Torrey Smith is wondering where his “go” went.
The wide receiver’s most memorable play as a 49er came one year ago in Chicago when he caught a 71-yard touchdown pass in overtime for the team’s only road win of 2015. The score came on a go route, in which Smith simply takes off as fast as he can from the line of scrimmage with the hope that the ball arrives before the approaching safety.
It’s the route Smith, who ran his 40-yard dash in 2011 in 4.41 seconds, was drafted to run and one in which he and his former quarterback, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, had particularly good chemistry.
“We just haven’t thrown ’em,” Smith said. “That’s kind of what I do. It’s not that (Chip Kelly) hasn’t called them, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t come my way yet. I don’t think I’ve had a single one thrown to me. And if you’d have bet me that, I probably would have bet my kid on that. But we still have some time; hopefully we can get something going there.”
Smith’s deep-ball drought is symptomatic of the 49ers’ struggles at wide receiver.
The team’s leading player at the position, Jeremy Kerley, ranks 74th among NFL pass catchers in receiving yards. Smith, who last year signed a five-year, $40 million free-agent deal, is fifth on his own team in receiving yards behind Kerley, tight end Vance McDonald, wide receiver Quinton Patton and tight end Garrett Celek.
After setting career lows last year in catches and receiving yards – 33 for 663 yards – he is on pace to finish well below both marks this year. His per-catch average, 13.4 yards, also is the most modest of his six-year career.
He and quarterback Colin Kaepernick connected on a 53-yard catch-and-run touchdown in Buffalo earlier this year, Smith’s longest play of 2016. But that’s his only play of 40 yards or more this season, and he has just four of 20 or more yards.
Compare that to 2013 in Baltimore when Smith finished with 20 catches of 20-plus yards and eight beyond 40 yards. Even last season with San Francisco, Smith averaged 20.1 yards a reception, which led the NFL among players with at least 20 catches.
One of the reasons for Smith’s flatlining numbers this season may be that with so few 49ers offensive weapons, defenses can focus on the most notable one: Smith.
His four-year tenure in Baltimore was spent with other accomplished receivers like Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith and Jacoby Jones, and with running back Ray Rice, who averaged 65 catches a season from 2011 to 2013. Last year with the 49ers, Smith again had Boldin to attract the attention of defensive backs.
“I think he’s faced some good corners and they’ve done a good job against him and we haven’t been able to connect with him,” Kelly said when asked about Smith’s lack of big plays. “That would be nice if we could do that, but we haven’t been able to do that.”
Smith, however, has maintained that defenses haven’t removed him as an option.
“You can go look at the film,” he said earlier this season. “I’ve been getting open.”
He’s had fewer highlights since he joined the 49ers, but at least one of them was distinct. Last year’s catch against the Bears was the first and only game-ending touchdown of his career.
“I’ve scored a few game-winning touchdowns since I’ve been in the league and made huge plays at the end of the game to kind of seal (a win) or get us in position,” he said. “But a walk-off – that was pretty sweet. Hopefully it doesn’t come down to that (Sunday) and we can win in four quarters.”