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49ers Maintain Ball Security Emphasis

Posted Sep 12, 2012

If preparation is the best thing going for the San Francisco 49ers, ball security might be a close second.

The 49ers extended a franchise record of consecutive regular season quarters without a turnover to 26 in a 30-22, Week 1 win over Green Bay.

Alex Smith also broke Steve Young’s franchise record of consecutive passes without an interception when he completed a fourth-quarter pass to fullback Bruce Miller. Smith now has 185 passes without an interception.

“It’s a great streak to have,” Jim Harbaugh said on Wednesday. “That’s one that any quarterback, any quarterback, would be proud to have. And a lot goes into that. Talent. Taking care of the ball. Knowing where everybody is on the field. Knowing defenses. And that’s a heck of a streak. Like to keep that one going.”

The 49ers will have Smith’s no-interception streak alive against a Detroit Lions team that did not force any turnovers in a Week 1 comeback victory over the St. Louis Rams.

Smith didn’t take all the credit for breaking a 49ers record held previously by two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Young and Joe Montana. Instead, Smith shared the praise.

“Throwing the football is – obviously quarterbacks get the attention, but very much a team thing,” said Smith, who completed 20 of 26 passes for 211 yards against the Packers. “A lot (has) to do with protection up front. Stepping into clean pockets, throwing. A lot to do with the guys outside, running good routes, making strong catches, even sometimes being defenders when it’s not what we look for and the ball goes up. So, a lot goes into it, definitely a team statistic.”

Smith was sacked four times last week and still held on the ball despite being slapped on the wrist by blitzing safety Charles Woodson.

San Francisco’s linemen have taken notice of their quarterback’s pocket presence and ability to hold the football tightly when defenders are trying their best to knock it loose.

“You like a quarterback who can protect the ball,” center Jonathan Goodwin said. “It’s good to see your quarterback in the pocket being able to secure the ball no matter what.”

The team-wide effort of protecting the football is equally important to Goodwin, the man responsible for snapping the ball cleanly on every offensive play.

“We all take a lot of pride in it,” Goodwin said of the team’s 6.5 consecutive games without a turnover. “The easiest way to lose games in this league is turnovers. It’s something we definitely take a lot of pride in and is something we don’t want to see.”

The Lions forced two turnovers on their home turf when the teams met Week 6 of last season. Despite Smith losing a fumble on the game’s first offensive snap and later overthrowing Michael Crabtree for an interception, the quarterback led the 49ers on an eight-play, game-winning scoring drive that was finished with a memorable 6-yard touchdown pass to Delanie Walker on fourth down.

The fact that the 49ers have not turned the ball over in the regular season for some time isn’t lost on the coaching staff, which is taking a serious approach when it comes to ball security.

“We’re not superstitious,” Harbaugh said about the positive trend. “In fact, we’re superstitious about not being superstitious. As far as taking care of the ball though, that’s ball security. And how that relates to your team being successful, we’re very serious about that.”

Protection extends to the backs and wideouts. Harbaugh praised running backs coach Tom Rathman for being a stickler when it comes to proper technique with the football in-hand.

“Rathman does talk about it daily, and coaches it daily,” Harbaugh explained. “And does a fabulous job, or as good as job as any of us have ever seen done in that regard. And I think that the men that are handling the ball, and Tom Rathman, all deserve a lot of credit there.”

The 49ers would like to continue the trend knowing that its lead to four straight regular season wins dating back to the 2011 season.

Smith values ball security as the biggest difference in winning and losing.

“There’s a lot of different statistics, and they all have different correlations to winning, and the turnover battle is the number one,” Smith pointed out. “In the history of the NFL, it’s the strongest correlation to winning and losing, is the turnover ratio. We understand that. You can’t go out and play like that. Can’t just go out there and be conservative and try not to turn the ball over and expect to win games. But the goal is to still go out and try and execute and execute well and win the turnover battle. And we’re all doing that.”

Smith, himself, had no idea he had broken Young’s record until much after the Packers win.

“I had no clue that I was close to one,” Smith admitted.

Still, passing a Hall of Fame quarterback in a category that directly correlates to winning was not lost on Smith.

“Very cool,” he said. “Obviously, it’s an elite group here that’s played this position for this organization. Definitely an honor just to be mentioned with those guys.”

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