Alex Smith Disclaimer: No Excuses Will Be Accepted For Poor Play
Well, the McNabb question is no longer a question, so that means Singletary’s quasi-endorsement of Alex Smith still stands. Smith, having the same O-coordinator going into consecutive seasons for the first time ever, will be “the guy” as the 49ers head into the 2010 season.
Baring any other acquisition among NFC West teams (Jason Campbell to Arizona, for example) or a surprisingly healthy year from Hasselbeck, the NFC West remains the most wide open division in football. The stage is set for Smith to take this team to the playoffs and end an almost decade-long post season drought.
So, I will break down the things going for Smith as he heads into the 2010 season.
1. The Same O-Coordinator
This might be the biggest plus (in addition to his healthy relationship with head coach Mike Singletary) that Smith has going for him.
The biggest caveat (you see, I didn’t use “excuse”, I’m playing nice) to Smith’s poor play since he has been drafted has been the lack of coordinator continuity.
All I hear is about how much power Smith’s über-analytical mind has—Urban Meyer said so. While he may be able to shoot mind bullets, his analytical prowess has not been tapped into because he spent each new season learning a new playbook.
Well, that is no longer an issue this season.
2. Offensive Line
“You can’t throw when you’re on your back.” Now repeat whenever a slight against Alex Smith is uttered.
Here’s the thing that may come as a surprise, though: the 49ers offensive line is not that bad. Yes, I said it, and I have the numbers to back it up.
Shaun Hill, only starting six games, was sacked 18 times. This is not good—far from it—especially when there were inferior opponents on this six-game spread, such as St. Louis (four sacks) and Seattle (four sacks).
Smith started the remaining 10 games and the last half of the Houston game. He was sacked 22 times. That means over more games Smith was sacked an average of 2.2 times per game while Hill was sacked three times per game. That’s a significant decrease.
The difference between Smith’s and Hill’s figures cannot solely be attributed the offensive line, though. Smith is much more mobile and can avoid pressure better than Hill can. But don’t forget that Joe Staley, arguably our best offensive linemen, was injured during nine of Smith’s starts.
There was also a stretch of games where Smith was protected quite nicely. In the Jacksonville, Seattle and Arizona games, Smith was only sacked a total of two times and we went 2-1. This means that this O-line unit has some potential. We’re solid at left tackle and at center, with the biggest hole being the right tackle.
2. Offensive Line (Cont'd)
But here is why that this year, even if the O-line ends up being worse, it will not validate bad QB play.
Good QB’s find a way to win. It’s a simple statement, but it’s true. Good QB’s can extend plays and make plays with their feet. They can identify blitzes and know where the hot route is.
Another reason? Well, Smith has yet to show he can play a solid game even when he gets good protection. Even if you point out the Jacksonville game, Smith’s play was spotty and inconsistent against the worst pass-rushing team in the NFL. His stat line looks good but it took a while for him to put this game away, and the defense was playing "lights-out."
I’m not trying to take credit away from a mistake-free game by Smith, but throughout the game he didn’t display that “it” factor. Basically, after watching the Jacksonville game, I wasn’t completely confident that he would win our next game, at Seattle. And he didn’t (Insert other excuses as to why we didn’t win that game here ______________)
3. Offensive Weapons
Finally, it seems as though we may have some other than Frank Gore.
Vernon Davis avoided the “bust” label by having a season which most tight ends would envy. Others will point to his dropped passes, which he did have and he does need to work on, but this guy stepped up his game. Period. (13 TD’s, 965 Yards, and three 100+ yard games)
The young Crabtree looks like he has a lot of potential. He has a couple of drops, but he’s a rookie. There were some amazing catches he made too. The bottom line is that Crabtree looks the part—he carries himself like a dominant WR and I think he’ll end up being one.
Frank Gore is Frank Gore—not much to say. A good attribute to help Smith out is his ability to catch out of the backfield.
4. No QB Competition
Smith is the starter heading into camp. I know that, in a way, Carr will be “competing,” but it’s not like the QB battle between him and Hill last year. Smith will be taking the majority of the snaps and it’s his to lose, as the cliché goes.
5. Incredibly Weak Division
Let me re-phrase that: the weakest division in the NFL. As of now this division is wide open and ready for the taking. I don’t know what is going to happen with Campbell, but even if he ends up with the Cards, this division is there for the taking.
6. The Wrap-Up
Essentially, Smith cannot be in a better position to succeed. This is a team on the rise in a weak division. Warner has retired and there’s an even bigger question mark over Arizona’s QB position than there is in San Francisco.
The 49ers are missing one thing: a quarterback.
Don’t kid yourself. Don’t buy into the regurgitations of a bad offensive line, receivers that can’t catch and being in “bad circumstances”.
The 49ers need solid play from the QB position and we will get into the playoffs. It’s that simple—and it’s that difficult.
Good QB’s find a way to win. They lead the team and don’t need them to play mistake-free football in order to succeed. That’s what makes them great: the rest of the team knows that no matter what, their QB in the game always gives them a chance to win. Their QB in the game makes the other team nervous. Smith doesn’t command that respect yet.
This is Smith’s calling—this is his last chance. I think he’s capable of doing it, and I’ll be rooting for him the entire way. He hasn’t shown me that “moment” yet; that moment when the light goes on and we, as spectators know: he’s got it and the 49ers are his team.
This season I think the rest of the team will be the best it has been in a while, so let’s hope Smith can pull them together and end this season without us having to wonder who will be our starting QB in 2011.