Breakdown of the 49ers’ four back-breaking turnovers

This game was all about turnovers. Quarterback Alex Smith threw three interceptions and lost one fumble. The Titans did not turn it over. Not surprisingly, the 49ers lost 34-27.


“It’s very obvious what happened,” coach Mike Singletary said. “I’m sure there are a lot of other things you could come up with as to why we lost. The bottom line is turnovers for us.”


When Singletary was asked about Smith’s performance, he said, “I saw a quarterback throwing the ball pretty effectively.”


Can those two things be true? Yes, the turnovers were costly. And, yes, Smith threw the ball well. But the problem wasn’t Smith’s arm. His problem was his eyes.


Here’s what happened on those four turnovers, which led to 24 points for the Titans.


Turnover #1: First quarter interception. Smith was in the shotgun, flanked by running backs Frank Gore and Glen Coffee. When the Titans come with four-man rush, both backs exit the backfield. Smith has good time to throw but there’s a little pressure up the middle at the end from David Baas’ man. Smith tries to hit Crabtree at the left sideline 15 yards down field. Smith’s pass is over the corner, Rod Hood, but the safety, Michael Griffin, jumps the route and breaks up the pass. Smith telegraphed the pass, giving Griffin a good read. The ball was well-thrown, but Griffin got a good break on it and the ball was deflected to Hood, who intercepted it and returned it 43 yards to set up a Titans touchdown to make the score Titans 10-3. Bottom line: Griffin made a really good play, but Smith eyeballed Crabtree all the way and probably threw the ball too late. Although there was a bit of bad luck involved with the deflected pass, this one is on Smith.


Turnover #2: Third quarter fumble. Defensive end Jacob Ford lines up one-on-one against right tackle Adam Snyder. Smith’s in the shotgun. Snyder does not stay square to Ford, who beats him with an inside move. Smith tries to slide to his left to create enough too to make the pass. But as Smith takes the ball back to throw, it hits Ford’s helmet and pops loose. It’s recovered by Keith Bullock at the 49ers’ 36. Seven plays later, the Titans score a touchdown to tie the game 17-17 in the third quarter. Bottom line: Mostly Snyder’s fault for using poor technique to allow the pressure, but Smith could’ve had a better feel on whether he had the room to deliver the pass.


Turnover #3: Fourth quarter interception. Smith is under center. He takes a five-step drop. The Titans come with a four-man rush. Protection is pretty good. Smith locks onto Morgan early and remains looking that way. Hood is playing behind Morgan, and that’s what Smith sees. He doesn’t notice safety Chris Hope, who jumps the route to make the interception at the SF 39. Seven plays later, the Titans add a field goal for a 27-20 lead. Bottom line: Hope made a heck of a diving interception. But he made the play because that’s where Smith’s eyes took him.


Turnover #4: Fourth quarter interception. Smith is in shotgun. Again, the protection is good. Smith does a good job of looking left and then comes back to the right. He throws to Morgan, who is well-covered by safety Vince Fuller. The pass is about eye high. Fuller goes over Morgan’s back (I don’t think he got there too soon for pass interference) to get a hand on the ball. It pops up in the air and into the hands of Cortland Finnegan, who returns it 39 yards for a touchdown with 2:51 remaining, giving the Titans a 34-20 lead. Morgan probably could’ve caught the ball out in front to make it impossible for Fuller to break up the pass. Bottom line: With the defender behind Morgan, it was a reasonable to decision to throw that pass. But Morgan did not reach out to get the pass, and Fuller made a great play to break up the pass while avoiding pass interference. Let’s chalk this one up to good defense and a little luck that comes with a deflected pass.


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And, now, here’s the all-53-man review:



7-Nate Davis: The third QB did not play.

11-Alex Smith: In the above section, we break down Smith’s four turnovers. Those plays are the reasons the 49ers lost this game. There were some good things, too. He was patient in allowing six-man rush to get to him before dumping off pass to Gore, which resulted in 35-yard gain on second play of the game. He used the hard count effectively to draw the Titans offside five times. His best play was the TD pass to Jason Hill at the end of the first half, when he escaped defensive end William Hayes, who pulled the shirt down over his left shoulder pad. Smith was near the sideline but kept his eyes on the end zone, where he found Hill for the touchdown. Of course, all that is overshadowed by the four turnovers.

13-Shaun Hill: The backup QB did not play.


Running backs

21-Frank Gore: He sustained a poke in the eye early and remained in the game. Gore ran with a lot of determination. He rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He also caught seven passes for 75 yards. Nice cut inside to avoid Keith Bullock on fourth-and-1 run.

24-Michael Robinson: Handled kickoff-return duties. He averaged 24.4 yards on seven returns. He also did a fine job on the coverage units, getting involved in a couple tackles.

29-Glen Coffee: Saw limited time on offense. He carried once for 4 yards. Sustained concussion while blocking on late-game kickoff. His status for Thursday’s game is questionable.

44-Moran Norris: Played just seven snaps the entire game, as the 49ers went with two tight ends instead of a fullback.


Wide receivers

15-Michael Crabtree: Started at split end and caught three passes for 30 yards, all in the first half. He was targeted with eight passes. He had a 7-yard pass at the sideline overturned late in the game because he was juggling it.

81-Brandon Jones: Got onto the field as part of a three-WR package in the two-minute drill late in the game. He did not see a pass go his way. Jones was the team’s primarily punt returner. He returned three punts for a combined minus-3 yards.

83-Arnaz Battle: He did not see any action on offense. He played special teams but did not make any tackles.

84-Josh Morgan: Started at flanker. Seven passes went his way, but he made just two catches for 9 yards. Made a nice block on the outside on Gore’s 3-yard TD run. Dropped a pass in the third quarter. Got the call on an end-around for 11 yards. He was the intended receiver on two of Smith’s interceptions.

88-Isaac Bruce: He was the No. 3 receiver and caught one pass for 3 yards. But when he slipped coming out of a break late in the first half, he was quickly replaced by Jason Hill. Bruce did not return to the game, and he was not listed on the injury report.

89-Jason Hill: Entered the game late in the first half in place of ineffective Bruce. Hill was inactive for five of the 49ers’ first seven games. He caught four passes for 50 yards, including two touchdowns. He did a nice job of working open in the end zone on Smith’s late-first-half scramble for a 12-yard TD.


Tight ends

46-Delanie Walker: Started the game and played most of the game, as the 49ers played a lot of two-TE sets. There should’ve been more mismatches for him, but he caught one pass for 13 yards against a linebacker and did not see another pass all day. He left the game with a knee sprain but returned for the next series.

85-Vernon Davis: He had career-highs with 10 catches for 102 yards. Made nice adjustment on pass thrown to outside shoulder to smoothly bring it in for a 40-yard gain in the second quarter. Then, he did a nice job of blocking down to allow Gore to get into the end zone a 3-yard run just two plays later. Surrendered a sack to DE William Hayes, who also poked the ball free from Smith for a loss of 21 yards. He could’ve saved 20 seconds late in the game by getting out of bounds after 5-yard completion.


Offensive line

59-Cody Wallace: Inactive; coaches’ decision.

61-Chris Patrick: Suited up for the game as the backup at both tackle spots, but did not play.

62-Chilo Rachal: It was his best game of the season. He started at right guard. He was 20 yards down the field to run interference for Gore on 35-yard screen play in the first quarter. On first sack of the game, he and Heitmann did not work real well together in passing off the protection. Pulled and helped move the pile on Gore’s 3-yard TD run.  

64-David Baas: Started at left guard. His run-blocking was solid. He missed one series in the third quarter with a shoulder stinger. Surrendered a pressure to Tony Brown on final drive.

65-Barry Sims: Started at left tackle and did a good job. He gave up only one pressure to Kyle Vanden Bosch. But even on that play, Smith hit Davis for a 5 yard pass.

66-Eric Heitmann: Started at center. He did a good job in the run game. For the first time this season, he was at least partially to blame for a sack, as he did not cleanly pick up a stunt on Titans’ first sack.

68-Adam Snyder: Started at right tackle. His run-blocking was good. He had a couple shaky moments in pass protection. He allowed the sack-fumble against Jacob Ford when Alex Smith hit Ford’s helmet during this throwing motion.

69-Tony Wragge: Entered at left guard for one series in the third quarter when Baas went out with a stinger.

74-Joe Staley: Inactive; out six weeks with right knee sprain he sustained Nov. 1 against Indianapolis.


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Defensive line

90-Isaac Sopoaga: Started at left defensive end and recorded three tackles. Did a good job of clogging up the inside. He shed a block by RT Mike Otto to stop Johnson for no gain on a first-half run play.

91-Ray McDonald: Entered in pass-rush situations, and did not supply any pressure to quarterback Vince Young.

92-Aubrayo Franklin: Started at nose tackle, and had the best game of any defensive lineman. He had five tackles. His best play was when he got off Kevin Mawae’s block to throw Chris Johnson for 5-yard loss on opening series. He had two tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

93-Demetric Evans: Inactive; out three weeks with shoulder injury sustained Nov. 1 against Indianapolis.

94-Justin Smith: Started at right defensive end. It was a quiet game for him, as he recorded just one tackle and got no pressure Young.

95-Ricky Jean-Francois: Suited up for the first time this season, but did not play.

96-Kentwan Balmer: Entered the game at left end for the Titans’ third offensive series, and did well in his limited action. Balmer finished with two tackles.



50-Diyral Briggs: Inactive; coaches’ decision.

51-Takeo Spikes: Started at “Ted” linebacker and finished with two tackles. Took on Pro Bowl tackle Michael Roos to blow up sweep to Johnson that went for 4-yard loss when Haralson made the tackle.

52-Patrick Willis: Started at “Mike” linebacker. He was amazing, as he saved a touchdown several times by running down Johnson and Young. Finished with 10 tackles.

55-Ahmad Brooks: Saw limited action at outside linebacker and did not have any tackles.

56-Scott McKillop: Played on special teams and was credited with one tackle.

57-Matt Wilhelm: Played on special teams, and was involved in a couple tackles.

98-Parys Haralson: Haralson started at weak outside linebacker. He made a couple stops behind the line of scrimmage but also allowed Johnson to get around him a couple times. Came off the right edge to stop Johnson for 3-yard loss when the Titans were backed up. Allowed Johnson to turn the left corner on a 41-yard run. Had a chance to tackle Johnson at 6-yard on fourth-and-goal play. If he’d taken a better angle he could’ve easily pushed Johnson out of bounds. But Johnson scored a touchdown to give the Titans a 24-20 lead. Haralson got no pressure on Young in the passing game.

99-Manny Lawson: Started at strong outside linebacker, and had a couple tackles. Lined up on the right side and took an underneath route on a pass rush early in the second quarter, leaving a clear lane for Vince Young to score on a 7-yard run. Got a sack after Young spun out of the grasp of Shawntae Spencer in second quarter.


Defensive backs

20-Keith Smith: Recent addition was inactive.

22-Nate Clements: Inactive; out 6 to 8 weeks with broken right shoulder blade, which he sustained Nov. 1 against Indianapolis.

23-Marcus Hudson: Saw a couple snaps as sixth defensive back after Michael Lewis was injured. He had a special-teams tackle.

25-Tarell Brown: Started at left cornerback and, again, played pretty well. He came up from his cornerback spot to hit Johnson as he was trying a halfback pass near the end zone. Broke up third-down pass to Justin Gage in the second quarter. He left the game with bruised ribs but returned later in the game.

26-Mark Roman: Entered in dime situations, and later took over at strong safety when Michael Lewis left the game in the fourth quarter. Made a poor decision to leave TE Bo Scaife and go after Young on a third-and-4 play. Young just lobbed the ball over Roman for a 15-yard gain with 4:50 remaining in the game. He finished with four tackles.

28-Curtis Taylor: Sustained right shin contusion while covering opening kickoff.

30-Reggie Smith: Inactive; coaches’ decision after returning to full practice last week. He has not played since sustaining severe groin strain Sept. 27 against the Vikings.

31-Dre’ Bly: In coverage, but not sure there was anything he could’ve done, on Justin Gage’s leaping 33-yard reception in the fourth quarter. He had two tackles.

32-Michael Lewis: Started at strong safety and had four tackles. Did not take the best angle to Johnson at sideline on an apparent 81-yard touchdown run, but the replay challenge showed he got enough of Johnson to get him out of bounds for only a 40-yard gain. Good coverage keep on Nate Washington in the fourth quarter on deep incompletion. Lewis left game with nine minutes remaining when he sustained quad strain while shoving Young out of bounds.

36-Shawntae Spencer: Started at right cornerback. Justin Gage beat him on 49-yard pass in the first quarter. That play led to a Titans field goal. Came flying in on a second-quarter corner blitz. He did not wrap up Young, but he caused enough havoc that led to Lawson’s sack. He was credited with four tackles.

38-Dashon Goldson: Started at free safety. Should have provided deep help to Spencer on 49-yard pass to Gage. Goldson had four tackles.


Special teams

4-Andy Lee: The guy had three punts and he was fantastic with a career-best 53.3 net average. His gross average was 56.7.

6-Joe Nedney: He made field goals of 40 and 25 yards. On five kickoffs, the Titans’ average starting point was the 23. But in the hundreds of onside-kick attempts I’ve seen Nedney take in practice and games, his try at the end of the game was the easiest-to-field I’ve seen.

86-Brian Jennings: His snaps were on the money.


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Injured reserve

OT Tony Pashos: Sustained a fractured left scapula Oct. 25 vs. Texans during his only start. Pashos signed a one-year, $1.2 million contract with 49ers after he was among the Jaguars’ final cuts.

LB Jeff Ulbrich: Placed on injured reserve Oct. 19 due to multiple concussions.

CB Walt Harris: Sustained torn ACL in right knee during organized team activities on May 19 and placed on injured reserve on July 29. Harris, 35, is not under contract to the 49ers next season, but he said he plans to rehab and play again.

RB Thomas Clayton: He sustained a torn ACL in right knee in the 49ers’ exhibition opener Aug. 14 against the Broncos.


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