The personification of quarterback resilience will be on display tonight when the Seattle Seahawks take on the San Francisco 49ers.
Alex Smith was on the verge of being run out of the Bay Area on numerous occasions since 2005. He went from glorified No. 1 overall pick to backup to bust. Last year, he tossed 17 touchdowns to only five interceptions, finished the year with a 96.6 QB rating and was a star in the postseason.
He has epitomized resiliency.
Russell Wilson was deemed too small to make it in the NFL after an illustrious collegiate career at North Carolina State and Wisconsin.
He went from fourth-round risk to starter to standout.
Resilient? I'd say so.
Clearly, they're far from elite, but they've led their teams to 4-2 starts to the season. In today's mediocrity-filled NFL, that seems like 6-0.
The Seahawks and 49ers defenses are stout. Both clubs have a running attack that averages more than 130 yards on the ground per game. Neither team is loaded with tremendous receiving talent, but they do have capable playmakers.
When equally matched clubs face off, you know what ultimately decides the game?
Let's break down each effective yet occasionally flawed signal-caller as tonight's NFC West clash nears.
Wilson is coming off his best game as a professional against the New England Patriots last week, an outing in which he connected with his pass-catchers on a number of huge plays down the field.
While some would like to see Wilson stay in the pocket longer when looking to deliver passes down the field, he's shown a veteran-like ability to stay accurate when escaping the pocket and throwing on the run.
He demonstrated that tendency early against New England on a 50-yard bomb down the seam to Doug Baldwin.
As the play begins, Wilson is in the shotgun and starts to feel pressure.
Though it's not a tremendous amount of heat, the small but smart quarterback notices a nice plot of real estate outside his left tackle.
After using his deceptive athleticism to escape the pass rush, Wilson enters the vacated era outside the left hash.
That provides him ample room to laser the ball downfield.
A dime to Baldwin and reminder to the Patriots that the Seahawks' offense has dynamic capabilities.
Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports pointed out a comparison for those who don't like Wilson moving from the pocket.
I find it interesting that some criticize Wilson for leaving the pocket on long throws. Brees moves hard right all the time on shot plays.— SC_DougFarrar (@SC_DougFarrar) October 17, 2012
If you have the athleticism to free yourself to create more room to throw at 5'10'' or 5'11'', why not use it?
For a team that loves to pound opposing defenses with Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin, the Seahawks have a quarterback with the ideal skill set for play-action passes, something they'll likely use a lot of this evening.
Smith, too, has surprising athleticism, and certainly isn't a statue cemented to the turf in the pocket. However, he typically plays as an old-school drop back guy while Wilson's more new-age street ball.
Likely due to vast experience, Smith is seemingly comfortable in the pocket, even if protection is starting to collapse around him.
When he's on, the touch he can display on downfield tosses is exquisite.
In Week 2 against the Detroit Lions, Smith pulled out all his quarterback tools on an early touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis.
From an empty set, he motioned the fullback out wide to alter the Lions coverage.
As you can see in the picture, that leaves safety John Wendling one-on-one with Davis and one safety deep on the other side of the field.
What's been so good about Smith is his savvy ways to manipulate opposing secondary members.
On the snap, he knows Davis has the advantage against man coverage.
But, instead of getting overly anxious, he looks right to begin his drop, holding the free safety.
Then, at the perfect time, he swings his head back to Davis' side of the field and lofts a dime into the end zone.
Much like the Seahawks offense, Smith utilizes play action to his benefit very often. Tonight, I'd like to see them stay away from a ton of play-action, as the Seattle defensive line is extremely aggressive in terms of rushing the passer. Spreading the the Seahawks defense seems like a better idea.
What Smith and Wilson will have to improve upon tonight
There are plenty of similarities in how Wilson and Smith play quarterback and the run-heavy systems in which they operate.
Tonight, each signal-caller will face the most stingy defense he has seen all year.
Wilson can't be afraid to leave the pocket and make plays down field.
However, the 49ers defensive line, a unit held in high regard has only eight sacks on the year, which means, Wilson shouldn't instantly scramble the moment he feels pressure.
As we saw with Eli Manning last week, though it'd go against their traditional play-action look, Wilson and the Seahawks should take their shots from a four-or-five wide set and attempt to get the ultra aggressive safety Dashon Goldson to bite on a short-to-intermediate route.
Here, Domenik Hixon lines up against Chris Culliver on the right side of the formation—Goldson's side of the field.
After the snap, Goldson comes up to defend a drag run run by Victor Cruz, leaving Culliver with no deep help.
Manning slightly steps up in the pocket and places the ball perfectly for Hixon to come down with a 29-yard gain.
Smith and the 49ers have to take advantage of Vernon Davis as much as possible this evening. The Seahawks boast big physical corners on the outside, and it'll be daunting tasks for Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss to consistently create separation.
But Davis, as usual, will be a matchup nightmare for the Seahawks linebackers and even star safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
On the Patriots first drive a week ago, Brady had Hernandez line up close to the line of scrimmage in the slot to put him in a position to be covered by a linebacker.
K.J. Wright was the targeted linebacker on this play, and Hernandez runs a simple out route after being contacted by Wright off the line.
First down Patriots.
Later, Rob Gronkowski was found on a simple post route from the slot with Chancellor in coverage.
The tight end-linebacker matchup is something San Fran's aerial attack must exploit tonight.
Whoever executes more effectively will likely lead his team to victory in what should be a captivating contest.