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Ask Niners Nation: On The 49ers Offense

Fooch, of Niners Nation fame, answered my questions about the San Francisco 49ers as they travel to Lambeau to face the Green Bay Packers. In the first installment, I discuss the state of their offense. They've had two major changes over the past few games. QB Troy Smith has become the starter, and they've lost RB Frank Gore for the season.

Acme Packing Company: How's the QB Troy Smith era so far? He's followed up two statistically good games with two statistically bad ones. Do you see something in him, or is he just a stop-gap?
Fooch: The Troy Smith era is off to an up and down start. He's flashed considerable particular with his mobility and ability to escape pressure. At the same time, he has problems when defenses keep him contained in the pocket. He operates better on roll outs when he can create better passing lanes. As a shorter QB he needs that to avoid some of the deflections that can hurt shorter passers. Of course he's 6'0, so short is contextual.

His other problem has been holding onto the ball too long when he should decide to either throw it away or tuck it and run. Many of his sacks this season have been as a result of his own delay in making a decision. If the Packers can force him to go further through his progressions, Clay Matthews and company would have a decent shot at getting to him.

As far as long term is concerned, I really don't know at this point. I think the team will make an effort to re-sign him to at the very least compete for the starting job next camp. Of course, the question then becomes what the 49ers do in the draft because free agency is weak at the QB position this year. I honestly have no idea what the 49ers long term plans are at QB, which is a little frightening, but also kind of nice to just sort of ignore it for now. The job is there for Troy Smith to take but I can honestly say I have no clue how this whole mess is gonna play out.
APC: How will the 49ers offense look without Frank Gore? 
Fooch: The 49ers will utilize Brian Westbrook and Anthony Dixon in a bit of a committee with Westbrook getting more of the carries. However, Coach Singletary has indicated that the team will try and limit his carries a little bit given his injury history, which means the rookie Dixon might end up with 10-15 per game. The 49ers and the media have already begun referring to it a bit as Thunder and Lightning like what the Giants had with Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs.

The 49ers had a lot of success running the ball against the Cardinals and I'd imagine the 49ers will do everything they can to establish the running game. Although this presents a situation for the 49ers to mix things up on offense, I actually wouldn't be surprised if they didn't make many changes but just substituted Westbrook and Dixon for the Gore role. The problem with that decision is that Westbrook had just as much help from great o-line play as anything else. He still has some moves but without a strong o-line performance he doesn't reach the numbers he did. And the 49ers find themselves with numerous injuries. But I'll save that for the next question....
APC: The offensive line was pretty good against the Cardinals. How are your rookies, Iupati and Davis, playing, and how has the offensive line played overall?
Fooch: Davis and Iupati are having up and down seasons as one would expect from rookies. Davis' struggles have been a bit more obvious since he's out on an island at right tackle, whereas Iupati is hidden a bit more inside at his guard position. At the same time, both have had numerous instances where they showed why the 49ers went with two offensive linemen in the first round. They both have plenty to work on to develop at the level the 49ers are expecting, but I'm willing to be patient.

Overall the offensive line has been pretty up and down. Left tackle Joe Staley is out indefinitely with a fractured fibula, which leaves the 49ers with Barry Sims starting there. He was solid in relief of an injured Staley last year, but he's getting up there in age. Center David Baas suffered a concussion on Monday and did not participate in practice today (Wednesday). If he's out the 49ers have to go with backup Tony Wragge and don't have a normal backup center at that point. Throw in Chilo Rachal's struggles at right guard and the offensive line has a whole lot of question marks. They performed well against the Cardinals, but it's safe to say Arizona has given up on the season.

It's safe to say this weekend will really be a huge test for the 49ers offensive line.