The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Cleveland Browns 20-10, and while most Niners fans were quite happy with the “10” part of that equation, many complained about the team’s inability to put away the Browns offensively. And, as often happens, some are placing the majority of the blame for the 49ers’ offensive struggles — particularly during the second half — on Alex Smith.
So I went through every one of the Niners’ offensive plays yesterday that didn’t involve Smith handing the ball to Frank Gore or Kendall Hunter to see how Smith did. I used an ultra-scientific method of judging each pass — awarding each a label of good, mediocre or poor. Passes that traveled less than 10 yards in the air were deemed “short,” passes between 10 and 20 yards were labeled “medium” and passes that went 20 yards in the air or longer were “deep.”
Mike Singletary was right, sometimes you’ve got to look at the film. But if you would rather cut to the chase than relive 29 plays from the Niners/Browns game, just scroll to the bottom for the findings.
1. Second-and-6, CLE 16: 10-yard pass thrown behind Braylon Edwards across the middle near the goal line, tipped three times before hitting the ground. (incomplete, poor short pass)
2. Third-and-6, CLE 16: 11-yard slant to Michael Crabtree deflected by Joe Haden. Nice pass defense by Haden with his left arm, but his right arm was wrapped around Crabtree leading to a pass interference penalty. (no play, mediocre short pass)
3. First-and-10, CLE 49: Fake-handoff to Hunter, Smith rolls left and tosses it 6 yards to Joe Staley, who runs 12 more yards for a first down. Staley was wide open, but Smith’s throw showed accuracy and touch – both necessary when throwing to a left tackle making his first NFL reception. (complete, good short pass)
4. First-and-15, CLE 36: Smith throws to his left. A little too far to his left, actually, forcing Edwards to dive (pictured) in order to make a pretty impressive catch at the 31 before getting up and falling a yard forward to gain 6 yards in all. Smith’s accuracy was questionable, but one could argue he was trying to keep LB Chris Gocong from stepping in and deflecting/intercepting the pass. (complete, mediocre short pass)
5. Third-and-2, CLE 23: Smith drops back to pass, but Jabaal Sheard gets by Anthony Davis and forces Smith out of the pocket (Gore had a tremendous block on DE Jayme Mitchell on the other side, by the way). Smith runs to the right, cuts back inside and dives for the first down, making Haden and Phillip Taylor miss in the process. (3-yard run, first down)
6. Second-and-9, CLE 19: Great protection, Smith waits and checks down to Vernon Davis down the middle at the 14. Davis drags Gocong a few yards to the 11. (complete, good short pass)
7. First-and-10, SF 17: Smith rolls right and throws a pass to the 15 to Crabtree, who takes it to the 21 for a 4-yard gain. (complete, good short pass)
8. Third-and-9, SF 17: Smith in the shotgun. Great protection, hits Vernon in stride over the middle at the 30 (13-yard pass).Vernon takes it to the 38 for a first down, hurting his right arm in the process. (complete, good medium pass)
9. First-and-10, CLE 37: Smith drops back and with good protection once again, throws across the middle to a wide-open Justin Peele at the 24 (13-yard throw), who takes it to the 18. (complete, good medium pass)
10. First-and-10, CLE 18: Smith in the shotgun, again has time. Steps up in the pocket to give Crabtree a second to get free, Smith dumps it straight ahead to Crabtree at the 13. Crabtree takes it to the 8 for a first down. (complete, good short pass)
11. First-and-10, SF 36: Smith fakes a handoff and rolls right. Crabtree’s open deep down the middle but Smith overthrows him, also missing to the left. The throw looked pretty bad, compounded by a tight replay of Smith yelling “S—!” But it also looked like Smith’s throwing motion was altered due to pressure from Sheard, who wasn’t blocked very well by Vernon (pictured). Sheard nearly got to Smith and jumped up with his right arm extended, disrupting Smith’s throwing motion. (incomplete, poor deep pass)
12. Second-and-5, CLE 45: Smith hits Edwards on a slant, Edwards gets the first down on a 9-yard gain. (complete, good short pass)
13. Second-and-6, CLE 32: With plenty of time, Smith overthrows Crabtree on a 22-yard pass to the left sideline. Crabtree was covered by Gocong, who despite the mismatch stayed with the WR. (incomplete, mediocre deep pass)
14. Third-and-6, CLE 32: Quick slant pass to Edwards at the 26, who takes it 6 more yards to the 20 and gets the first down. (complete, good short pass)
15. Third-and-1, CLE 11: Smith in the shotgun, takes the snap and runs around everyone (including Edwards, who seals the edge with a great block). Following Jonathan Goodwin and Joe Staley, Smith steps out of bounds at the 2. (9-yard run, first down)
16. Second-and-goal, CLE 2: After Gore runs up the middle for no gain (and maybe a slight loss), the Niners finally pass on the goal line. Crabtree goes in motion to the right and keeps going. Usama Young runs past Crabtree and blitzes, Smith runs right and throws it over Young to a wide open Crabtree for the TD. (complete, good short pass)
Fifth Series (Second Half)
17. First-and-10, SF 9: Smith fakes a handoff to Gore and rolls to his right. Hits Edwards on the sideline at the 14 but Edwards is out of bounds on the catch. (incomplete, mediocre short pass)
18. Third-and-4, SF 15: Smith hits Crabtree on a slant in the middle of the field with Crabtree moving from left to right. Crabtree looks like he made the catch, but as he’s brought down by Sheldon Brown he fails to bring the ball into his body and it pops out of his hands as they hit the ground. (incomplete, mediocre short pass)
19. Second-and-11, SF 13: Quick screen to Vernon at the 10, who trips and falls at the 15. (complete, good short pass)
20. Third-and-9, SF 15: Smith throws a pass caught by a wide-open Crabtree down the left sideline. Crabtree catches at the SF 45 and steps out of bounds at the CLE 44. (complete, good long pass … Crabtree should’ve been able to stay in bounds)
21. Second-and-8, CLE 42: Smith drops back and has the ball stripped by Taylor. Smith recovers his own fumble, losing 3 yards. (sack)
22. Third-and-11, CLE 45: Smith dumps it off to Crabtree who’s tackled quickly for a loss of 4. (complete, mediocre short pass)
23. First-and-10, SF 20: Smith moves to his left to avoid the rush and overthrows Bruce Miller at the line of scrimmage. (incomplete, poor short pass)
24. Third-and-14, SF 16: Browns blitz and get good pressure on Smith, who throws a pass behind Edwards and at his feet on a slant pattern. (incomplete, poor short pass)
25. Second-and-11, SF 10: Smith in the shotgun. Fakes a handoff to Gore, than runs to the right sideline where Young crushes Smith with a helmet-to-helmet hit (which isn’t called). Smith should’ve slid sooner, but that hit also should’ve drawn a flag considering the hits Dashon Goldson and Justin Smith were penalized for that weren’t actually helmet-to-helmet. (9-yard run)
26. Third-and-2, SF 19: Crabtree totally loses Dmitri Patterson and has no one behind him as he runs free down the left sideline, but Smith overthrows Crabtree on the play. This was the worst pass of the game for Smith, as there was very little pass rush from the Browns, Crabtree could have had a touchdown (although Young might have had the angle on him from the middle of the field), and the pass landed at the 41-yard-line when Crabtree was still at the 37. Getting a first down would’ve been nice, too. (incomplete, poor deep pass)
27. Third-and-14, SF 48: Smith in the shotgun. Not much pressure, fires a strange and somewhat dangerous pass in between Ted Ginn and Edwards. Smith was lucky that one wasn’t intercepted. (incomplete, poor medium pass)
28. First-and-10, SF 48: Slant to Edwards caught at the CLE 46 and taken to the 38 for a first down. (complete, good short pass)
29. Third-and-3, CLE 32: Smith turns to his left and throws a pretty pass over the outstretched arms of DE Mitchell into the arms of Isaac Sopoaga at the 29. Sopoaga takes it to the 14 for the game’s biggest first down, no pun intended. (complete, good short pass)
Short passes: 12-for-17, 98 yards, TD
Medium passes: 2-for-3, 38 yards.
Deep passes: 1-for-4, 41 yards
Runs: 4 for 22 yards, 2 first downs and one concussion scare
Overall, Smith was more average than good. He was quite efficient in the first half and converted on all five third down chances he was directly involved in, but after what could best be described as a rough second half the 49ers were 7-for-12 on third down conversions when Smith was asked to make a play.
Smith didn’t face much of a pass rush from Cleveland, but he showed toughness in the few times he was asked to run and his touch on those passes to Staley and Sopoaga was somewhat overlooked due to who caught those passes.
Smith was far from perfect, however. Only 13 of his 24 passes were anything better than mediocre, and Smith missed a few opportunities downfield on passes to Crabtree. Still, the 49ers will take what Smith gave them: poise and touch when needed, and no interceptions.
With Smith’s accuracy on passes in the 10-20 yard range looking pretty good, as well as short passes while on the move, look for more of those types of throws in the coming weeks. The deep ball? That weapon might not be a consistent part of the 49ers’ arsenal this season, at least until Smith gets used to having both Edwards and Crabtree on the field at the same time.