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Alex Smith thriving as 49ers' offense does 180

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Posted Dec. 07, 2009 @ 5:04 p.m.
Updated Oct. 06, 2010 @ 7:27 p.m.
By Michael Blunda

Prior to the start of the season, the one term we all heard to describe the 49ers' offense in 2009 was this: run heavy. New coordinator Jimmy Raye made it known that under his watch, the Niners would feed the ball to RB Frank Gore early and often, running most of the time and using a short passing game with QB Shaun Hill. It was great news for Gore owners, but it dampened the prospects of anyone involved in the San Fran passing attack.

For the first part of the season, Raye's promise held true. The 49ers were committed to the ground game with Gore and, when he was hurt, Glen Coffee. But things began to change when QB Alex Smith played well in relief in Week Seven and took over the starting job the following game. With Smith having a better arm and giving the offense more options than Hill did, Raye's philosophy underwent a change. And in recent weeks, the "O" has practically done a 180.

Over the past three games, San Fran has suddenly turned into a pass-first attack, with Gore sometimes becoming an afterthought. In that span, Gore has totaled just 32 carries for 117 yards and zero TDs, a far cry from where he was at early in the season. He has somewhat salvaged his numbers in those three contests by catching two scores, but nonetheless, he's clearly taken a backseat to the passing game.

Not shockingly, Gore's decline has coincided with the rise of Smith, who's been a very solid fantasy player as of late. His last three outings have produced an impressive 769 yards, seven TDs and one INT. Smith has thrived since Raye started implementing more shotgun spread formations into the playbook, and there's no reason his play should fall off down the stretch. With matchups against the Cardinals, Lions and Rams still left, Smith could wind up being a fantasy playoff star.

Furthermore, Smith's emergence has been good news for WRs like Michael Crabtree, who has developed into a decent starting option in larger leagues, and Josh Morgan, who had 56 yards and a TD last week. But of course, no one has benefited more than TE Vernon Davis, who was good with Hill under center but has been even better since Smith took over. In the last three games, he has a tremendous 18 catches for 288 yards and three TDs. Tied for the league lead with 10 TD catches on the season, he's truly become an elite fantasy TE.

So while Gore owners might have reason to be worried during the fantasy playoffs, those with Smith or Davis on their rosters should be thrilled, as that duo could help lead some owners to the fantasy winner's circle.

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