For years, I predicted that the San Francisco 49ers would win their division and make the playoffs, but every season they were a disappointment. This was a team with a solid defense and a great running attack, but what the 49ers were lacking was a quarterback.
Alex Smith was drafted No. 1 overall and was expected to be a great quarterback and take this team to that next level. With numerous coaches and offensive coordinators, Smith has struggled, and at times looked like a complete bust.
With the 49ers hiring Jim Harbaugh as their head coach, the team has played well and is now 5-1 leading the NFC West division. Harbaugh gave Alex Smith one more chance and it has paid dividends.
The question now is if Jim Harbaugh and Alex Smith can lead this team into the playoffs.
At times in the past, many of the 49er plars have had a problem with respecting their coach.
When Mike Nolan was the head coach, it seemed as though many of the players did not want to play for the man. He was a defensive minded coach who really had no confidence in Alex Smith.
Mike Singletary had never been an offensive or defensive coordinator and got to be the head coach for his reputation as a player. He was intense and brought that as a head coach. Many players were not on Singletary’s side because of his constant yelling, unorthodox play calling, and he even pulled his pants down once. I respect the man, but he is sort of crazy.
This year, the 49ers realized that Jim Harbaugh needed to be their coach and they did whatever they could to get him.
Harbaugh understands how to be a head coach and the players are drawn by his presence and enthusiasm. The players were right by the coach’s side when he had the little scuffle with Lion’s coach Jim Schwartz. We witnessed that all the 49er players have Harbaugh's back.
Harbaugh has brought this team together and gave them an identity that they have been looking for for years. Respecting the coach is the first thing a team needs in order to be an elite team like the Patriots and Steelers and to have Super Bowl aspirations..
To most people, Alex Smith was a bust and probably would never get the chance to start in the league again. Many also believed that with the hiring of Harbaugh the 49ers could possibly tank this season in order to draft his favorite signal caller Andrew Luck.
But instead, Harbaugh told management to resign Smith because he had belief that he could make him into a solid quarterback. I think that Harbaugh was the only person that believed that Smith could turn his career around.
That confidence that Coach Harbaugh has in Smith really was enough for him to have a solid season and look like an NFL quarterback thus far.
Alex Smith has averaged to throw for 27 pass attempts—a game which is at the bottom of the league, but he has been efficient and has cut down the turnovers. He has continued to show off his mobility and has made the right plays all throughout the season.
Smith’s teammates finally have the confidence in their quarterback. This was evident from the post-game celebration in the locker room after he led his team to a late-game drive for the win against the Lions.
This is the first time that any of Smith’s teammates and coaching staff have had confidence in him, and Smith has exuded confidence all season because of it. This type of confidence is needed for a playoff-caliber quarterback.
The NFL has become a passing league where it has been about putting up more points then the opposing team. Teams try to stack up talent on the offensive end in hopes of winning the Super Bowl, but we all know that many Super Bowls were won by pounding the ball on the ground and playing great defense.
Jim Harbaugh understands that in order to get this team into the playoffs and reach that next level, they need to utilize a great offensive line with three former first-round picks, a talented running game and a top notch defense.
The 49ers have an old school type of game where they run the clock and have a defense that can make plays. This team is built similarly to the Super Bowl Champs Baltimore Ravens and have a chance to do what they did that year. Their run-stuffing ability is making their opponent’s one dimensional and creating turnovers at a high rate.
Harbaugh will continue to keep Smith’s pass attempts low and pound the ball on offense. This team is gritty, aggressive and has all the making for a playoffs team.
In Alex Smith’s seventh season, he is finally smiling and having a great time. This is the first time I have seen the quarterback play the game as if he loved it.
Throughout the years Smith has been clobbered to the ground, benched, and continually yelled at by the coaching staff and teammates. When a young quarterback's confidence is shaken early on in their careers and they are not having fun, it usually means that the quarterback will turn into a bust and not be able to make the uphill climb. Somehow Smith has made that climb and is loving the game.
He is finally having a good time this season and so are his teammates. Having this will allow this team to continue to get better and eventually make the playoffs.
The key to Smith’s success this season has been that Coach Harbaugh has excepted Smith’s flaws and implemented a system that fits the quarterback’s strengths.
Harbaugh knows that he doesn’t need Smith to throw the ball 30 times a game with an elite play-making defense and Frank Gore running the ball.
The 49ers offense is predicated on dump-off and underneath passes to tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. Smith does not have the strength and tight spiral that most elite quarterbacks have, so Harbaugh knows that shorter, quick passes would be beneficial for Smith.
When Braylon Edwards returns from his injury, I do expect Harbaugh to open up the playbook a little to set up the play action for the deep ball.
Smith does posses elite level athleticism and can scramble around the pocket just as Big Ben and Aaron Rodgers do. This type of ability will get this team into the playoffs and can do well once they get into the tournament.
Alex Smith has developed patience on the field that hasn’t been seen in his previous seasons.
Although his offensive line has been solid for the most part, they do sometimes allow defenders to get through. Smith has not panicked when the line has collapsed and knows to use his legs to buy more time or run for some extra yards. In previous years when the line collapsed, Smith would panic and usually take a sack or turn the ball over.
Against the Lions and Eagles, I continued to witness Smith at the line of scrimmage reading the defenses and calling the right plays at the right time. Smith’s fourth down touchdown pass to Delanie Walker was the right pass and a thing of beauty. He knew where the defender was going to be and set his teammates up to succeed.
Smith has learned how to be patient behind center and that is the next step to being an elite quarterback in this league. It seems like nothing is rattling Smith this season, and I expect a lot more good things to come from Smith.
With the type of team that Harbaugh has built and Alex Smith finally grasping how to be an NFL quarterback, the 49ers are looking like a playoff team and a Super Bowl contender.