In this week's installment of Opposing Voice, we talk to Matt Maiocco, who covers the San Francisco 49ers for CSNBayArea.com and the television side as well.
Here's our Q&A with Maiocco.
1. Are the 49ers' special teams just that good, or were they lucky on Sunday? The 49ers certainly can’t rely on Ted Ginn to bail them out with returns for touchdowns every week like he did in the season-opening win against the Seahawks. Just a week earlier, Ginn had to accept a $1.2 million pay cut just to remain on the roster. And Ginn wasn’t even going to be the 49ers’ primary kick-returner until the day before the game. That duty was going be the assigned to rookie Kendall Hunter. But the 49ers decided to go with Ginn’s experience. His 102-yard kick return was exactly what the 49ers needed after Seattle pulled to within 19-17 with four minutes to play. Then, he provided the icing with a 55-yard punt return for a score just 59 seconds later. The 49ers should be improved this season as a whole on special teams based on the hiring of Brad Seely as special teams coordinator.
2. Alex Smith as a quarterback -- getting better? The thing about Smith is that he has made incremental improvements every season he remained healthy in his career. After spending his first six seasons with defensive head coaches, Smith finally has a head coach who not only has an offensive background but also played quarterback. Jim Harbaugh instituted a game plan that did not provide a lot of difficulty for Smith in the opener. Smith completed a bunch of high-percentage passes, connecting on 15 of 20 attempts, for just 124 yards. Smith is getting better, and for the first time he had a coach who will put him in situations where he has a better chance to succeed.
3. What has happened to Michael Crabtree? Crabtree was going along just fine in his first two NFL seasons — other than a contract stalemate that forced him to miss the first five games of his rookie year. His stats weren’t great, but he was producing decent numbers despite being on a team with a bad passing attack. Things took a turn for the worse, however, during the 49ers’ offseason workouts at San Jose State when he sustained a left foot fracture. He underwent surgery in July and last week was the first time he practiced. The foot is still very sore, so he played only 13 snaps in the season opener, catching just one pass for 4 yards. Crabtree will probably be limited for a while. Braylon Edwards and Joshua Morgan will likely remain as the starting wideouts with Crabtree’s contributions coming mostly as a slot receiver until he’s healthy enough to push for a starting job.
4. The 49ers had only 2.7 yards per carry. Was it the Seattle defense, or is Frank Gore slowing down? Because the 49ers offered no real threat with their passing game, Seattle loaded up the box to stop Gore. Of his 22 rushing attempts, Gore was stopped six times for no gain or a loss of yardage. It’s difficult to pin much blame on Gore. He simply didn’t have any room to run and a 49ers offensive line that prides itself on getting good push was unable to move the Seahawks off the ball.
5. How have the players responded to new coach Jim Harbaugh? The players weren’t too thrilled with the daily three-hour, padded practices during training camp, that’s for sure. But there is a level of respect that the players have for Harbaugh because of the fact he played 14 seasons in the NFL. Also, they know this guy can coach. He coaches the finest details. Mike Singletary did very little hands-on coaching. Harbaugh is very involved in practices, blowing his whistle like a drum major and spending a lot of time working with the quarterbacks. He is very demanding, but there is little doubt he has already earned a tremendous amount of respect.