NFC West: Titans-49ers

Thoughts, observations on 49ers offense

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
8:35
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Thoughts and observations after taking a closer look at the 49ers' offense during a 34-27 defeat to the Titans in Week 9 (full personnel report available for download here):
  • The 49ers struck deep to tight end Vernon Davis on one of two plays Sunday when they showed I-formation from base personnel. The formation and personnel suggested a likely running play. The 49ers threw deep instead. It worked.
  • What if their formation and personnel suggested a passing play, only to have the 49ers run the ball instead? The 49ers accomplish this with second tight end Delanie Walker, who has good receiving skills. But ...
  • The 49ers have not developed a three-receiver offense outside 2-minute situations or third down. They have dropped back to pass 123 times in 134 plays with more than two wide receivers on the field, usually in obvious passing situations.
  • Why not sprinkle in a few more three-receiver groupings on early downs and outside the 2-minute offense? Rookie first-round choice Michael Crabtree has generally played well. Josh Morgan projects as a potential No. 2 receiver. Jason Hill's sudden emergence against the Titans suggests he might be ready for the No. 3 role. The issue is whether the third wide receiver offers enough value to justify removing Walker from the field.

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Why Smith should be 49ers' starting QB

November, 9, 2009
11/09/09
9:10
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Charlie suggests via Facebook that I prematurely jumped on Alex Smith's bandwagon by suggesting two weeks ago that the fifth-year quarterback gives the 49ers the best chance to win.

Smith
Mike Sando: You have to realize that I do not and have not considered the 49ers to be a playoff team. If you think they are a playoff team, start Shaun Hill and play it safe. If you want to have a chance to develop something meaningful, play Smith, who still might be better than Hill right now. Watch Hill against the Falcons and tell me Smith is the problem.

It's also misleading to say I jumped on Smith's bandwagon following the comeback he led against the Texans. Here is what I wrote after that game: "Starter Shaun Hill wasn't solely to blame for the 49ers' early troubles, of course, but he was a limiting factor Sunday. Hill checked down to Frank Gore on one play when [Michael] Crabtree might have been open. Smith was much more aggressive pressing the ball down the field and the line seemed to block better for him. The 49ers will find out next week whether the quarterback change produced only a temporary spark. The team's problems at both guard spots and right tackle aren't going away."

Heading into the Colts game a week later, I anticipated a 49ers defeat while writing: "If Smith commands the offense reasonably well and Crabtree builds upon a promising NFL debut, this game against the Colts can still qualify as progress, at least in my view." Smith did command the offense reasonably well in that game.

The 49ers should not suddenly reverse course at quarterback just because Smith threw a couple of late picks while playing catch-up Sunday. Smith definitely locked onto receiver Josh Morgan without regard for Titans safety Chris Hope on the first fourth-quarter interception. That was bad. Let's see how he responds in the coming weeks.

Silver linings: 49ers vs. Titans

November, 9, 2009
11/09/09
8:45
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The facts: The 49ers fell to 3-5 with a 34-27 home defeat to the Titans in Week 9.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • Tight end Vernon Davis caught 10 passes for 102 yards, the first 100-yard game of his career.
  • Receiver Jason Hill emerged from obscurity with two touchdown receptions. Developing young talent on offense is a priority for the 49ers this season. It's a bonus if Hill becomes part of the plan again.
  • Frank Gore finished the game with 158 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown.
  • The 49ers held a 7-minute advantage in time of possession.
  • Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin appeared to play well again despite the 49ers' struggles against the run. Franklin is enjoying a strong season.
  • The 49ers pinned the Titans inside their 20 on all three punts by Andy Lee.
  • The 49ers finished the game with a 25-14 lead in first downs while scoring touchdowns on three of five trips inside the red zone.
  • Manny Lawson sacked Titans quarterback Vince Young for a 9-yard loss on a third-and-9 play when the score was tied, 10-10.
Looking ahead: The 49ers face the Bears at home on Thursday night.

Around the NFC West: Singletary testy

November, 9, 2009
11/09/09
7:47
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers coach Mike Singletary bristled when asked about the team's prospects within the division after falling further behind the Cardinals. Singletary: "I don't care about the Cardinals! I care nothing about the Cardinals! I care nothing about anything else that's happening in the NFL. The only thing I care about is this team realizing that we can win games if we do not kill ourselves. It's as simple as that. I don't care about the Cardinals. Done." In other words, Singletary cares very much about the Cardinals and the gap separating the 49ers from them.

Also from Crumpacker: says the 49ers' inability to contain Titans running back Chris Johnson proved costly. Crumpacker: "Patrick Willis, the fastest linebacker from the draft class of 2007, spent a long afternoon chasing Johnson on the way to 10 total tackles." Willis: "You've got to give credit when it's due. He's fast. There's no other way you can look at it. He got some angles on us today and used his speed to his advantage. He's exceptionally fast. He can run."

Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle asks whether the Titans were simply a better team than the 49ers.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat breaks down the 49ers' four turnovers against the Titans. "Total Ball Insecurity" was not what Singletary had in mind. Maiocco also takes a look at every player on the 53-man roster, noting that Isaac Bruce lost his starting job.

Also from Maiocco: a look at the 49ers' injury list, headed by safety Michael Lewis.

More from Maiocco: Willis says the 49ers are still playing for the playoffs.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers postgame notes, including one about Frank Gore's swollen eye. Barrows: "Gore was poked in the right eye and looked like a boxer who had gone 12 rounds. He said the poking occurred at the bottom of a pile in the first half. Gore never left the game and the injury didn't appear to affect his vision."

Also from Barrows: Wide receiver Jason Hill, a forgotten man through the exhibition season and beyond, caught two touchdown passes for the 49ers. Alex Smith: "He and I got a lot of work together the first six weeks of the season, working out there on the scout team together. I've got a trust in Jason, and it showed out there today."

More from Barrows: Singletary resembles Jack Nicholson on the witness stand in "A Few Good Men".

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says no 49ers team has qualified for the playoffs after posting a 3-5 record to open a season.

Also from Brown: a touching story about the young cancer patient Vernon Davis befriended. Joseph Luna passed away at age 13.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News sensed a "nervous hush" pervading the 49ers' organization following their defeat to the Titans. Kawakami: "The players aren't quitting or splitting into rival factions. They still are totally Singletary's players, and this remains a tightly bound team. In fact, Willis spent five minutes huddled with Alex Smith in the locker room after the game to make sure Smith knew the defense still supported him. But they're losing, including Sunday to a team that started the season 0-6. They're making errors. They're in flux. They're under pressure. They're antsy."

Gary Peterson of Bay Area News Group asks whether Smith regressed. Peterson: "The 49ers tried it the Shaun Hill way, a safety-first approach from a quarterback with modest skills. Smith offers just the opposite -- a bigger upside and more risk. The belief is that the risk can be managed, and it's difficult to argue considering Smith has played just 10 quarters of football the past two years."

Wrap-up: Titans 34, 49ers 27

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
7:39
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Niners president Jed York punctuated Mike Singletary's hiring by declaring that the team would no longer be sitting home come playoff time.

Singletary punctuated a Week 3 defeat at Minnesota by saying the 49ers would see the Vikings in the playoffs.

More recently, Singletary said he had "no doubt" about his team's status as a playoff team this season.

Four consecutive defeats and a 3-5 record suggest the 49ers are fooling themselves.

They have changed quarterbacks and flashed signs of improvement, but they've also forgotten how to win games. Talking about the playoffs will not deliver them there. Winning games will.

The season is slipping away for the 49ers. Alex Smith tossed three interceptions against the Titans, which should stifle talk about any need for offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye to open up the offense. The Titans' Chris Johnson topped 100 yards rushing against a proud 49ers defense. Vince Young also played efficiently, averaging 9.1 yards per attempt. Those are bad signs for San Francisco.

It's desperation time for the 49ers and Bears when they meet at Candlestick Park on Thursday night. The Bears have the better quarterback. They were humiliated Sunday, which could strengthen their resolve on a short week.

This division is the Cardinals' to lose.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The writing is on the Wall of Fame for 27 of the NFC West blog's wisest contributors.

Your name can join their names in Week 9. Simply predict outcomes and scores correctly for the following games involving NFC West teams:
  • Cardinals at Bears
  • Titans at 49ers
  • Lions at Seahawks

The only prediction I'll make right now is that some people will crack wise about the Rams' fate against the bye week.

The fine print: Those submitting predictions for "You called it" must pick the winner correctly for their scores to be considered. Scoring is easy to calculate. The difference between a 20-17 prediction and a 31-14 outcome would be 14 points. We would calculate this by adding the difference between 20 and 31 to the difference between 17 and 14.

The Wall of Fame presently features:

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On the air: 49ers in Week 9

November, 3, 2009
11/03/09
1:33
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Ian Eagle and Rich Gannon get the call for CBS when the 49ers face the Titans in Week 9 at Candlestick Park. Kickoff is at 1:15 p.m. PT.
Week Team Opp. Network Crew Crew Rank
1 SF ARI Fox Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Nischelle Turner
5 of 7
2 SF SEA Fox Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick
4 of 7
3 SF MIN Fox Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan
5 of 7
4 SF STL Fox Ron Pitts, John Lynch, Nischelle Turner
6 of 7
5 SF ATL Fox Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
2 of 7
7 SF HOU Fox Chris Myers, Brian Billick
4 of 7
8 SF IND Fox Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan
5 of 7
9 SF TEN CBS Ian Eagle, Rich Gannon
5 of 8

CBS has eight crews. Fox has seven. The networks rank their crews, with higher-ranked ones drawing more attractive assignments such as Super Bowls, playoff games and marquee matchups.

Also: 49ers in 2008.

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