That’s a good question. I think time on task. I think No. 1 – a very wise man said this to me and I found this to be true – when you look at statistics, that’s great but anyone can look at statistics. The thing you want to know is why are these statistics the way they are? That’s really what you’re looking at. Why was your third-down percentage what it was? As we studied it in the offseason and throughout the season last year, it was a matter of execution – a lack of cohesion. I would attribute that to time on task. I would fully expect our third-down production to be much better due to the fact that we have much more time invested in it. I think it’s that simple. Now we’ve got to go out and do it. Going out and practicing it doesn’t guarantee you a thing. I fully expect our third-down production to be better starting with time on task – guys knowing what to do, what spots they’re going to be in, all the multiple coverages and protections. The best third-down teams are generally really efficient in the passing game on all downs and really good at short-yardage situations. It’s something I think will happen with our development and evolution.
ALEX SMITH: I think in the end it just comes down to execution. For me, the quarterback, it comes down to being decisive and pulling the trigger. Last year at times there were some opportunities out there and for whatever reason we didn’t get them. Maybe we were unsure or hesitant. As an offense, and myself speaking, I think we’ll be better at pulling the trigger this year, taking our shots that are there. Executing. Negative plays kill drives. If you’re productive on first and second down, I think that helps your third down. We were in a lot of third-and-longs last year, and the entire NFL in general is not good on third and long. It’s a difficult situation. I think that played into our lack of success at times last season.
My conclusion: The 49ers were 31st on the third down conversions in the NFL last season with a 28.11 conversion percentage, and they were equally bad on third-and-short and third-and-long. Time will tell if “time on task” will significantly change that.
Question 4: There was a second-and-7 against the Texans on Sunday. Alex Smith threw a pass to Vernon Davis and Davis dropped it. On TV it looked like Moss was breaking open deep. After looking at the film, did Smith make the right read?
ROMAN: In case somebody from an opponent is reading this, I don’t want to let them know about our quarterback reads, but I thought it was the appropriate decision. I think there’s times when a quarterback has to make quick decision. Let me put it to you this way – how open was Randy and how open was Vernon? You have to make that decision quickly. Generally speaking, when you run somebody on a shorter route and somebody deeper and it’s man-to-man coverage, you’re generally going to look at the shorter route first because he’ll probably be open quicker. That’s not true of all plays, but I thought it was a good throw and I know Vernon was pretty upset that he didn’t grab it.
ALEX SMITH: Yeah, it was the right read. I think, if anything, I would have loved to give Vernon a ball pulling him away – I kind of put it up on his face. He was running a crossing route. If I hit him running there, how many times have we seen him pull out of that and score? If I had to do it over again, (I’d want) more ball placement if anything. It’s critical versus man (coverage).
My conclusion: It was not the right read. Smith had Moss one-on-one, and as Smith himself said in this interview, if Moss “is one-on-one, you’re going to take some shots.” Smith has great chemistry with Vernon Davis. He needs to practice throwing deep passes to Moss. The preseason is the perfect time to do it, and he needs to do it more.