Just finished watching the replay of Thursday night's game, and I paid close attention to Alex Smith's performance. How'd he do? I'd have to agree with Mike Singletary who said yesterday he thought Smith "did a good job." Sunday against the Titans, I don't think you could have said that. The difference in that game was the four turnovers, three of which could be blamed, at least partially, on Smith. In Thursday's game, Smith threw the ball away twice but he was otherwise on target with his throws. A lot of commenters have criticized him for settling on short screens or dump offs instead of going downfield more. All of those instances were either designed plays or plays in which Smith was dealing with a heavy pass rush. The reason Smith's numbers were so modest was not because Smith played poorly but because the game plan became very cautious in the second half.
I thought he could have done three things better:
1.) On the play after Aubrayo Franklin's interception, Smith holds the ball too long and takes a five-yard sack. He didn't have a lot of time to throw, but enough time to throw the ball away.
2.) On the second-quarter interception, the ball is underthrown. Still, Michael Crabtree needs to do a better job of contesting that pass. Smith said after the game that the play showed that he and Crabtree need a lot more work on timing.
3.) After the 49ers drive to the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter, Smith looks to his left, sees no one is open and throws the ball away. He is dealing with a pretty heavy pass rush, but if he drifts to his right, he could have bought another second and found Vernon Davis and Josh Morgan open on the right side of the end zone.
Otherwise I thought Smith did a good job of improvising. On the same drive that he takes that sack, he is flushed out of the pocket on third down by pressure to his right. He shows nice athleticism by drifting to the left and throws on target to Frank Gore, who runs for a first down. That play overcomes the sack on first down and a Vernon Davis false start on second down.
Smith's flip to Michael Robinson on the 49ers' final drive also showed good awareness. Smith again is dealing with pressure from his right - a theme all night - and he shovels a pass to Robinson, who has a ton of green grass ahead of him. Robinson obviously is aware of this, and he starts running before he secures the ball. He catches it, but stumbles and gains only four yards. Catch it cleanly and, at the very least, the 49ers end that drive with a field goal.
Smith had seven incompletions on the night. They were:
1.) Out of bounds on 25-yard toss to Crabtree on the first offensive snap of the game. If the officials originally had ruled that a catch, would it have been overturned?
2.) Drop by Crabtree at the 4-yard line.
3.) Blitzing Bears linebacker deflected pass at the line of scrimmage.
4.) Interception on pass to Crabtree.
5.) Josh Morgan slips on a third-down out pattern.
6.) Smith rolls left and throws the ball out of bounds. Davis is the closest receiver
7.) Smith throws the ball out of bounds in the end zone.
I thought Barry Sims had another good game at left tackle ... Singletary also was correct when he said that although the defense had no sacks, pressure contributed to three of Cutler's five interceptions ... Morgan needs to become a more reliable receiver. But he is a very good run blocker. He helped spring Gore on a couple of big runs, and he recovered Gore's fumble on the 49ers' field-goal drive because he was in the vicinity blocking downfield. ... The two best Bears were Adewale Ogunleye, who was perhaps inspired by Vernon Davis, and Lance Briggs. A Patrick Willis-Briggs duo would have been deadly, but I wonder how they would have used Briggs on third downs. The 49ers' "Ted" linebacker usually comes off the field ... Eric Heitmann and David Baas both had great blocks on Gore's 14-yard touchdown run ... Matt Wilhelm looked like he had very fresh legs in substituting for Takeo Spikes, who has been nicked in recent weeks.
Some of you have been wondering about Aubrayo Franklin's contract status. Franklin is in the final year of his contract, and he does not seem to be interested in an extension. He wants to see what he can fetch on the open market. He picked a good game - national television - to have his first career interception. What are the 49ers' chances of re-signing him? Put it at 50-50 ...
-- Matt Barrows