Football: 49ers adjusting to better aerial weapons
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) – Circumstances and personnel are leading the struggling San Francisco 49ers to change their offensive approach.
Proclaiming to be a power-rushing team from the start this season, the 49ers could be going airborne more often now that quarterback Alex Smith and rookie wide receiver Michael Crabtree have joined the huddle.
Smith sparked a second-half comeback with three touchdown passes and Crabtree made an impressive NFL debut with five receptions last week during a 24-21 loss to the Houston Texans that dropped the 49ers to 3-3 and out of first place in the NFC West for the first time this season.
Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said Thursday that the 49ers won’t change their philosophy despite a two-game losing streak and an offense that ranks 29th in the NFL. But the team will adjust its attack and game plan to better take advantage of its passing weapons.
“We’re not going to be stubborn and try to jam a square peg into a round hole,” Raye said. “What we are striving to do all along is to create balance. I think (more passing) is an apt description of where we would like to go with the changes that we’ve made.”
Smith entered last week’s game at halftime in place of Shaun Hill, who led the 49ers to a 3-1 start but produced just 10 points in his next six quarters of action before the 49ers turned to their second option.
Playing for the first time in almost two years, Smith completed 15 of 22 passes for 206 yards to rally San Francisco from a 21-0 halftime deficit. The former No. 1 overall draft pick connected with tight end Vernon Davis on touchdown passes of 29, 14 and 23 yards.
Smith adds a new dimension to the offense, giving the 49ers an ability to go downfield with their passing game that wasn’t there with Hill at the controls.
“If I can bring anything extra to the table, and I guess I might, then all the better,” Smith said. “We have to be able to throw the ball, but in the end you have to be balanced and able to do everything. But I think we have a big opportunity in front of us with the guys that we have in this huddle.”
Davis has emerged as the 49ers’ top target with 29 catches and leads the NFL with six touchdown receptions. With Houston forced to give more attention to Crabtree and San Francisco’s wideouts, the Texans tried to cover Davis with a linebacker and he was free to roam over the middle and create big plays.
The 49ers also have productive receiving weapons in veteran Isaac Bruce and youngster Josh Morgan, who has averaged 15.5 yards on his 17 catches.
Running back Frank Gore, who leads the team with 273 yards rushing, was San Francisco’s leader in receptions with 61 in 2006 and 53 in 2007.
The 49ers suddenly have the potential for a quick-strike offense built around first-round talents such as Smith, Davis and Crabtree all players who were among the first 10 selections in the years they were drafted.
“I think we have the full package,” Crabtree said. “We have the talent to be whatever we want to be. We just need to put things together and go out and execute.”
The early emergence of Crabtree seemed to help San Francisco’s execution on offense, opening the passing lanes for other receiving targets and giving the 49ers another option who can produce against man coverage.
Smith developed a quick rapport with Crabtree, who moved the chains three times with third-down receptions and displayed the ability to be the go-to guy at receiver the 49ers have been looking for since Terrell Owens left after the 2003 season.
“He has good burst off the line and demonstrated the ability to catch the ball when he’s in close confrontation with a defensive back,” Raye said. “I think it will help us on the edge, and the horizontal stretch of the defense will give us another outlet to be able to get the ball and make (opponents) defend the whole field.”