Alex Smith concedes the 49ers' passing attack could stand to improve in 2012. But don't bring up last year's paltry yards-per-game average, and whatever you do, don't cite the lack of 300-yard passing games over his career.
"This is the honest truth," Smith said, warming up for one of his favorite peeves. "I could absolutely care less about yards per game. I think that is a totally overblown stat because if you're losing games in the second half, guess what, you're like the Carolina Panthers and you're going no-huddle the entire second half and, yeah, Cam Newton threw for a lot of 300-yard games. That's great. You're not winning, though."
For the record, the 49ers averaged 181 passing yards a game last season, ranked 29th in the league in that category, but finished 13-3 and went to the NFC Championship game. Newton's Panthers, meanwhile, averaged 239 yards a game, ranked 13th overall and finished 6-10.
As Smith noted, the 49ers didn't need prolific numbers because, thanks to one of the best defenses in the league, they never got into shootouts and rarely fell behind by wide margins. The team's biggest comeback was in Week 4 against Philadelphia, and Smith finished that game with a season-high 291 passing yards. Smith has had only two 300-plus yard performances over his career - in 2010 against Philadelphia and in 2009 against the Seahawks.
Still, he said there was room for improvement in the 49ers air attack. "We were so inconsistent when we had to throw the football," he said. "Third-and-mediums, third-and-longs, we weren't very good. Red zone, we weren't good at times. We've got to get better there."
He and the 49ers have two advantages this year. For one, they are getting a much better jump on the season than they did last year when a lockout wiped away all of the spring practices. The 49ers assembled as a group for the first time on Tuesday and will practice regularly through mid June before taking a break until training camp begins in July.
Smith's other advantage is a bulked up receiving corps. He likened newcomers A.J. Jenkins, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss - to whom Smith delivered a number of passes Wednesday -- to new presents under the tree on Christmas morning
He also talked up an older present, Michael Crabtree, that he hasn't been able to play with in recent offseasons because Crabtree has been injured. "We're a little further along," Smith said of the chemistry between him and Crabtree. "I feel good about body language and things like that. The thing I'm excited for him is not only is it his first offseason, he's healthy. I think he's excited about that. He's feeling really good. It shows up here. He's running better than he ever has since I've seen him."
-- Matt Barrows