Quarterback Alex Smith has been given one more chance by Mike Singletary to show he can be the 49ers starting quarterback. Smith is now on a week- to-week basis as the starting quarterback. One more bad game and Smith is done. At times Smith looks like a former number one draft pick. At other times Smith also looks like Ryan Leaf the NFL’s most notorious draft bust (JaMarcus Russell comes in at a close second). The 49er Faithful did not expect Smith to do his own impression of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this season. We expected Smith to play like he did on the opening drives against the Saints and Eagles. We did not expect him to play cautious for the remainder of the two games only to turn it on with the 49ers down in the final quarter. If Smith played like he did on those opening drives the rest of the game the 49ers would have two W’s in the win column and not face the prospect of starting 0-6. All the mistakes he makes in between the opening drive of the game and the fourth quarter puts the 49ers in too big of a hole to dig out of which results in too little, too late and a loss. I am struggling with whether or not Smith should remain the starter. Here are my arguments for and against Smith remaining the quarterback.
Argument for Alex Smith as the starter:
Smith has been the starter since week eight of last season and if you give him plays that are suited to his best abilities he will succeed. Jimmy Raye did this somewhat last season in situations when the 49ers found themselves down by a few touchdowns. Raye did not do that this season. If you give Smith plays that are cautious and mostly run plays, this rubs off on Smith. Smith seems to excel only when he finds his team is down by more than one score. Offensive coordinator Mike Johnson needs to look at plays called last season during the games against the Texans and Packers. Against the Texans the 49ers were down 21-0 and Smith in the second half threw for three touchdowns with 49ers losing 24-21 in the end. Against the Packers the 49ers were down 23-3 at halftime. The first half was all run smash mouth football that was eaten up by the Packers defense. In the second half the 49ers opened up their play book and even though they lost they came close with a final score of 30-24.
One of the things I have been hearing since Johnson became the new offensive coordinator is there is only so much he can change with the playbook mid-season. True, however the spread formation plays called last season against the Texans and Packers were part of Raye’s play book. The plays are most likely still in the playbook and should be used to help Smith out. The problem with the 49ers offense is that it is too predictable. Open up the playbook, spread out the receivers with three receiver sets and let Smith gun it out. With Frank Gore in the back field in the shotgun and three receiver sets the run is still an option and most be accounted for. If anything opponents have been stopping the run and making the 49ers show they can successfully pass the football. Only then will you see Smith play like a former number one draft pick.
Argument against Alex Smith as the starter:
All of the mistakes Smith has made this season are rookie mistakes that should have been taken care of in previous seasons. The fact that he is still making these mistakes shows he is not the starting quarterback the 49ers can rely on. Smith has had five offensive coordinators in the last five seasons and never excelled to his full potential under any of them. This is further proof that Smith cannot cut it as an NFL starting quarterback. A good quarterback will make do with whoever is their offensive coordinator and excel. It is not the play caller that makes an offense successful, it is the quarterback in the huddle going out and executing the play with success for all four quarters of a game.
The great quarterbacks in the NFL don’t have cautious in their vocabulary. The great quarterbacks don’t think they just react. Smith is too cerebral for us own good and over thinks what he should do in any given situation which leads to the wrong decision and usually a turnover. Take the Eagles game on Sunday. When Smith fumbled in the third quarter, which was ran back for a touchdown, he had tight Vernon Davis open to the right but he did not let it loose and looked for other options. By over thinking he missed an opportunity to hit Davis and quickly lost his pass protection which in turn he tried forcing a pass that was fumbled away. Singletary’s biggest mistake on Sunday was letting Smith stay in the game. The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I don’t see how this is any different keeping Smith as the quarterback. Backup David Carr is not a long term answer but having Smith under center has led the 49ers to 0-5. The 49ers are now the worst team in the Bay Area. If the 49ers go down against the Raiders nothing will be able to save this team. With Smith starting against the Raiders Singletary will finally realize the meaning of insanity and pull Smith as the starter. At that point however the Raiders game will be lost and so will Smith’s career.