When I was writing yesterday's recap, I mentioned that I was withholding comments on Alex Smith. Given how big a story it was in 49ers-land when Smith was elevated to QB1, I felt it was definitely deserving of its own post. Additionally, I thought it'd be useful to provide an opportunity to grade Smith's performance. I think an assessment of his performance will be rather interesting and will hopefully provide some insight into what people are thinking of Smith.
Statistically, it obviously was not the best day he's ever had: 19/32, 198 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 74.7 QB rating. A subjective observation of Smith would indicate some struggles on his part. For the purposes of this assessment, I thought I'd start with the negatives and then move on to the positives. There is plenty of gray area here, but there is also some black and white observations that can be made.
Starting on the negative side, he definitely sailed some passes. For instance, the pass to Crabtree that was intercepted seemed a bit high. Six inches lower and Crabtree hauls that in. I went back and checked out the interception and it seemed to be off the tips of Crabtree's fingers, meaning no real chance for him to make a play. Beyond that there was at least one other instance I recall where Smith had a ball sail on Isaac Bruce right at a Colts defender, who thankfully dropped it. So the sailing is something to be addressed. Of course it's better than chucking balls into the ground in front of your receivers, am I right?
Smith also had some issues with pocket presence on at least one sack. It seemed like he should have anticipated a bit more and unloaded the ball. The last Freeney sack though was tough to get away from so less blame for him on that one.
After the jump we look into the good from Smith...
I know the numbers don't reflect it, but all things considered, I actually thought Alex Smith's performance yesterday could have been a whole lot worse. That's not the most inspiring comment, but I suppose it's a step in the right direction. I'm not sure how many other folks feel this, but when I watch Smith guiding the offense, and I watch Shaun Hill guiding the offense, I just have a greater amount of confidence when Smith is behind center. In the end my level of confidence in Smith is obviously meaningless for this team's chances of winning games.
However, I like having a QB that actually makes me feel like the 49ers offense can actually hang around against a better offense. Sure the offense sputtered at times, but they were certainly attempting to make things happen. Excluding sacks, the 49ers attempted 32 passes and rushed the ball 19 times. I'm not looking for a Steve Spurrier pitch and catch offense by any stretch of the imagination. However, I do like an offense that is willing to open things open up a bit.
Alex Smith may not be the greatest QB in the world, but I think he probably puts the 49ers offense in a better position to succeed than Shaun Hill does. Smith simply makes plays Shaun Hill can not. As much as I like Shaun Hill, he just lacks certain key physical characteristics that a successful QB often needs. Now I'm definitely not about to say Alex Smith is the answer for this team long term. Six quarters of football is not enough to tell us that. However, I do think the six quarters have shown us Alex Smith is not the same QB he was two seasons ago. Maybe he's not Joe Montana, but I think he is a much better QB today than he was two years ago. Of course, given where the bar was set, that's not exactly saying much. But again, like I mentioned above in saying he could be worse, it's a start.
I wanted to get in one more "good" point for Smith. His scrambling ability, while not Steve Young-esque, is good enough to bring something to the table. Shaun Hill could make short runs when needed, but he was not a guy you wanted tucking down the ball. Alex Smith did not have any huge gains on the ground, but he seems to be much better at buying time outside the pocket, as compared to Shaun Hill.
I've attached a poll asking for a vote on how you'd grade Alex Smith A through F. I thought about adding pluses and minuses but then the poll just gets out of hand. My analysis of the "good" in Smith makes this appear more like a referendum on Smith vs. Hill, but let's just keep the poll as an assessment of Alex Smith's performance in four quarters against the Colts. In the comments, feel free to offer your reasons for deciding the way you did as well.