The 49ers Lackluster Passing Attack May Be Their Achilles’ Heel
By Jerrell Richardson
San Francisco’s recent defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings was a complete team effort. However, after scoring three points in the first half and managing only 13 points for the game despite being set up twice with short fields in the second half, the offense clearly needs to play better. Recognizing this problem has been the focus this week while the team prepares for the New York Jets. It’s clear that despite their recent efforts, there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the passing game in particular.
The offensive ineptitude was a vicious cycle against the Vikings. After falling behind early, they had to rely on the pass more then usual and ignored their staple, the run. Once they hit some speed bumps in the passing game, they tried to go back to the run, but more often than not the team found themselves in 3rd-and-long situations. By putting themselves in obvious passing downs, they were never able to keep the Vikings defense off balance. The Vikings weren’t in their huddle, but it was pretty obvious what San Francisco was doing from down to down as they really had no choice based on the down and distance. Staying one dimensional and predictable is fine if you have the ability to move the ball even when the other team knows what you are doing, but clearly San Francisco, at this point, can’t turn to their passing game to be their main focus to move the chains.
Practice Makes Perfect
The focus in the off season was to bring in wide receivers to avoid this type of performance, but a fluid passing attack takes repetition and Alex Smith and some of his receivers will admit that they are still working on it. There are small glimpses of the potential of the passing game, as evident by Smith’s 22-yard pass last week to Mario Mannigham that was thrown before the receiver was looking for the ball. In every game this season, the two have had their moments. Randy Moss, the team’s other new receiver, is in the same boat as Mannigham, as he and Smith just missed connecting on a touchdown in the first half against the Vikings. Moss is expected to be the consistent down field target that was not present in the team’s offense last year.
Once Smith can develop the same chemistry with Moss and Mannigham that he has developed with Michael Crabtree, then the offense will be closer to the unit that, on paper, appears as explosive as any in the NFL. In the meantime, Crabtree will play the role of Smith’s safety blanket. The preseason action of both Moss and Mannigham were very limited, as Mannigham dealt with the passing of his grandfather and Moss just didn’t see a lot of time on the field, so when considering that Smith has only played three games with them, they are right on schedule.
Missing In Action
Yet to make their appearances are rookie running back LaMichael James and rookie wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. Both were brought to the team to add some firepower, so their absence is more puzzling after a game in which the offense struggles. Jenkins may be not living up to the hype, as the team recently signed another wide receiver, Ricardo Lockett, to the practice squad. For a team already carrying six receivers, this move may point to someone not working out.
As with any sport, new pieces take time to fit together, so there is no reason to panic — Smith and his receivers still need more time. Working fin their favor is that the running game, defense and special teams should be able to hold down the fort until all aspects of the team can be relied upon to lead the team to the playoffs and beyond.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.