Troy Smith: A Look at the Labels and the Truth

Ever since Troy Smith took over the starting quarterback job for the 49ers he has received a lot of critique.  His style of play is so far from that of Alex Smith that it can be a blur to watch, causing Troy to be slapped with many labels and for many broad statements to be made.

"Troy Smith isn't a pocket passer, he's just a scrambler."

"He takes a lot of risks and just get's lucky most of the time."

These are some of the generalizations made regarding Troy, mostly by those not ready to fully jump on the bandwagon just yet.  I get not wanting to anoint the more vertically-challenged Smith as THE FUTURE just yet...but I also can't accept blanket statements about his play without having looked at the film.

Some of you may have read the piece I did after the Denver game, where I concluded that Troy actually played well (and detailed each play beyond what your eyes see live, in real-time).  Well I'm off to do the same with the St. Louis Rams game played on Sunday. 

In that game we saw Troy Smith making plays all over the place.  It was foreign, alien, like going to Ikea for the first time.  Understand that the 49ers had FOUR plays of over 30 yards, EIGHT plays over 20 yards, highlighted by a 65 yard play to Josh Morgan early in the first quarter. 

Then there were the 4th quarter heroics, plays of 36, 23, and 16 yards...including a 4th and 18 conversion that lead to the go-ahead TD pass.  I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone at times.

This type of energy and explosiveness from the offense, especially the plays where Troy seemed to make something out of nothing, might make it easy to just assume that he was slinging the ball all over the place into triple coverage, cheerleaders making TD grabs, carrying a Zamboni on his back.  But let's take a closer look at each passing play, after the jump.

9:35 1Q - 1 RB, 2 TE's (12 personnel).  The 49ers had been noticing teams keying on Mike Iupati pulling and just running to the hole Big Mike ran through to find Gore there with the ball.  So they decided to line up in a run formation, pull Iupati as usual, but instead let Vernon Davis leak out.  Troy faked the hand off, rolled right and threw a perfect touch pass over one DB's head and in front of the other DB for a 32 yard gain.

8:09 1Q - Vernon Davis tried to pick up Chris Long, and Gore chipped James Laurinitis, but both came free and sacked Smith.  Troy was able to set his feet and might have been able to fire a pass but he was sacked right at 3 seconds.  Since it was max protect with a TE, FB and RB in protection...there weren't many options for Smith to throw.

7:27 1Q - 12 personnel again, this time the pocket collapsed, no lanes to step up into and caved in around him.  Troy tripped over Staley's foot, who had been pushed into the QB.  Troy fell and appeared to think he was down even though he was untouched.  College flashbacks??

4:49 1Q - 21 personnel, Norris in the game...trademark running formation.  Smith made the play fake, took his drop, bounced twice on the balls of his feet until Morgan beat the CB.  Troy let it go perfectly to Morgan for a 65 yard gain.

15:00 2Q - Swing pass Crabtree, who was in the slot.  Perfectly thrown but no one took on the LB, who made the tackle after a 9 yard gain.

14:17 2Q - 22 personnel, the "Big" package.  Play action, hops on his feet then fires to Walker for 12 yards.

12:15 2Q - 2nd and goal, Troy lofts a near perfect pass for Vernon Davis but Chris Long gets his hand up at the last second for a somewhat flukey deflection.  Troy could have possibly lead Davis a hair more and maybe it would have been a TD.

12:11 2Q - 3rd and goal, Smith reads blitz and hits VD on the short seam for an apparent TD, but they didn't get the play off in time.  Chalk this up to inexperience.  Alex was doing this (for whatever reason) a ton this year too.  Maybe the play didn't get in on time, who knows.

12:11 2Q - Fred Robbins jumped as Troy was releasing the ball and got the bat-down.  He was so close to the LOS that even if Smith was 6'6" it would have been batted down. He couldn't have rolled or slid out of the pocket to the left (where the pass was intended for Walker) but Staley had been pushed right to Troy's left, leaving him nowhere to go.

8:25 2Q - Dropped back and fired to Crabtree on the comeback route for 15 yard gain.

6:27 2Q - Troy held the ball this time.  There was no play fake, just a straight drop and a few bounces on the toes...sacked just over 3 seconds but should have felt the rush and fired a low-risk pass.

3:58 2Q - Play action rollout right. He had green grass in front of him if he wanted to run but he was watching the opposite side of the field for a receiver to get open.  He crept toward the LOS keeping his eyes down field and dropped it off to Vernon Davis for a 38 yard gain, which was half throw, half YAC.

2:00 2Q - Good protection but nobody open.  Drifted to his left and appeared as though he might take off but as the running lane closed he decided to throw it away.  Good decision.

14:36 3Q - As soon as he snapped it there were 3 defenders free-rushing in his face.  Hard to tell but seems like maybe it was a screen all along because Anthony Davis and Adam Snyder seemed to shift left and basically let the rushers on their side go.  Smith sidestepped the first rusher, rolled right and hit Delanie Walker for a 23 yards, mostly YAC.

14:09 3Q - Play fake, dropped, rolled right, had good protection and found Crabtree over the middle for 21 yards.

12:05 3Q - Tried to pull back the pass and it came out of his hand.  Should have been an incompletion but whatever.  Looked like he might have been able to regroup if he'd held onto it.

6:38 3Q - Free rusher off the right side.  Troy saw it and threw towards his hot, Josh Morgan in the vacated spot where the rusher came from (text book QB read).  Pass was batted after he let it go, basically a great play by the LB.

6:34 3Q - Run formation, play action, rolls right and chucks a deep one for Morgan that could have been completed but it was double coverage.  The thing is, Morgan had both DB's beat.  Takes a perfect pass to drop it in there and I'm sure Troy would like to have it back.  He overthrew it though, a good thing for double coverage.

6:27 3Q - Dropped straight back, two free rushers came at him as he tried to hit Ginn.  After further review Ginn was entangled with Jerome Murphy which really disrupted his route.  Troy expected Ginn to be coming back to the ball when he threw it but Ginn wasn't to his depth yet.  I don't know if Ginn should have beaten the press coverage or Troy should have realized Ginn had his route interrupted.

2:07 3Q - Bubble screen to Vernon Davis who goes for 5 yards but Josh Morgan holds on the perimeter. 

1:36 3Q - Straight drop, wants to throw but pulls it back and runs through a lane.  Just barely caught from behind by George Selvie or else he'd have gained another 5+ yards.

0:54 3Q - Straight drop, pressure arrived at 3 seconds and Smith unloaded a rope to Dominique Zeigler who was double covered and slipped as the ball arrived.  The ball was mostly out of bounds, a safe throw.

14:42 4Q - This was a really impressive play even though it was near the outside of Gore's reach.  Troy drops back, play fakes to both Norris and Gore, two free rushers come (Baas and A.Davis both watched their men go by them) and Troy slides right and fires to Gore in the flat at the last minute...just off Gore's left hand.  Good poise and patience though and was almost another big YAC play for Gore.  Bet they both want this one back.

11:47 4Q - Single back, play action, rolling right.  Waited until Chris Long was right on him then threw it down to Walker who was double covered but the safety was in trail position on a ball thrown to the sideline.  Walker made a great catch for 36 yard gain.

11:27 4Q - TE screen to Walker for 9 yards.

10:44 4Q - Straight drop, two edge rushers arrive right around 3 seconds as Troy realizes the middle is open and takes off for a first down run.

10:11 4Q - Brian Westbrook lines up wide left and get's a bubble screen. 

9:28 4Q - Shotgun, 3 WR, pressure comes up the middle and Troy rolls left.  Fires to Crabtree at the last minute right at the edge of the end zone.  Anthony Davis drug his man down with him 10 yards away from the play and it was called back.

9:21 4Q - Straight drop, waits for the pressure then gets out of the pocket and fires a shot to Josh Morgan.  Great play by Craig Dahl the safety to bat it away at the last minute.  Morgan was about 63 feet in the air and a slightly higher pass might have been caught.

9:14 4Q - A.Davis beat by Long on the play and forces Smith to step up and avoid the sack after Long had him in his grasp, no small feat.  This was one of his poor decision to throw this ball.  He got away from Long but then threw the ball while running into Iupati, into double coverage for VD.  He's fortunate it landed well short and a play on the ball couldn't be made.

7:48 4Q - Bubble screen to V.Davis for 4 yards.

7:09 4Q - Play action, rolling right, tucks and runs out of bounds for a yard.

6:34 4Q - Straight drop, quick throw to the outside to Crabtree on an obvious mis-communication.  Crabtree had broken the route and Smith threw it beyond him.

4:12 4Q - Quick drop, pressure comes immediately.  Smith slides to his right and hits Gore on a designed screen.  Gore had 3 OL's out in front and it was a great job of waiting for the play to develop before throwing it.  Gore went all YAC on everyone for 30 yards.

3:15 4Q - Michael Lewis sacks Smith on a free rush in an effort to prove he can still play football...OK, you can make basically uncontested sacks.  Congratulations.

2:37 4Q - Straight drop, pressure from the edge, Troy steps up and fires to Vernon Davis who leaps over two defenders to haul the ball in and maintains possession as he goes to the ground in the back of the end zone.  Holding on Staley called...Tim Ryan thought it might have been on Anthony Davis...I don't think either did anything that warranted the flag, really.  Davis had an arm bar but it's questionable whether or not he held him or was in front of him.  Play negated.

2:30 4Q - Straight drop, bounced, waited, coverage was way deep so he let Gore get out in the flat and hit him for 14 yards on 3rd and 32.

2:23 4Q - Gore told Smith in the huddle (I'm ad libbing here) "Hey, they are playin soft.  If I leak out I'm going to just keep running up to the cushion of coverage."  Well, it worked.  Morgan was open but only ran a 10 yard route when they needed 18 and the rest of the routes were covered.  Troy waited and hit Gore in stride within about a yard of the first down marker.  Gore picked up a few extra yards to convert the biggest play of the game on 4th down.

2:17 4Q - Run formation play action lots of time, bounces on his feet a few times then fires a laser to Crabtree in the only place he could catch it.  Crabtree made the NFL Network's best catch of the week for the TD.

11:11 OT - Straight drop, immediate pressure from both edges, Smith steps up and fires off his back foot to Delanie Walker who was cut off in his path to the ball by OJ Atogwe, who wasn't looking for the ball.  Walker might have gotten to that ball as it floated, and it's a tough call but probably the right one.

As you can see the theme was pressure on Smith.  When he had time and the play wasn't a designed rollout, he stayed in the pocket and was patient.  I counted 11 of his 17 completions coming from the pocket.  Only a few times was he TOO patient, resulting in a sack.  I actually think he doesn't leave the pocket ENOUGH at times.  He's always looking down the field to make a play.

The Delanie Walker PI call was on 3rd down, near mid-field, in overtime.  It was Troy's only option to avoid a sack and lose even more yards.  It was single coverage with a safety on a very athletic TE who has bailed Troy out in the past.  I can't blame him for throwing that ball.

The only really questionable play was the play 9:14 in the 4th Quarter.  Troy should have taken the sack on that play as he threw to the middle of field, deep, and into double coverage...while falling down.  The TD pass to Vernon that was called back due to holding was somewhat questionable too but Troy will let his guys make plays until they don't try to make them.  His teammates appreciate it and it's worked out thus far.  Sure there will be times where it might backfire but I think the kid did really well considering the circumstances.

Smith also had QB/WR mixups on a few plays which is to be expected for a guy who arrived here just a few months ago and leaped from third string to starter three weeks ago.  He threw a few balls away or where only his guy could get to it and also had an overthrow to Gore that was close.  All in all he threw accurate passes most of the day despite horrible protection and a limited knowledge of the playbook.

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