Talk about the change back to Alex Smith. Did his time on the bench help him become a better player?
I think the bench this season helped him become a better player. The last two seasons were riddled with shoulder injuries and a fairly dysfunctional relationship with Mike Nolan. After the season, Smith had to decide whether to leave town or renegotiate his deal with the 49ers. Smith decided to stick around claiming unfinished business. I think one could get an idea of his mental toughness, especially considering how much money he had put away in the initial contract, and the fact that he could have sat and learned for a couple years somewhere else.
Sitting to start this season might have ended up being the best thing for him. He was on yet another offensive coordinator, but after Hill won the job, Smith was able to sit back and learn the playbook without the pressure of being shoved into the starting position right away. He came in two weeks ago in the loss at Houston and put together some of his best football as a pro in one half. He struggled at times last week against Indianapolis, but showed some of the signs of continuing to step forward. It's been a long, strange trip, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the course of the season. He's got the talent, and maybe it's all finally coming together for him.
What do you see as Mike Singletary's strengths and weaknesses as a coach?
His strengths are actually rather varied. He's a great motivator, having worked as a motivational speaker before starting his coaching career. He seems to know what buttons to press with his players, with Vernon Davis being the perfect example.
Davis has always been a cocky, and sometimes immature, player and Mike Nolan seemed to let him get away with it. Singletary sent him to the locker room his first game as head coach and Vernon Davis has behaved himself ever since. More importantly, Davis has become a team leader (named co-captain) and his on-field performance is matching his bragging.
When Singletary took over, and again at the beginning of this season, he seemed to be stating that he had a plan and the team was going to follow that plan. Many might view him as a bit stubborn because of that. In reality, he's shown an ability to be highly flexible without being too reactionary. He gave Shaun Hill plenty of time to make plays, and finally pulled the plug. He initially was going to slowly work Michael Crabtree into the lineup, but after a bye week filled with great practices, he named him a starter. Both moves have worked out fairly well. Singletary has a fairly good sense of timing in that manner.
The biggest weakness is in his game management. And it's not that he's always bad, but rather he shows a lot of inconsistency. The team has had issues with timeouts and play-calling issues. A lot of times blame could fall to the players or assistant coaches, but the buck does stop with the head coach, so Singletary takes the blame. Other than that, 49ers fans still love Mike Singletary. He's slowly building himself into a great coach, but as with any new coach, it takes time to fully understand the way things operate.
The 49ers are a swarming style of defense. They are consistently attacking and this aggression has allowed them to contain some great running backs. The big plus for them has been that most of their defensive players are solid open field tacklers. Of course, losing Nate Clements for the next two months hurts them as I strongly believe he's one of the best (if not the best) at tackling running backs in the open field.
However, the team still retains guys like Patrick Willis, Michael Lewis, Aubrayo Franklin, and many others. If they can continue their attacking ways, I think they certainly have the potential to stop Chris Johnson. Johnson has proven to be human at times this season. If I had to make a prediction, I could see Johnson finishing with 80 or so yards but on 20-25 carries so not a huge ypc.
I keep reading about how weak your offensive line is. Is this true? Where is the biggest weakness in the line?
The offensive line has had a whole bunch of problems due to a combination of poor play and injuries. The team's week 1 right tackle was demoted a couple weeks ago and actually moved to right guard to split time with the existing right guard. The player who replaced the RT subsequently injured his shoulder and was lost for the season, so the former RT had to move back last week. Then, LT Joe Staley, a staple on the line in just his second season was lost this week for 6 weeks with a shoulder injury. Barry Sims played well against the Colts and Dwight Freeney, but we'll see if he can show any kind of consistency this week. The right side has been the primary weakness, but given the two tackle injuries and subsequent shuffling, it's kind of hard to tell what exactly the biggest weakness is at this point.
I'm not all that creative so we'll go something simple like, "Chris Johnson runs into 49ers wall." Earlier this week I posted about how the game would come down to the battle of Chris Johnson versus the 49ers rush defense. I'm thinking (hoping?) for a 49ers win and I think it will come down to the 49ers taking care of business against Chris Johnson.
A big thanks to Fooch for doing this. As always, head over there for his questions with my answers.