When I asked Mike Singletary yesterday why the 49ers did not employ the shotgun/spread in the second half (other than third-and-long situations) after having success with it at the end of the first half, I did not fully understand his answer.
He spoke in vague terms about the coaches not having exposure to the players and Alex Smith not having exposure to the spread offense.
Then, I spoke to Smith about it, and I think I have a better idea of what Singletary meant.
The first thing Smith told me is that if a team plans to be running that kind of attack in situations that aren’t a two-minute drill at the end of a half, the groundwork has to be laid for it in the offseason.
The 49ers’ offseason vision for this offense under Jimmy Raye was going to be a power-running team behind a physical offensive line and running back Frank Gore. Out of those run formations, the 49ers wanted to get the ball into the hands of Vernon Davis. If Singletary wanted a spread-’em-out offense that throws the ball around the field, he would’ve retained Mike Martz as coordinator.
Raye and the coaches did not have a lot of “exposure” to Smith and Michael Crabtree, and Smith – in turn – did not have a lot of exposure to the “spread” during his offseason work when he was competing against Shaun Hill for the starting job.
As I understand it, the 49ers have their basic two-minute package that consists of three wide receivers, tight end Vernon Davis and running back Frank Gore. They run many of those plays out of the shotgun formation. But if they want to use that offense during the regular course of the game, they don’t have the kind of variety with their play-calling and their adjustments to what the defense is doing. In other words, the 49ers might be able to have success in the short term, but then the defense quickly sees everything the 49ers have to offer and, maybe, there aren’t enough adjustments to stay ahead of the curve.
I think that’s what Singletary meant when he said he wondered aloud if it were wise to put Smith in that situation and whether he was ready for it.
This is also the reason why it’s imperative that teams maintain continuity on offense. Raye’s first priority in the offseason was to install the team’s offense. The Colts, for instance, can do all kinds of complex things with their offense because offensive coordinator Tom Moore has been with the Colts since 1998 – Peyton Manning’s first year in the league.
* * *
Quick observation about the offensive line . . . Gore had a 64-yard TD run in which the blocking was good and he split two unblocked defensive backs en route to the end zone. But the 49ers did not have consistency with the run game. The 49ers averaged 2.88 yards on the other 17 rushing attempts. Yet, I do not believe the offensive line played poorly. On many of the short runs (or losses) I could not assign blame to anyone. The Colts simply outnumbered the 49ers at the line of scrimmage on many of those plays. Even in pass protection – all things considered – the line did a very good job of providing time and a clean pocket for Smith. There seemed to be something different on nearly every drive that kept the 49ers from sustaining drives: a failure to stay inbounds, a bad break on a tipped pass, a fumble, a penalty, a 12-yard route when they needed 13, a dropped pass, an inaccurate pass and – yes – a sack. From what I saw after re-watching the film, the line might have been the offensive position group least-responsible for the 49ers’ loss.
* * *
ROSTER UPDATE: The 49ers today signed cornerback Keith Smith, formerly of the Detroit Lions. Smith was signed as the 49ers expect to be without Nate Clements for up to two months with a broken shoulder blade. To make room on the 53-man roster, the 49ers released receiver Micheal Spurlock.
* * *
And, now, here’s the all-53-man review:
11-Alex Smith: He generally played with poise, though there might have been a couple times when he broke out of the pocket too soon – but certainly nothing egregious. Smith made some very nice throws. The pass on the deep comeback to Crabtree, in which he dropped it in between two defendeers in the fourth quarter was extraordinary. The one pass Smith wishes he could have back, I’m sure, was an overthrow to Isaac Bruce from a clean pocket on the final drive. That play would’ve gone for at least 20 yards. Also, Smith should’ve been better aware of the play clock on the 49ers’ penultimate drive. He should have called a timeout instead of taking the delay penalty. Singletary said Smith is developing into a player who looks as if he might be special. I’ll say that all signs are pointing up.
13-Shaun Hill: The backup QB did not play.
21-Frank Gore: He did a nice job of crashing through two defensive backs to turn a 7-yard gain into a 64-yard touchdown. The 49ers were definitely outnumbered at the line of scrimmage, but there were a couple opportunities for Gore to make cuts to get additional yardage. Again, he did a pretty good job on blitz pickup. On the 49ers’ final offensive play of the game, he picked up Dwight Freeney, who came inside on a stunt. Gore squared him up nicely, which should’ve been good enough. But Freeney bounced off Gore and got the sack of Smith a full 3.7 seconds after the snap of the ball.
24-Michael Robinson: Did not play any snaps from scrimmage. He was the team’s primary kickoff returner, and he managed a 19.8 average on five returns. He was always right there on the coverage units. He was credited with one tackle.
29-Glen Coffee: Played just five snaps from scrimmage and carried once for 8 yards. He was also the up-back on kickoff returns. There were several times he missed a block on a man who ended up stopping Robinson after a short gain.
44-Moran Norris: Played 19 defensive snaps. He picked up first downs on third-and-1 plays with rushes up the middle of 3 and 1 yards. His blocking was not bad at all, but it seems that when he’s in the game, defenses send an extra defender into the box and things get stacked up rather quickly. Norris did a nice job of picking up Robert Mathis, who was in the process of getting around Adam Snyder, allowing Smith just enough time to deliver a 17-yard pass to Crabtree.
15-Michael Crabtree: He started at split end and played 50 of the 49ers’ 54 snaps. He led the 49ers with six catches for 81 yards. His third-quarter fumble when the 49ers had already put together a couple first downs near midfield was very costly. Crabtree had a drop on a swing pass that wouldn’t have gotten any yards. He ran a 12-yard route when the 49ers needed 13 yards on third down. He got his right hand on a pass in which Smith led him too much, the ball was deflected to Colts safety Bob Sanders for an interception. Crabtree nearly busted a big one on a slant that resulted in a 27-yard gain. He also held on at the sideline for a 12-yarder despite a big hit from defensive back Tim Jennings.
18-Micheal Spurlock: Inactive; coaches decision. Spurlock was released today to make room on the roster for cornerback Keith Smith.
81-Brandon Jones: Suited up for the game, and saw action on just one offensive snap. He replaced injured Nate Clements on punt returns in the second half, and made the regrettable decision to field a fourth-quarter punt at his own 3. He returned it to the 6.
84-Josh Morgan: Started but played just 27 snaps in the game. He caught just one pass for 3 yards. He was also called for excessive celebration when he went to a knee to pretend he was taking photos of Vernon Davis after a touchdown. That meant the 49ers kicked off from the 15, allowing the Colts to travel into position for a field goal in the final 30 seconds of the first half. Singletary on Monday said, “It’s just not being smart.”
88-Isaac Bruce: He did not start the game, but he saw more action than Morgan. Bruce played 41 snaps. He had one dropped pass and another that was thrown behind him that he got a hand on. Bruce caught four passes for 51 yards. He also made a very alert play when he did not give up on the play in which Crabtree fumbled. Bruce saved a touchdown when he tackled Jerraud Powers after the recovery.
89-Jason Hill: Inactive; coaches decision.
59-Cody Wallace: Inactive; coaches’ decision.
61-Chris Patrick: New addition to the roster was inactive and did not suit up.
62-Chilo Rachal: Started at right guard. I like the way Rachal started out the game and he put a shove on Powers near the end of a run play. On Gore’s touchdown run, Rachal got defensive tackle Daniel Muir turned around and drove him to the ground with Gore running up their backs. His pass protection was a lot better than it’s been. The only time I really saw him get beat was when Muir slipped through to stop Gore for a 1-yard loss on a draw play.
64-David Baas: Started at left guard. He handled defensive tackle Antonio Johnson on Gore’s touchdown run. Baas did not give up any sacks, but he did get one when he stepped on Smith as he was backing up under center. The next play, linebacker Gary Brackett beat Baas to throw Gore for a 1-yard loss. Baas did a nice job on a third-and-1 run by Norris that gained 3 yards. Baas was also called for a holding penalty that he did not deserve. In the first half, Johnson tried to spin against Baas, and then he just fell down. Baas never had ahold of Johnson, but he was called for the penalty nonethess.
65-Barry Sims: He entered the game on the 49ers’ second offensive play after Joe Staley’s injury. He was matched up mostly against Colts DE Dwight Freeney. Sims played very, very well. In fact, I’d go so far as to say he pitched a shutout against Freeney. Sure, Freeney had a sack in the game, but it came on a stunt in which Gore picked him up. Even then, that was more of a coverage sack.
66-Eric Heitmann: Started at center. On Gore’s touchdown run, Heitmann started out with a double-team block on Muir, then got to the second level to tie up Brackett. He also did a nice job up the middle on Norris’ two third-and-1 runs. The Colts were geared up for those to runs, and the 49ers still got the yardage.
68-Adam Snyder: Started at right tackle. Snyder helped provide a very clean pocket most of the day for Smith, including on the 8-yard touchdown toss to
69-Tony Wragge: He played two snaps of offense when he reported eligible as an extra tight end on two Moran Norris run plays.
74-Joe Staley: He started at left tackle, but his day lasted just one play when he sustained a right knee sprain on the first play of the game. Staley is expected to miss six weeks with a right knee sprain.
* * *
90-Isaac Sopoaga: Started at left defensive end and played very well. He showed his athleticism when he came across from the other side of the line to stop Joseph Addai for a 2-yard gain in the first quarter. Sopoaga also took advantage of good coverage to throw Manning for a third-quarter sack. He was credited with four tackles.
91-Ray McDonald: Looked much better this week in his second game back from an ankle injury that forced him out of the Falcons game back on Oct. 11. He entered the game in passing situations to rush from a defensive tackle position. He recorded a third-quarter sack in which he simply overpowered guard Mike Pollak.
93-Demetric Evans: He played mostly on special teams as part of the wedge on kickoffs. Evans sustained a left shoulder injury that is expected to keep him out of action for three weeks.
94-Justin Smith: Started at right defensive end. He was his usual relentless self with seven tackles. He also did a nice job of pushing left tackle Charlie Johnson into Manning, forcing him to step up and into
95-Ricky Jean-Francois: Inactive; coaches’ decision.
96-Kentwan Balmer: He saw limited time on defense, but he did OK when he was in there. He made a tackle. And got some decent pressure on Manning while working against Johnson. I know he gets a lot of scrutiny because he was a first-round pick, but it looks as if he’s doing what’s asked of him. He’ll probably get a few more snaps a game with Evans’ injury.
50-Diyral Briggs: Recent call-up from practice squad was inactive.
51-Takeo Spikes: Started at “Ted” linebacker and played a lot more than anyone anticipated after getting limited practice time with a shoulder strain. He had a nice game with eight tackles. One of his best plays was when he was isolated outside on Addai on a sweep. Spikes had great position, great balance and Addai ended up faking out himself and falling down. After returning from an officials’ timeout with cramps, Spikes looked just as fresh and quick as ever and made two quick tackles.
52-Patrick Willis: Started at “Mike” linebacker. He recorded eight tackles, including a play in which he closed quickly on backup running back Chad Simpson to throw him for a loss. Willis was in coverage on four pass completitions, including an 18-yarder to Dallas Clark in the first half.
55-Ahmad Brooks: Saw playing on special teams. I might have missed something, but I did not see him on defense.
56-Scott McKillop: Played on special teams. He had one assisted tackle.
57-Matt Wilhelm: Played exclusively on special teams, and recorded one tackle.
98-Parys Haralson: Started at weak outside linebacker, and was silent throughout the game. He recorded one tackle and did not get any pressure on Manning.
99-Manny Lawson: Started at strong outside linebacker, and had a pretty good game. Lawson had four tackles, and forced Manning to throw sooner than he wanted when he leveled
22-Nate Clements: He was demoted from the starting lineup because the coaching staff did not think he matched up well against the Colts receivers. He was the team’s primary punt returner, but he sustained a broken right shoulder blade late in the first half when he absorbed a big hit from Powers.
25-Tarell Brown: Made his first start of the season, as he replaced Clements at left cornerback. He was mostly responsible for covering Pierre Garcon. I counted seven times in which Brown was tested in coverage, and Manning completed four of those passes for just 21 yards. He might have gotten a bit lucky on the first play of the game, though, when it looked as if Garcon was open on a deep route but Manning underthrew him.
26-Mark Roman: Entered the game as part of the 49ers’ dime coverage. It looked as if he went for the two-handed interception of a third-quarter pass to Garcon instead of extending further and knocking it down with one hand. The ball slipped through and Garcon turned it into a 32-yard play.
30-Reggie Smith: Inactive with a severe groin strain that was injured Sept. 27 against the Vikings.
31-Dre’ Bly: Used as an extra defensive back. He let a potential interception slip away early in the game on a pass to Reggie Wayne. He did a good job in coverage throughout the game.
32-Michael Lewis: Returned to action after missing last week’s game with a concussion. He started at strong safety. He broke up one pass and forced a fumble while making five tackles in his return to action.
36-Shawntae Spencer: Started at cornerback, and his job was to cover Colts wideout Reggie Wayne. If the goal was to not allow
38-Dashon Goldson: Started at free safety. He recorded 10 tackles and did a nice job of cleaning up after some completions. He delivered his biggest hit of the year on a incomplete pass down the right sideline to Parcon. Goldson did a good job of avoiding a hit to Garcon’s head, which would have been a 15-yard penalty.
4-Andy Lee: It was definitely one of his better days. He averaged 50.0 yards on eight punts, with an impressive net average of 46.0. He also landed four of his punts inside the Colts’ 20-yard line.
6-Joe Nedney: He made his only two PAT attempts. He was put in a bad situation of kicking off from the 15-yard line late in the first half. The Colts returned it to the 39 with :26 remaining and they quickly got into position for a Matt Stover field goal.
* * *
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.
* * *