Five weeks into the 2011 NFL season and 49ers quarterback Alex Smith has been turning heads, proving to be one of the most efficient passers in the league this year. A former number one overall pick, proclaimed a bust, has shown that he can successfully execute the offense Jim Harbaugh and company has installed.
At the moment, Smith maintains a 104.1 quarterback rating which is a career best and good enough for 3rd in the NFL behind only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. And even though he is yet to surpass 1,000 passing yards on the season, Smith has thrown 7 touchdowns to his 1 interception. If his performance remains consistent, he could be looking to finish the season with 25+ touchdowns with four interceptions and playoff berth.
And while I did anticipate an improvement in his game with coach Harbaugh, Smith's play has already exceeded my expectations. He hasn't been beating himself, keeping San Francisco in every contest so far this season -- and some might say the 49ers should be 5-0.
On Sunday against Tampa Bay, we saw Smith put together his most complete performance yet, tying a career high three touchdowns for a single game. In the past two weeks, he has led the 49ers to back to back wins against expected contenders in this league. And while the 49ers have the 27th ranked offense, they are the 5th ranked scoring team in the league behind only New England, Buffalo, New Orleans and Green Bay.
A lot of people out there really can't comprehend the success the 49ers have achieved this year with Smith still behind center and a rookie head coach. There have been several changes in Smith's game from years passed that has allowed him to find success this year, and it all begins by him cutting down on the self-inflicted wounds.
It seems that the guy that has been beating Alex Smith for 6 years has been Alex Smith. He, with the assistance of the coaching staff, has eliminated the obscurities in his game that would cost the 49ers wins. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have put Smith in position to make plays.
Smith appears calm, collected and confident down after down which is something that we have not seen before. On the 49ers first offensive drive against the Buccaneers, Smith lofted a beauty to triple-covered tight end Delanie Walker in the endzone for a touchdown. The placement of the ball could not have been better, as it landed where only his receiver could come up with it.
The staff also seemed to have opened the playbook up a bit more for him this past week. Smith was taking shots downfield, and has 16 throws this season that have gone for 20+ yards; 4 more than Super Bowl winning quarterback Aaron Rodgers. His deep ball accuracy seems to have improved ten-fold, and not just the ones to Vernon Davis.
The 49ers quarterback has gripped the concept of spreading the ball around because it ultimately makes it difficult for defenses to track where the ball is going. Smith has shown the maturity and talent to come back from being down 21 points as well as attaining a lead and finishing strong. These are two game situations that we needed to see Smith perservere, and he stepped up to the challenge of both.
The staples of the west coast offense have been revealing themselves little by little each week, and Smith has seemed to improve accordingly. He's stepping into throws, planting his feet and delivering the ball to his playmakers, allowing them to do their job. And right now, the team has bought into Smith and they are willing to fight for him because they believe.
The formula right now is working for them, and Smith seems to be a crucial component to it. As long as he keeps fighting for his teammates, playing mistake-free football, this team can go far. Smith will have a real challenge next week when the 49ers go on the road to face a very tough Detroit team before the bye week. We'll see if Smith can answer the call to duty against another aggressive defense to push San Francisco to 5-1.
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SIDE NOTE: After Sunday Night Football, I tuned into Sportscenter to see a compacted reel of the 49ers routing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the reaction from the analysts. There was none. Till the late hours of the night, there was none. Not even a highlight reel. Nothing. Back to back to back videos of the Eagles loss to the Bills was the dominating story, along with how the east coast's favorite team, New England Patriots won again. I hope Jim Harbaugh tuned in at the same time I did because I'm sure it left a bad taste in his mouth as it did mine. Thanks ESPN for stepping out of your comfort zone once again.
The West Coast