Seahawks vs. 49ers: Can Alex Smith Still Look Elite Against Top NFL Defenses?

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystOctober 16, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka #94 of the New York Giants sacks quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter on October 14, 2012 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.   The Giants won 26-3. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith had been playing the best football of his eight-year career leading up to last week's game with the New York Giants, with Smith coming off a nearly flawless performance against the Buffalo Bills in which he threw for more than 300 yards, added nearly 50 more on the ground and tossed three touchdown passes.

However, the 28-year-old faceplanted against the G-Men. Smith completed 19 of 30 passes for 200 yards and three interceptions against New York, posting a quarterback rating of 43.1 in a performance that will stay in Smith's mind for a while, according to Kevin Lynch of The San Francisco Chronicle.

“Definitely, not right away, that’s not me, no,” Smith said when asked if he rids himself of losses quickly. “Waking up, thinking about it, replaying it even today a little bit. It’s easy to turn on film and ask questions about pretty much everything because none of it looked good,” Smith acknowledged. “I don’t think there’s any one thing I guess—a lot of things playing into it.”

This is an instance where Smith is going to have to have a short memory, however, as the 49ers host the Seattle Seahawks Thursday night in a big NFC West showdown.

Smith's poor performance has caused some to already call for Colin Kaepernick, who has seen some additional playing time in Wildcat packages recently, to get more playing time, a notion that head coach Jim Harbaugh dismissed quickly, according to Monte Poole of The San Jose Mercury News.

"We've been using Colin as an added weapon,'' the coach said during his Monday briefing. "We feel we've been getting plenty of everything from Alex Smith. We'll leave it there.''

The notion of benching Smith after one dismal performance is just silly. Yes, he looked awful. But that happens to the best of NFL quarterbacks. Prior to last week, Smith's quarterback rating was over 100 in three of five games, and he had eight touchdown passes versus only one interception.

It's entirely possible that Smith could struggle statistically again against the Seahawks. Seattle ranks 13th in the NFL against the pass, but that number is inflated by Tom Brady's nearly 400 passing yards in Week 6. The Seahawks also possess a pair of big, physical cornerbacks in Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman that pose all sorts of matchup problems for opposing offenses.

With that said, though, the fact remains that Alex Smith is playing as well as he ever has in the NFL, and throwing him under the bus after one bad game makes even less sense than anointing him an "elite" quarterback did after his hot start.

Is Alex Smith an elite NFL quarterback? No.

Is he capable of playing excellent football within the confines of an offense that has been partially designed to showcase his strengths while covering up his shortcomings? Absolutely.

And that's all the San Francisco 49ers need from him.