49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

November 9, 2009
Blame game on Niners four turnovers

The reason why the 49ers lost Sunday to the Titans: four turnovers that Tennessee converted into 24 points. This is how they went down and who was to blame ...

1Q. Alex Smith is intercepted by Titans cornerback Rod Hood and returned 43 yards to the SF 24 yard line. Six plays later, Vince Young runs the ball in from seven yards for a 10-3 Titans lead.

Facing third and eight, Smith gets some inside pressure from a stunting defensive tackle but the offensive line does a decent job of blocking and Smith has time to throw. He targets Michael Crabtree, who is running an out eight yards past the first-down marker. Though the pass is on target, it's thrown far too late. Safety Michael Griffin has time to get in front of the pass and he tips it up to Hood. Blame: It's a good play by the Titans, but one that would have been avoided if Smith hadn't locked in on Crabtree and thrown late.

3Q: Titans defensive end Jacob Ford knocks the ball from Smith's hands at the SF 32. It's recovered at the 36, and seven plays later Chris Johnson darts in for a 1-yard touchdown that ties the game at 17-17.

Smith had just been sacked up the middle by blitzing safety Chris Hope, who split the gap between the right guard and center. Running back Frank Gore wasn't able to pick up Hope. Facing 2nd and 18, Smith gets pressure from his right and begins drifting to his left. The problem is that right tackle Adam Snyder allows Ford to get past him to the inside, giving the defensive end a clear shot to the quarterback. The crown of Ford's helmet jars the ball loose as Smith is beginning his wind-up. Blame: Snyder gets beat.

4Q: Down four points with 6:24 left, Smith is intercepted by Hope at the SF 39. Seven plays later, the Titans kick a 28-yard field goal that gives them a seven-point lead.

This is perhaps the most disturbing of Smith's interceptions because he not only stares down his receiver, Josh Morgan, he doesn't see Hope lurking on top of the play. Perhaps Smith thought Hope would peel off and follow Vernon Davis who is streaking upfield. The safety instead follows Smith's eyes, which lead him to Morgan and an easy interception. Blame: Smith locks in on Morgan.

4Q: The 49ers get the ball back with 3 min to play. On first down, Smith's pass is batted in the air, pulled down by cornerback Cortland Finnegan and run in for a 39-yard touchdown.

Smith again is looking for Morgan on the play, and it is clear by earlier incompletions that the two didn't exactly have good chemistry throughout the game. This time Smith doesn't lock in, although it seems like he knows from the snap that he will go to Morgan. He purposefully looks to his left first then goes right to Morgan, who is seven yards deep. Morgan has no separation from Vincent Fuller, who reaches over Morgan's shoulder to knock the ball in the air. Morgan probably should have sensed that Fuller was right behind him and come back for the ball. The officials also could have called pass interference. The bottom line is that Morgan wasn't open, and the ball shouldn't have been thrown. Blame: Morgan and Smith.

There was one other play I thought was critical. It came on Johnson's second touchdown of the day, this one from two yards out. The Titans were facing 4th and inches on the play, and if the 49ers had stopped them they would have sustained a 20-17 lead and gotten a big momentum shift. On the play, Vince Young pitches wide left to Johnson, who has a fullback ahead of him. The 49ers appear to have sniffed it out perfectly. Both Parys Haralson and Mark Roman, subbing for injured Michael Lewis, are on that side. Haralson looks like he has a perfect angle but isn't fast enough to head off Johnson at the sideline. Roman, meanwhile, hesitates initially and allows himself to be blocked deep into the end zone by the fullback - a weak effort. The only player who gets a solid hit on Johnson is Patrick Willis, who initially is held up by a tight end but who gets free and drills Johnson as he crosses the goal line.

-- Matt Barrows

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Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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