Through 5 weeks the 49ers are 4-1 and very easily could have been 5-0 if not for an OT loss to the Cowboys. Jim Harbaugh has turned a team favored the last 3 offseason’s to finally get over the hump and win the NFC West that ultimately ended in disappointment into legit contenders in the NFC this season. Early in the offseason Harbaugh backed Alex Smith as his Quarterback, to the point that the NFL warned the 49ers over commenting to much on Smith, a free agent at the time. Many were upset with the decision, Harbaugh continued to showed confidence in Smith and never backed off his decision to bring back Smith. Even after drafting Colin Kaepernick in the 2nd round it was never really a competition for the starting job, it was Smith’s all along.
Smith in his previous 6 seasons did little to inspire confidence in 49er faithful and the fan base was iffy at best on the decision. This season Alex has been terrific, as he has been one of the best against the blitz and going into Monday Night’s game is ranked 3rd in the NFL in passer rating through week 5 behind only Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers. The last time Smith played even close to this level is when Norv Turner was the Offensive Coordinator. Anybody questioning the Smith reunion now? I know I’m not.
The 49ers offense is creative, and never predictable despite a continued emphasis on the power running game. Just like the Mike Nolan and Mike Singleary regimes the Jim Harbaugh regime has employed plenty of the power running game. So much so in past seasons that it was extremely obvious when the 49ers were running power. Frank Gore recently commented that teams would openly call it out, hard to run through 8 or 9 guys in a box that know your coming. Still this season the team is playing to Gore’s strength which when ran right is the power run. Only now coaches Greg Roman and Harbaugh have employed more motion, a diverse personnel lineup and a big extra Fullback at times in DL Isaac Sopoaga or OL Adam Snyder.
The team goes into each week with a different game plan, specific to it’s opponent and has adjusted when necessary. Past regimes especially Mike Singletary’s took on a stubborn we WILL beat you with “fhysical” smash mouth football (whether it works or not!) it did not work. Harbaugh has remained vanilla in some games, shying away from going downfield in the passing game seemingly protecting Alex Smith and the offense from mistakes. He has done what it takes to win in others, he opened up the offense the last 2 weeks a sign the offense is evolving, taking on an identity, and utilizing it’s strengths.
What it this team’s identity, specifically the offensive identity? While it’s not fully known this early in the season it looks to be one of a power running team that likes to keep teams off balance with counters and sweeps with their speedy rookie runner Kendall Hunter countering veteran star Frank Gore as the centerpiece. The passing game is one of patience; the QB goes through quick progressions and checks down to a RB or TE if nothing develops downfield. We won’t know until the offense has more time to jell and the WRs, specifically Braylon Edwards are healthy what exactly Harbaugh has up his sleeve for this passing game. As his confidence in Alex Smith and the OL (which played brilliantly vs. the Bucs on Sunday) grows and the players understanding of Harbaugh’s version of the West Coast Offense develops you can expect the playbook to open up even more and get more and more creative and more exciting.
“Everybody’s in here. It’s unusual to come here on a Monday and see all these guys here so that’s the difference,” Walker said. “We want to be here. Want to be here and talk about the win and see what we can do better. We’ve all been watching film and it’s like, ‘We gotta do this better, do that better’ so it’s a turnaround from six years ago being here. It’s just different. The vibe is different. It’s like a family now, and if we keep building on that I think we’re going to be great.”
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