With the first pick of the 2005 draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected Alex Smith, a junior Quarterback from the University of Utah.
With the 24th pick of the 2005 draft, the Green Bay Packers selected Aaron Rodgers, a junior Quarterback from the University of California-Berkley.
Since that April day four seasons ago, these two young signal callers have been as divided in their performances as the gap in their draft numbers.
Since entering the realm of professional football, Alex Smith has recorded so-so results, and depending on the season you wish to refer to, so-so might be too generous a compliment.
Smith had a career record of 47 TD’s and eight INT’s (nearly a 6:1 ratio) while playing at Utah.
He has compiled a record of 25 TD’s and 37 INT’s (nearly a 1:2 ratio) since joining the 49ers.
He struggled mightily in a weak offense during his rookie campaign, splitting time with career backup Tim Rattay. Neither QB had many weapons to use, and the 49ers finished with a 4-12 record.
After getting new weapons such as Frank Gore and Vernon Davis, Smith started 2006 with a vigor many did not expect, winning his first 3 games. Things went up and down from there, even though he showed massive improvement while learning his new offense ran by Norv Turner. The 49ers finished 7-9, a vast improvement from a year ago.
Following the 2007 season, Norv Turner took the head coaching job in San Diego, leaving Smith to learn his third offense in as many seasons. He struggled early and often, and moved backward in his progression after a shoulder injury sidelined him after just seven games.
The 2008 season saw the hiring of offensive guru Mike Martz to lead the offense, as well as some more new weapons and a refurbished offensive line. Struggling to learn the offense, Smith was demoted to third string and ended up sitting out the entire season after learning of a break in his surgically repaired shoulder.
Entering his fifth season as a pro and learning a new offense for the fifth time, things looked bleak for Smith. Head coach Mike Singletary allowed an all out competition between Smith and career backup Shaun Hill for the starting QB spot. Hill won out, and Smith rode the pine.
After two straight wins and a couple of disappointing losses, many fans wondered when Smith would be given the chance to showcase his abilities. He had watched as a non-mobile and frustrated QB struggled in the team’s run first offense. It was clear Hill lacked the game changing abilities that many hoped Smith possessed, so when Hill continued his cold streak through the first half of the Week Seven matchup against Houston, Smith buckled his chin strap and went to work.
Down 21-3, Smith engineered three touchdown drives, all to favorite target Vernon Davis. He came up three points short in the 24-21 loss, but it was clear he was emerging as a playmaker in an offense devoid of them.
Smith had similar success in some tight contests with Indianapolis and Tennessee, both one-score losses.
A Week Five showdown with the Bears in primetime gave Smith the spotlight, but he was a non-factor as neither team passed effectively. The lone touchdown of the game came on a Frank Gore run, but Smith completed some key passes late in the game that forced Chicago into some dicey throws. The win went to the 49ers, 10-6.
Smith now faces possibly his toughest challenge yet. He has to outduel the Packers’ rising star, Aaron Rodgers. He has to face a defense that recently shut down a red-hot Dallas offense. He has to face himself, as he will be the hero or the goat since receiving the keys to the offense.
He will need to show poise in the pocket, though if GB’s defense plays up to their potential, there won't be a pocket for long.
He will need to make quick, good decisions and put some zip on the ball as the secondary he faces is one of the best and most talented in the league.
He will need to keep the play calling balanced, even if it means deferring from the calls he gets from offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Against the Bears, the 49ers used a rush happy offense, which effectively killed time off of the clock but did little else. If the Bears had been fielding a real offense, who is to say which team may have won.
Commentators tried to tell the audience that a lack of offensive production meant great play by the defense, and not necessarily a poor offensive showcase. I humbly disagree, as both offenses have struggled to score routinely, even against weaker defenses.
The Packers feature one of the best run stopping units in the league, allowing just 93 yards per game.
Green Bay’s defense held Adrian Peterson to 152 rushing yards over two games, or an average of 76 yards per contest. That opened the flood gates to the passing game, but no one realistically expects Alex Smith to perform like Brett Favre.
Many however, do expect Aaron Rodgers to perform like Favre, and he has done a stand-up job so far.
Being faced with replacing a living legend is never easy, although Rodgers has made it appear that way.
He was forced to sit out his first three seasons, learning from the future HOF QB along the way. He sat back and delved into the West Coast Offense, hoping to have mastered it by the time he was given the reigns to the offense.
Playing sparingly in just seven games during three seasons, Rodgers put up decent numbers whenever he was asked to enter a game in relief.
He obviously benefited from having roughly the same coaching staff the last few years, as well as seeing firsthand what a truly great QB should look like on game day.
Rodgers is probably a more systematic QB, and less of a gun-slinger than Brett, but he gets the job done in about the same fashion.
Since being named the starter at the beginning of 2008, Rodgers has amassed 42 TD’s and 18 INT’s. That is a 2:1 ratio, which is great for most quarterbacks, but especially impressive for how little Rodgers has played. To be involved in just 32 total games as a professional and have 43 TD’s and just 19 INT’s is an even better stat.
Following his first two starts, Rodgers was on track to break the Packer’s franchise record for most completions without an interception. His streak ended the same day he suffered his first loss, to Tampa Bay, the same game in which he suffered a separated shoulder.
His 2008 campaign ended with Rodgers eclipsing the 4,000 yard mark, a milestone few achieve. He also had a very healthy 28:13 TD/INT ratio, although the Packers only went 6-10, also missing the playoffs.
2009 has been as bright as the sun and then as ugly as a train wreck. Winning their first two, then losing a heartbreaker to the Bengals, Rodgers was geared up for a trip to Minneapolis and a duel with estranged Packers QB Brett Favre.
Favre won the duel 30-23, though the score was closer than the actual game.
Rodgers returned to Lambeau and promptly thumped the Lions and Browns, hoping two cupcake teams were just what the doctor ordered to get back on track.
The pills were a placebo it would seem, as the Vikings emerged victorious as they spanked the Packers in the second meeting. Once again, the score was closer than reality, as Brett won Favre Bowl II 38-26.
Following a humiliating loss to previously winless Tampa, the Pack seemed derailed for good.
At 4-4 and the Vikings leading the division at 7-1 with eight games remaining, the outlook was bleak.
Red-hot Dallas and their streaking offense were coming to town.
The defense was re-emerging from the grave thanks to a refreshed and motivated DeMarcus Ware.
Green Bay was a defanged beast, losing its killer instinct. The offense lacked balance, and the defense lacked aggression.
Couple that with Dallas winning four in a row and few if any were betting on the Packers.
A players' only meeting was called.
Put up or shut up.
Win or go home.
Whatever the message was, it rang loud and clear.
We had all heard it a dozen times.
“Tony Romo is unbeatable in November, winning his last 13 starts.”
Make that was.
Green Bay’s defense kept Rodgers out of trouble all day, as they put Romo in it.
Romo fumbled once and threw a pick, as well as being sacked five times.
Dallas’ defense kept Green Bay’s offense in check, making Rodgers a game manager as he was forced to make short throws and handoff more than he is used to.
Rodgers threw one touchdown and snuck in for another, leading GB to three scoring drives.
He will probably be faced with a similar gameplan this week, as San Francisco boasts one of the top defensive units.
Fresh off a five-pick nightmare for Jay Cutler, the Niners are anything but reeling.
A front seven featuring Patrick Willis, Manny Lawson, and Takeo Spikes will stop a lot of running.
This is where Aaron Rodgers has made a name for himself, as a very accurate passer.
While they rank only 29th against the pass, it would be foolish to go right after a team that just landed 5 interceptions in a single game.
That being said, a balanced attack will suit Rodgers best in this one.
While he does not have a great running back, he does have a good running back.
And while he may not have amazing wide receivers, he does have great ones.
Don’t throw it up for grabs and hope one of your guys makes a circus catch.
Do go after the short and intermediate routes, but look for the deep ball if you have a man open.
Don’t be too careless but don’t be too careful either.
No matter which one wins this shootout, I doubt it will decide once and for all who the better QB is.
We may never know that.
We can guess, but since their experiences in the NFL have been as different as night and day, who is to say who would have fared better if given the same development?
Both had amazing college careers, although one could argue that Smith rarely faced a stalwart defense and that Rodgers benefited from a 2,000 yard rusher.
Either way, the table is set.
The playoffs are on the line for both teams from here on out, but I like the Packers chances. They are at home, it will be a vintage Packers game in the cold, and they have won six in a row against SF.
Gun to my head I will tell you the Packers win this one outright, and that Rodgers will be head and shoulders ahead of Smith in QB rating when the game is finished.
Rodgers has not been the poster boy for continuity, but he has stood up against great competition, already having bested Peyton Manning and Tony Romo in must win games.
As a whole the Packers struggled against the Vikings, although it is hard to blame Rodgers.
During those two contests he threw for 671 yards, 5 TD’s and one interception. Hard to blame a guy who has such strong outings.
Aiding Rodgers will be the possible return of TE Jermichael Finely, who has been sidelined with a knee injury. Spencer Havner and Donald Lee are good, but neither possesses the size, speed, and hands that Finley showcased during the first half of the season.
What it really comes down to is that Rodgers has shown that he is aware of what is on the line in the big games. He accepts a game manager role if that is what best suits the team, and can also be a field general and air it out.
Smith has shown inconsistency at best, and this would be a good time to show his big game nerves and not lay an egg.