I was pleased to be joined by David Fucillo from Niners Nation, our San Francisco 49ers affiliate, to preview Sunday's game. David talks about the 49ers' first quarter struggles on offense, whether wide receiver Michael Crabtree is considered a bust, which cornerback the Browns should attack, and more.
Chris: "Like the Browns, the 49ers have appeared to have some first quarter difficulties on offense, scoring only seven points in six games. What has been the reason for the 49ers’ slow starts to games?"
David: "That's a very good question. My only theory at this point would be the 49ers coaching staff uses the first quarter as a sort of feeling out period. The team does a great job making in-game adjustments, and I think that might be part of the reason for the lack of early scoring. The team is operating sort of like a boxer feeling things out in the early rounds. Even against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when the 49ers put up 48 points, only seven came in the first quarter. I think as the offense develops they'll get more first quarter points."
Chris: "Statistically, it looks as though quarterback Alex Smith has revived his career, even if he is not a player that opposing defenses fear. With that said, are there any aspects of Smith’s game that fans have complained about this season?"
David: "He seems to throw a bit high to some of his receivers on certain routes. This particularly happens on crossing routes. Some say it might be planned that way, but I honestly am not sure. His accuracy has been generally solid, but once in a while it can waiver a bit. I think some folks would prefer more big plays from the quarterback position. In reality, Jim Harbaugh and OC Greg Roman are placing Alex in a position to succeed. He has not had to make a ton of big plays, although he showed he could take over a bit when the 49ers came back against the Eagles. The 49ers are built on their rushing attack and Alex Smith is meant to complement that."
Chris: "It is still early, but what is the verdict on wide receiver Michael Crabtree? For being a first-rounder, are people calling him a bust?"
David: "Some folks throw out the bust word but I don't think that's particularly fair. He has not lived up to many expectations but I would not say he is a bust. He has dealt with foot injuries that have slowed him down and injuries in general have cost him the last two training camps. He may never be a big time game-breaker like a Larry Fitzgerald, but he can make plays. He still has to establish some consistency, but I don't think it is necessary to give up on him yet. This Sunday, if Braylon Edwards returns to action, Crabtree would operate as an excellent complement to Edwards ability to stretch the field. Crabtree is a guy that will run a lot of quick crossing routes and will generally help move the chains when he is on his game."
Chris: "Is there a certain cornerback that opposing quarterbacks have attacked to have success in the passing game this season? Also, some Browns fans had wanted to sign safety Donte Whitner in the offseason. How has he been?"
David: "Of the 49ers starting corners, Tarell Brown is the guy more teams have picked on. Carlos Rogers has performed at a high level and teams are more inclined to go after Brown. He makes plays but he also gives up a decent amount of plays. I wouldn't say he is boom or bust, but he definitely has a good mix of both good and bad plays throughout a given game. The 49ers have also recently given more playing time to rookie Chris Culliver (third round pick). Injuries led to Brown getting into the starting lineup and Culliver becoming the third corner. Culliver has been quite solid thus far, but I would imagine the Browns will try to test him.
Donte Whitner has been excellent in run support and decent enough in pass coverage. He is not a great coverage safety. He can help out over the top but if the Browns were ever able to isolate him in a one-on-one passing matchup, I would be a bit concerned. But for the role he has in this defense, he does very solid work."
Chris: "I was a big fan of special teams ace Blake Costanzo, who Brad Seely brought over with him from Cleveland. Has Costanzo remained a beast on special teams in San Francisco?"
David: "Costanzo and the entire special teams have been fairly beastly. The 49ers are among the league leaders when it comes to their punt and kick coverage units. It's hard to fully assess individual special teams players, but given that the units are performing so well, everybody involved deserves praise. It should make for an interesting matchup when Josh Cribbs is attempting returns."
Once again, I'd like to thank David for taking the time to answer my questions.