Naturally, what started as as an opinion piece about the implications of either quarterback starting against Seattle, is now an analysis opinion of what most are likely to call "the return of the bust."
Alex Smith is starting.
It seems to mean the 49ers coaching staff has had enough of the Troy Smith experiment. Troy looked good against poor, and mediocre teams (St. Louis, Denver, Arizona) but the undersized quarterback struggled against tougher opponents like Tampa, and Green Bay.
Alex being put back in action seems to spell the end of the Troy Smith era in San Francisco. Many will not understand the move. Behind Alex Smith, the 49ers stumbled to a 1-5 record before Alex was finally injured in a loss to Carolina. The beating was the Panther's only win of the 2010 season thus far.
The 49ers won their first two games under Troy Smith, and had won three of their last four before dropping a rough one to the Packers at Lambeau last Sunday.
Another thing to read into Smith's presence is the difference in height between Troy and Alex. Stature could be a reason coaches feel Alex still somehow gives the team it's best chance to win, in spite of the numbers clearly favoring Troy in the win/loss column.
Of course, with the rumor mill grinding, an injury that might have slowed Troy down in the cold against the Pack is not entirely out of the question either, although no mention of an injury to the former Heisman winner has been made.
David Fucillo of ninersnation.com recently wrote in his up-to-the-minute article headlined Alex Smith: The Return of the Spread Offense about the offensive implications of Alex's return, and how they relate to a shift towards a spread attack.
Matt Barrows also makes many of the same excellent points on the subject as well in his blog.
One great point is that, in Frank Gore's absence, the one-two punch of Dixon and Westbrook could likely be better utilized by getting them the ball in space—via spreading the field.
Alex has studied the playbook far longer that Troy, who arrived in San Francisco shortly after training camp.
Beyond the spread, however, one must look at the timing of the decision, the opponent coming up, and (of course) the game film.
Is Timing Everything?
Many would say Alex Smith has been the death of Singletary's success for most of this year. It wasn't until the newly appointed captain injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder, that he was removed from action.
Perhaps it is because Alex Smith's shoulder is finally 100% healed, that coaches have decided to reinstall him as their starting passer.
With four games left (three of which are divisional match-ups) the 49ers are two games out of first place in the NFC West. They will need to beat Seattle and St Louis to ensure any tie-breakers over them, should they end the season with the same records.
This is called crunch time.
It is almost fitting that if Singletary is to lose his job, then Alex should be just the quarterback to help seal his fate and strike the final blow.
On the other hand, if the 49ers are to make that playoffs on a garbage-can miracle, then Singletary's faith in Alex Smith (you know, the faith that got the 49es into such hot water this year) should be just the faith to ride to a spoofed fairytale ending.
Remember the Seahawks
Alex Smith started the first game of the season, and if you don't remember (or happen to be a masochist) let me remind us all that game was a disaster. The Seahawks carved the stencil for opposing defenses all season by focusing on stopping Frank Gore, and putting the ball in Alex Smith's hands.
If one was faced with this Troy-vs-Alex decision, then he would surely as himself "Will Alex be better the second time around against Seattle?" Of course the answer now is "He'd better be."
We can only guess that Alex is very motivated, and would like nothing more than to redeem himself against the team that drew up the template for destroying his season.
But how would Troy have matched up against Seattle? The world may never know.
Need to Look at the Film
There's something Singletary says to the press that seems to bug them to no end. Particularly in post-game press conferences, he'll dodge (often stupid, and loaded) questions by saying he'll need to review the game film before making a statement on a particular issue.
Looking back, Troy Smith was heroic when the 49ers needed him in London, and he put up one of the best performances in recent 49ers history in a gutsy overtime win at home against the Rams.
Troy Smith's production slipped over the last three games however, and despite the slaughter San Francisco brought to Arizona, Troy has averaged only 157 yards per game, and 46.46 passer rating while going 1-2 in that span.
Although the conservative play has not been terribly ugly, it surely isn't a thing of beauty. Much can be understood about the template Tampa Bay drew up to squelch his era.
To read into why, and to understand that the effect of Alex Smith's return will be is going to be quite a conundrum, and it will certainly be a heck of a story—for better or worse.