Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A closer look at Alex Smith's incompletions in Green Bay

Scott Warfe (East Bay Sports Guy) footed the bill for BASG writers to have access to NFL Rewind, an online package for watching any NFL game. I took the opportunity last night to rewatch the 49ers game, focusing on the offense, so I could see why San Francisco was so effective moving the ball.

One of the best parts about the package is the coach's film option: it allows you to see the whole field on every play instead of following the ball like the national broadcasts force you to. You can really understand how plays develop from that angle. I paid close attention to Alex Smith's pre-throw reads to better understand his decision making process.

Smith finished his day 20-26 for 211 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His completion percentage was an astounding 76.9. Compare that to Aaron Rodgers, who went 30-44 with 303 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Rodgers may have passed for 89 more yards, but he also threw the ball 18 more times. His completion percentage: 68.1.

Smith had six incompletions on the day. Three of them were passes intended to Delanie Walker, two were passes to Crabtree, and one was targeted for Vernon Davis. What I discovered about these incompletions make Smith's day that much more impressive.

The three Walker passes

With the exception of left tackle Joe Staley (who struggled with Clay Mathews after splitting his nose open on the first play), Walker had the most disappointing performance of any 49er on Sunday. He ended up absent from the box score despite being targeted on three different throws. Two balls were thrown right into his numbers, bouncing off of his chest incomplete. The last pass saw Walker covered pretty soundly; Smith hit him with an outside shoulder throw that was a little high, but Walker tried to catch it with one hand and the pass fell incomplete. It was a fairly accurate throw, not an uncatchable ball by any means.

Two passes to Crabtree

As the second quarter neared closing, the 49ers inserted Colin Kaepernick for a designed run that netted 17 yards. Smith was put back in the game and he attempted two passes before they brought David Akers in for what ended up being a NFL record-tying 63-yard field goal. They ran the same play on both downs: Michael Crabtree ran sideline routes and Smith, seeing that the cornerback had Crabtree well covered on both plays, threw the balls high and well out of bounds. He took the safe route; it didn't get them any closer to the uprights, but it also ensured that the ball wouldn't be turned over. And besides, Akers didn't end up needing the extra yardage after all.

The Vernon Davis pass

Smith's last incompletion came early in the third quarter. Davis ran his route out of a three point stance, cutting between the two inside linebackers and underneath the Packers' safety. While running his route, Davis got bumped by both linebackers, interfering with the timing of the pass. The safety fell in to cover Davis while Smith threw the pass to a location slightly ahead of where Davis could catch it. The ball hit off of the tight end’s hands while another Packers' defending was bearing down on him; he likely would have been crushed had he caught it. Nevertheless, this represented the sixth and final incompletion on Smith's stat line.

The quarterback was bailed out by a couple of nice catches by receivers when he threw balls high – a pass to Mario Manningham on the sideline and one jumping first quarter catch by Randy Moss come to mind. This is something to consider – as good as Smith was, he did still had some flaws in his game. But as a whole, Smith had an excellent day under center; both on the throws that were caught and those that weren't.

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