FanPost

The truth about Alex Smith: A Niners fan's perspective

Ezra Shaw

From the FanPosts. Really enjoyed this. Thanks, Larushka. -Joel

Sunday, Oct 10, 2010. San Francisco is playing at home against Philadelphia.

It's 2nd and 10, 13 minutes left in the 4th quarter. Alex Smith takes the snap drops back, and immediately a defender comes off the right edge, forcing Alex to try to dump off to Frank Gore. The ball hits Gore in the back and drops to the ground. The boos begin raining down. Next play, it's 3rd and 10. Alex takes the snap, drops back, and immediately, a rusher comes off the left edge, forcing Smith to throw early and his receiver doesn't have time to complete his route. The ball sails past just out of reach. The boos grow louder and then change to a chant of "Carr, Carr, Carr." It is a singularly humiliating moment in Smith's career, and one that will change him forever.

There's a common belief around the League (and even among Niners fans) that the successes of Alex Smith's last two years were a product of Coach Harbaugh and a quarterback friendly system. They say he was terrible before that. They point to his drastic improvement the year Coach Harbaugh arrived, and suggest that without Coach Harbaugh, Alex will fall back into his previously horrible QB play. Without a doubt, Coach Harbaugh made life much easier for Smith. But the truth is that Alex Smith's successful play began much earlier, back on that day in 2010.

Before I show you what I mean, take a look at this chart:

YR

ATT

COMP

COMP%

YDS

AVG

TD

INT

RATE

GP

2005

165

184

51

875

5.3

1

11

40.8

9

2006

442

257

58

2890

6.54

16

16

74.8

16

2009

372

225

61

2350

6.32

18

12

81.5

11

2010

342

204

60

2250

6.93

14

10

82.1

11

2011

445

273

61

3144

7.07

17

5

90.7

16

2012

218

153

70

1737

7.97

13

5

104.1

10

The first thing to notice is that his quarterback rating increased every year. Other than the years 2007-2008 (lost to injury), his rating has consistently and relentlessly increased over the course of his career. People who average Smith's career numbers and then say they're the same as Matt Cassel are misleading you. Despite changing OC's and playbooks every year, Alex Smith has continued to improve every single year. Just by itself, this should be cause for optimism. But where I want to focus here is his 2010 year. After that Philadelphia game our OC Jimmy Raye was fired. Alex missed some remaining games due to injury, but if you look at his record after Jimmy Raye was fired you get this:

Game

ATT

COMP

COMP%

YDS

AVG

TD

INT

RTG

6

33

16

48.5

196

5.9

2

0

87.4

7

19

9

47.4

129

6.8

1

0

87.4

14

27

17

62.9

255

9.4

3

0

130.9

15

29

19

65.5

165

5.7

0

1

66

17

29

15

51.7

276

9.5

2

0

107.8

2010*

137

76

55.5

1021

7.5

8

1

95.8

That's a 95 rating in 2010, post JR. You can look at it another way:

2010

ATT

COMP

COMP%

YDS

AVG

TD

INT

RTG

Games

With JR

190

118

62

1229

32.9

6

9

71.6

5

W/O JR

137

76

56

1021

7.5

8

1

95.8

5

That's a pretty shocking improvement. 5 games before, and 5 games after. A totally different quarterback, and it came a long time before Harbaugh arrived.

But I don't believe a better game plan was the most important change in week 5. That week, Smith underwent a transformative experience. Smith had always been a team guy. Always burying what he felt was right, beneath what his coaches feel is right. Year after year he did his best to follow the directions given by coaches, most of whom didn't know much about quarterback play, or even offense in general. He would force himself to play outside of his skill set to try to meet the expectations of those coaches. During that 5th game Smith suffered the embarrassment of having to stand in the middle of the stadium while a large portion of the fans chanted "Carr, Carr, Carr". The fans had had enough. Alex Smith had frustrated them one too many times.

This event crystallized something in Smith. While the boos rained down I could see something change in his expression. He was sick of it too. He wasn't going to put his coaches first anymore. He was going start trusting himself and play how he felt was right. Singletary spent the rest of the year raging at him on the sidelines, and Smith would just stare at him like, "You have no idea what you're talking about." And Alex was right. Having put his faith in himself, he went from a 72 rating to a 95. He went from trying to force things and trying to carry the team, to just playing within himself. He started taking care of the ball and taking what the defense was giving him, half a year before Coach Harbaugh came on the scene. Smith was reborn in that game:

YR

ATT

COMP

COMP%

YDS

AVG

TD

INT

RAT

GP

2005

165

184

50.9

875

5.3

1

11

40.8

9

2006

442

257

58.1

2890

6.54

16

16

74.8

16

2009

372

225

60.5

2350

6.32

18

12

81.5

11

2010.G5-

190

118

62.1

1229

32.9

6

9

71.6

5

Pre-revelation

2010.G6+

137

76

55.5

1021

75

8

1

95.8

11

After revelation

2011

445

273

61.3

3144

7.07

17

5

90.7

16

2012

218

153

70.2

1737

7.97

13

5

104

10

Despite what everyone will tell you, Alex Smith's rebirth was not just Coach Harbaugh's doing. You will have a fine QB leading your team.

And that brings up another point. Alex Smith IS a fine QB. He will lead your locker room. He will motivate your players. He will efficiently execute your coach's game plan. With Smith you will have a good chance to win any game. There will be no 6TD, 12INT seasons. Just hard work and steady, efficient play. Kansas City is just a few pieces away from the playoffs. Reid gets you to 5 wins. Alex Smith automatically gets you to 9+ wins. If someone offered to add 4-6 extra wins to your record in exchange for one 2nd round draft pick, I think most fans would take that deal.

Also, Alex Smith will do the best he can to train the franchise quarterback you eventually draft. Kaepernick has repeatedly stated that Alex showed him everything he could, holding nothing back. How to study film, what to look for from defenses, how to make changes on the line, how to dedicate yourself to football. The "Team" and winning is all that matters to Smith. During the lockout, Alex got a playbook from the coach, organized team practices, and worked with Kap, allowing Kap to enter the preseason games running. All of that was while Smith was technically still a free agent. He was training his competitor for a team that hadn't yet rehired him. There are a handful of more elite QBs out there, but your eventual franchise QB could not have a finer one to be his mentor than Alex.

Despite my praise, I'd like to offer a note of caution. Alex Smith, as he is now, will not be your franchise QB. Alex is efficient, makes good decisions, and wins lots of games. Sounds good, right? But the reason I prefer Kap to Smith comes down to one thing. Fun. Kap wins just as many games, but man is he fun to watch. Alex Smith will win you a ton of games, but fun? Not so much. He's a very, very good quarterback. With him, Kansas City becomes a very, very good team. But there'll be times while you're watching, were you feel like something is missing, even while you're winning. You'll find yourself looking forward to the draft when you have a chance to find the next Russell Wilson. You'll have to, of course, since you'll be picking in the lower half of the draft from now on.

A friend and I work the stats during the season, analyzing game play. We were constantly surprised at how a team with so much talent could be landing at the bottom. Kansas City should have been somewhere in the middle of the pack, not down at 32. Part of it was strength of schedule, but over the season it became obvious you were suffering from poor coaching and turnovers. Well, you've fixed both those problems. Just the change in coaching gets you to six or seven wins. Alex Smith gets you to 9 or 10. I honestly believe Kansas City is very close. The acquisition of Reid and Smith has elevated you into the top half of the NFL. A good draft gets you a wild card spot. A few more moves in FA, and a great draft, and you could end up disappointing legions of Denver fans. Now that would be fun.

Alex Smith:

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.

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