Alex Smith

49ers could’ve used a 12th man (and a cornerback, pass rush, etc.) vs. Cowboys

Candlestick Park was taken over by fans of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. Does it get any lower than that for 49ers fans? Raiders silliness aside — the only true rival to the 49ers after the Rams moved to St. Louis resides in Dallas. And every time Miles Austin caught a touchdown, the cheers were almost as loud, just as loud or louder than whenever the 49ers scored.

Admittedly, crowd noise is hard to gauge on television. It’s especially difficult to judge comparative cheering on a Fox broadcast, since they’re usually trying to drown out crowd noise with loud quasi-futuristic industrial noises. That is, when they aren’t showing computerized footballs break through glass or that jackass robot shaking out its robot-quads.

When’s Fox’s deal with the NFL up? Anyone? Anyone?

I’ve heard differing reports on the fan situation. Some say 49ers fans sold their tickets to Cowboys fans to make a quick buck or 200. Others say the traffic and parking lot congestion were so bad, Niners fans sold their tickets to ‘boys backers out of frustration. Then there’s the safety issue. Hopefully as the 49ers improve (and I believe they will), we won’t see this kind of hostile takeover anymore. But it’s going to take a long time to wipe those loud cheers when Tony Romo connected with Jesse Holley out of my brain.

Alright, we’ve avoided the real problems long enough — onto the game!

— It’s kind of become a little game within the game to decide what’s the Niners’ biggest weakness. Is it the secondary? The offensive line? The quarterback? Has Frank Gore lost a step?

— Let me put in a vote for the secondary, with the offensive line a close second. If they did the draft tomorrow the 49ers would absolutely take a cornerback first. Maybe it’s time to start scouting corners now (the Niners hopefully are already watching film on Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick, LSU’s Morris Claiborne, South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore and Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard).

— I can’t pretend I didn’t agree with Harbaugh’s call at the time; unlike new BASG contributor Scott Willis I was in favor of taking the 3 points instead of the 15 yards. People keep pointing out evidence that Harbaugh doesn’t trust his offense, like that’s a bad thing. Sure it’s not optimal, but it’s certainly logical. The way the game was going — with Dallas sacking Smith every few minutes — if Harbaugh took the penalty I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Niners got sacked on the very next play, losing all 15 yards and/or the ball on a fumble.

— Seriously, how did Smith hold onto the ball during some of those sacks? The one where DeMarcus Ware actually smacked the ball with a direct shot from his right hand made me wonder if Alex’s right hand actually grew since Harbaugh was hired.

— Veering to the positive for a moment: that play when Alex picked up that bad snap off one bounce, ran around to the right sideline and threw that pass to Frank Gore to draw the pass interference flag … that was the best play he’s ever made in the NFL. Even better than the pass to Kyle Williams.

— If Braylon Edwards doesn’t get hurt and Michael Crabtree was available, would the 49ers have won? Impossible to know for sure, but the offense sure would’ve had a lot more options — and fewer sacks allowed, probably.

— While the Niners’ secondary was pathetic at times, where was the pass rush from last week? Looks like that was due more to Seattle’s inexperienced/bad offensive line than great talent and top notch scheming from Vic Fangio.

— I’m pretty sure the Cowboys would finish 11-5 if they played in the NFC West.

— That’s part of the reason why I’m so excited about what Harbaugh has done so far. With very little time to prepare for the season, they’ve showed the ability to do a few things on both sides of the ball. They really look like a different team. But they aren’t that talented, and they haven’t been for years. Really, the only areas where the 49ers have an advantage over most teams are:

1. Punter

2. Tight end (Jason Witten was better than Vernon Davis on Sunday, but Delanie Walker is one of the best second TEs in the league and Witten has a lot more teammates who draw attention away than Davis)

3. Linebacker

That’s it.

Quarterback? Smith has made a handful of great plays, but he held onto the ball far too long on several occasions against Dallas and is below average when it comes to moving the ball downfield quickly, putting the 49ers at a distinct disadvantage in today’s pass-happy NFL.

Running back? Kendall Hunter could be a good player, but Frank Gore isn’t elite anymore (though he probably faces more stacked fronts than anyone).

Wide receiver? Please. Maybe things would look differently with a healthy Braylon Edwards and Michael Crabtree, but that looks less likely by the week.

Defensive line? Didn’t do a lot in the second half, did they?

And then there’s the porous offensive line and easily confused defensive backfield. Hopefully the o-line can improve throughout the year with better coaching. The secondary? That’s probably going to be the Nine’s’ biggest weakness throughout 2011 unless Shawntae Spencer can experience some kind of late-career renaissance (and reemerge from the dog house).

And still, the 49ers should have defeated a desperate Dallas team that wasn’t exactly dealing with a hostile environment. That the Niners weren’t able to was extremely frustrating, considering the opponent and the lead surrendered. But anyone expecting the Niners to play better than they are at this point is completely irrational. So far they’ve looked much better in the first two games than they did last year, and as long as Edwards didn’t tear a knee ligament they’ve managed to avoid any serious injuries. The next test is how well they can play on the road against a mediocre Cincinnati squad; after the amount of visiting fans they had to listen to on Sunday they should be more than prepared for whatever awaits them at Paul Brown Stadium.

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