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Friday, September 17, 2010
49ers' system can put QB in a bind

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Arlan from San Francisco writes: Hi Mike, I was wondering why Alex Smith wasnt wearing a wristband with plays on it sooner. I thought all teams quarterbacks wore one. It seems that with all the circumstances in the NFL -- limited time that headsets are active, time it takes to pick a play, length of the average play call, crowd noise, etc. -- common sense would dictate the QB wear a wristband with plays on it.

In fact, I don't see any reason why all players wouldn't wear one with the same plays and their individual assignments. Is this another example of the inexperience/inability to adapt to the times by this coaching staff? The prime example would obviously be our offensive philosophy, which belongs in the 1950s/1960s and lacks even a hint of creativity.

Mike Sando: This problem has everything to do with getting the play to Smith more quickly, not helping Smith process the information once he gets it. We can criticize Smith on several fronts, but his intelligence and memory aren't in question here. Smith might be the smartest person in the organization other than executive Paraag Marathe, who has an MBA from Stanford. Smith's ability to process basic play information isn't the culprit.

Teams running the digit system on offense generally suffer from more delay penalties because it takes longer for their coaches to communicate the plays. The 49ers, San Diego Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders lead the NFL in quarterback delay penalties since 2005. All have run digit-system offenses some or most of the time since the 2005 season.

West Coast offenses can be more efficient this way. The Seattle Seahawks rarely had delay penalties under Mike Holmgren in part because the system required fewer words to communicate plays. Holmgren could call out basic play information, including the personnel group, and the quarterback would automatically know other aspects of the play. In San Francisco and other places where teams run digit systems, the play caller must spell out other aspects of the play (motions, protections, etc.).

It's more important for the 49ers and teams with similar offenses to communicate plays quickly and clearly. It's also important for the coach relaying the information from coordinator to quarterback to do so without requiring elaboration from the coordinator. One solution could be for the coordinator to communicate directly with the quarterback.

The 49ers are falling short in these areas and it's leaving Smith with less time on the play clock. Putting a wristband on his arm isn't going to fix the problem.

Update: I've had conversations with people in football since posting this item. One thought was that the wristband could help as long as the offensive coordinator, Jimmy Raye, located the play he wanted quickly enough to communicate it right away.