One of the random complaints early in Alex Smith's career was the fact that his hands were supposedly too small to effectively grip and throw the football. That always struck me as a little odd, but given his early problems with holding onto the ball, I suppose it is not surprising the complaints came along.
In 2011, Smith has shown an amazing ability to hold onto the ball amidst some incredibly hard hits. He still fumbles the ball on occasion, but it usually seems to happen on more moderate plays. Have an outside linebacker blow through and sack him hard into the ground and somehow Alex hangs onto the ball.
Yesterday, Smith took a huge sack from Ryan Kerrigan and Rocky McIntosh. I've posted a gif after the jump (if it is slowing down your loading time too much, let me know and I'll just stick with this link). Smith had rolled out to his right and was winding up to throw the ball when Kerrigan hit him on his right arm and McIntosh hit him on his left arm. The Kerrigan hit seemingly drove the ball back into Smith, but given that it was out away from his body, it is still impressive that he held onto the ball.
Although the 49ers offense has had its share of turnovers, they have generally avoided the kind back-breaking turnovers we've seen in seasons' past. The forced turnovers on defense are huge in the field position battle, but avoiding turnovers on offense has been pivotal, particularly given the inconsistency we've seen from the offense.
An offense that struggles to punch it in cannot afford to give away too many scoring opportunities and cannot afford to screw up the field position battle. The 49ers are 7-1 thanks in large part to dominating in field position. The 49ers are built around power rushing, dominant defense, and great special teams. All three allow them to win the field position battle.