Performance Analysis: 49ers' Alex Smith vs. the Seattle Seahawks

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass the ball against the Seattle Seahawks during their season opener at Candlestick Park on September 11, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

On Sunday, quarterback Alex Smith had the first game of what may be his last season as a 49er; that is, unless Smith can perform well enough to be retained by the new organization which has since cut a lot of dead weight. In his final debut against the Seattle Seahawks, Smith didn't wow anyone but that doesn't mean he played terribly.

Smith finished the day 15 for 20, for 124 yards, with 0 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He also rushed for 22 yards and a score, but most importantly he didn't turn the ball over. He wasn't making erratic decisions and played carefree for most of the game.

The offensive play-calling came off pretty bland, especially when the offense chose to run the ball on third and long more than once. They also were run heavy in the red zone, taking away from where Smith statistically excels (30 TD's, 1 INT). One would assume that big targets like Vernon Davis and Braylon Edwards would be serious match-up problems in goal situations, but they went with power football instead.

Watching the match on Sunday, I was looking to see if there was an improvement in Smith's game. The fact that he never took the 49ers out of the game with poor decision-making or general ineffectiveness, would lead me to believe he has taken a step in the right direction. I think that there would be more to brag about with Smith had they given him legitimate passing plays in the red zone. It may have lead to at least one of those first 3 field goals becoming touchdowns, taking Seattle out of the game long before Ted Ginn Jr. could shut them down.

Smith once again displayed his toughness and dedication to the team by putting his body on the line for the greater good. On his only touchdown of the day, Smith scrambled on a play-fake before launching himself into the endzone. And before that happened, Smith was one of two lead blockers on a designed run to Frank Gore. He showed he what he is willing to do for the team and it is the kind of thing that he has been doing to earn respect from his teammates and coaches.

The offensive line played well enough in terms of pass protection that Smith didn't take a sack the whole game. He showed poise in the pocket and felt the pressure, reacting appropriately. And with only 15 completions, he managed to spread the ball around quite a bit, connecting with 6 different receivers. The most effective offenses in the league spread the ball around, making it difficult for defenses to know who to guard. Smith has always been more comfortable with his tight ends and runningbacks so it was good to see him hooking up with wide outs Braylon Edwards, Josh Morgan and Michael Crabtree.

However, from an offensive standpoint, it seems as if head coach Jim Harbaugh is still not ready to show his cards. We know the offense Harbaugh plans to use is more creative than what we saw against the Seahawks. With the NFC East opponent Dallas Cowboys scheduled for week 2, Harbaugh maybe didn't want to provide Jason Garrett's squad with too much game film.

The Dallas secondary is aging and under-performs on almost a week to week basis, so I would expect Smith to have more than 20 throws against them. With the improvement in Smith's decision-making, I'm excited to see what he can do with 30 or so passing attempts. Truthfully, I believe we need a larger, more competitive sample of a regular season performance by Smith to measure his level of play.

Even though I am thrilled to come away with a 33-17 win, Smith still needs to play better. The few throws he did have in the red zone were inaccurate, but he never got a rhythm going before he got there. We need to capitalize on turnovers by scoring touchdowns, rather than settling for field goals. I also think Smith can be more accurate throwing the ball in terms of leading his receiver to where he can make a play after the catch. He also needs to take shots downfield; we need more offensive splash plays that gets the team fired up.

I am confident in him so far since he has seemingly eliminated his knack for making bad choices and now all that remains is fine tuning of the little things. If he can continue to make strides in his game, Smith could possibly earn a contract extension after the 2011 season. It is going to be interesting to see how he performs as the season progresses.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @DeSimone80

 



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