The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Alex Smith's Inconsistencies Continue
The final score looks great, the passer rating looks great, but the total package remains inconsistent.
While the San Francisco 49ers improved their record to 8-8 in what appeared to be a convincing victory when looking at the 28-6 final score, their quarterback was once again mediocre.
Smith's final numbers, 17-28, 222 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions, and a passer rating of 97.6 sound solid, yet his team was down 3-0 to the 1-14 St. Louis Rams at halftime.
San Francisco didn't get a second scoring play until half way through the fourth quarter. Their second touchdown of the game, which came at the 7:29 mark, was a beautiful 25-yard pass down the sideline to Vernon Davis that ended up as a 73-yard touchdown pass.
The touchdown was one of the few absolutely brilliant passes Smith has made all season, and the first, and only, perfectly thrown ball in Sunday's finale in St. Louis.
San Francisco took the game over in the final 10 minutes with that touchdown to Davis as well as two Frank Gore touchdowns, which helped Gore to reach a career high 10 rushing touchdowns.
Smith deserves his fare share of praise for leading three fourth quarter touchdown drives, but the final totals don't tell the whole story.
For much of this game, the 49ers were in danger of losing to the bottom dwelling Rams. Prior to Moran Norris' one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, the 49ers were playing worse than St. Louis was on offense.
Up until the 11:15 mark of the third quarter, Smith was 7-14 passing for just 34 yards. He had been sacked twice by that point, and had severely missed both Davis and Michael Crabtree on back-to-back passes on 3rd-and-2 and 4th-and-2.
The 49ers had the ball seven different times up until 12:01 mark in the third quarter, and Smith's 34 yards were good enough for an average 4.85 yards per drive.
Now maybe if San Francisco was playing Minnesota, Philadelphia, or Green Bay, a rough start to the game might be understandable.
But the 49ers were playing the St. Louis Rams, a team that was starting a sixth round pick rookie quarterback who began the season as third string. San Francisco was given every opportunity to put this game away early as the Rams punted five times in the first half and looked absolutely embarrassing on offense.
However, the 49ers, a team with numerous weapons and a young quarterback said to be turning a corner, were actually performing worse than the Rams through halftime.
In fact, Smith's yards per attempt at halftime was lower than that of Rams rookie starter Keith Null. Smith's yards per attempt was just 2.3 (5-10, 23 yards) compared to Rams rookie Keith Null, whose yards per attempt through two quarters was 3.5 (7-16, 57 yards).
It is no surprise why the Rams had the 3-0 lead at halftime; they simply were playing less lousy than the 49ers.
Not only did Smith fail to outperform a rookie quarterback playing for a bad team, but while facing the same defense, Smith failed to outperform the man he replaced on the field.
Back in Week Four, Shaun Hill went 9-13 for 71 yards in the first half against the Rams, good enough for 5.46 yards per attempt.
Smith may have finished his game against St. Louis with the more "sexy" numbers with 222 yards against the Rams, but Hill was more efficient and threw for two touchdowns amongst his 144 yards in his start against St. Louis. Despite Smith's improvements in the second half, his 97.6 passer rating still falls short compared to Hill's 104.9 mark.
To be fair, a touchdown here or there for Smith in Sunday's finale instead of Gore's runs could have increased his passer rating to eclipse that of Hill's game against St. Louis. However, the two different passer ratings in the St. Louis contests shows what consistency can do for a quarterback.
Hill's team was up 7-0 at halftime, while Smith's team was down 3-0 at halftime. Hill's team went on to easily win by a score of 35-0. Smith's team didn't put the game away until midway through the fourth quarter, and won 28-6.
Now, team and momentum changes occur throughout a 16-game, 17-week season, and there are a seemingly infinite amount of arguments to be made against comparing games played in Week Five to games played in Week 17.
However, a consistent but less athletic quarterback is going to give his team a much better chance to win throughout the season than a more gifted but inconsistent quarterback.
Am I arguing for Hill to get another shot? Not at all. Despite having the consistency of a Super Bowl caliber quarterback, Hill simply doesn't have the talent to be a difference maker.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, Smith is the exact opposite. He has the raw skills and athletic ability of a Super Bowl caliber quarterback, but simply doesn't have the consistency.
Will that consistency improve next season when he plays in the same system in a back-to-back season for the first time in his career? Perhaps, but it is far from certain that it will improve based on the pure putridity he has shown at times this season.
Both games against the Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals on national television were below average performances. Despite playing both primetime games on his home field, Smith delivered quarterback ratings of 63.3 and 59.7.
Plus, the first halves against the Packers, Eagles, Lions, and Rams, as well as second halves against the Titans and Colts, were completely and utterly awful.
In his particular poor half against these six teams, Smith led the 49ers to just 22 points. In fact, one of the touchdowns against the Titans came in garbage time after the game was already wrapped up. So in reality, Smith led his 49ers to just 15 meaningful points in these incredibly vital 12 quarters of play.
This simply cannot continue. Teams cannot win games based on 30 solid minutes of football. Considering four of those games came with a poor first half, it is vital to work on getting Smith better prepared to play from the get go.
In the four first halves against the Packers, Eagles, Lions, and Rams, Smith led the 49ers to a whopping four field goals.
One would hope after four-and-a-half years of experience in the league (regardless of injury and struggle) that a quarterback drafted first overall would be able to play up to his capabilities right out of the shoot.
And one would also expect a veteran quarterback to understand how much time is on the play clock, but Smith was again guilty of delay of game in Sunday's season finale.
There have simply been too many inexcusable plays by the former No. 1 overall pick. Midway through the game, Smith just flat out dropped the ball while attempting to bring it up to his shoulder to attempt a throw. He then fell on the loose ball and took the sack.
If you listen to the 49ers coaching staff and management, you would think that Smith put together a stellar performance game in and game out after taking over the starting job midway through the season.
But that hasn't been the case. Each game that Smith was able to lead the 49ers to victory would have most likely been the same outcome had Hill remained under center.
Yet Smith was brought in to make a difference and make plays to help win games that, on paper, the 49ers were predicted to lose. But time and time again, Smith failed to lead his team to an upset victory.
Can Smith improve his play and win a couple of games that make the rest of the football world take notice? Sure, it's a possibility, but the way that this season ended could mean one of two things.
Either the 49ers decide that Nate Davis could be a Super Bowl caliber quarterback in both talent and consistency and groom him to step up if Smith falters, or they bring someone else in to be the backup.
Whether they pickup someone through the draft, free agency, or by a trade, they have to have an insurance policy better than Shaun Hill next season. If they feel Davis is that guy, then make that known. If not, then go get somebody who can get the job done.
The one thing that this 8-8 finish is going to bring is heightened expectations for next season. Playoffs in Singletary's first full season at head coach would have been nice. Fans knew Hill's limitations at quarterback to start the year and were hopeful their team could reach the postseason.
Next year, with Smith as a starter for the second straight season under the same offensive coordinator, fans are going to expect to go to the playoffs.
If Smith's consistency doesn't improve quickly to begin the season, then the 49ers better have a plan B, or it might be the eighth straight year where the season "ends in December."
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