While the San Francisco 49ers were impressive in most phases of the game during their Week 1 throttling of the Los Angeles Rams, there was one missing piece that stuck out like a sore thumb: Big plays in the passing game.
QB Blaine Gabbert was 22-of-35 for 170 yards, which is a paltry 4.9 yards per attempt, and 7.7 yards per completion. Most of his passes were short, underneath throws, and when Gabbert did try to go deep, he was often inaccurate. For example, the veteran quarterback had WR Jeremy Kerley wide open for what looked like a 46-yard touchdown, but he overthrew him badly.
Maybe it’s lack of rhythm or just an inability to hit on the longer throws, but the 49ers just don’t seem to be able to do much in the way of big plays right now. At some point though, they’re going to have to push the envelope and make things happen, or they’ll never be able to keep up with the upper echelon teams. It’s absolutely essential for San Francisco to start taking some shots down the field.
That’s where WR Torrey Smith comes in. Over his first five years in the NFL, Smith averaged 17.3 yards per reception. He led the league last year with 20.1 yards per grab and, even with limited targets, Smith still managed to score three touchdowns of 70-yards or more.
Despite his knack for big plays, Smith was pretty much invisible in Week 1, hauling in two of his six targets for 13 yards. The throws that came his way were of the short-to-medium range variety, and not once did the 49ers take a big shot with him down field. You could argue that because of the early lead and the way the defense was dominating, there was no need to take risks, but you have to keep your foot on the gas pedal to beat teams consistently in the NFL.
In Week 2, the 49ers will face the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers, and 2015 MVP QB Cam Newton is going to find the endzone (especially at home). The Panthers averaged 33 points per game in their own building in 2015, and were held under 27 points just once.
In an effort to match Carolina, it would benefit the Niners to have a more aggressive game plan offensively, and try to stretch the defense early on. This approach will also help open up lanes in the running game, and back the safeties up a bit. Smith is the perfect choice to go to in order to get this accomplished, as he’s the one real deep threat the 49ers have. If not, and San Francisco continues to try and play offense in a box, it could be a long day down South.