49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

October 23, 2012
Q&A: Has Alex Smith regressed? Is Jacobs Braylon Edwards 2.0?

AlexSacked.jpg

@AJABlaza Is Alex regressing (more ints/lower comp %)? Are they asking him to do too much? Just bad luck? What gives?

Answ: 77.9, 84.5, 74.0, 101.0, 45.5, 61.5, 136.7. Those are a sampling of Eli Manning's quarterback ratings from last season. Which is to say, even Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks go through massive fluctuations from week to week.

Apart from the interceptions, Alex Smith's numbers so far this season (127-190, 66%, 1,427 yards, 9 TD, 5 INT) are the same or better than the first seven games last year (115-182, 63%, 1,267, 9 TD, 2 INT).

One of the issues is that he followed perhaps his best game ever, vs. Buffalo, with one of his worst games in three years, vs. the Giants. The contrast is stark, and it makes it seem as if he's regressed. Defenses are taking away his favorite target, Vernon Davis, and the 49ers have played two very good defensive opponents in recent weeks.

A week before Smith posted a ho hum 74.5 passer rating in a win against the Seahawks, Tom Brady posted a ho hum 79.3 passer rating in a loss to the Seahawks. Smith also has dealt with a sprained finger, which Jim Harbaugh hinted might have been more problematic than Smith let on.

The bottom line is that, unless you're Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers (both of whom have poorer records than Smith this season, by the way), your season is going to have peaks and valleys. Smith is in a valley right now, and it will be up to him, Harbaugh and Greg Roman to climb out of it.

@hurricane_heck is Brandon Jacobs this years Braylon Edwards? Lol

Answ: I think he's closer to being this year's Shawntae Spencer. As you'll recall, Spencer was a 2010 starter who got hurt early in 2011 training camp and never could climb back to the top -- or even the middle -- of the cornerback depth chart.

That was due in large part to how well the cornerbacks ahead of him were playing. Jacobs faces a similar situation at running back where Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter rank second and third among running backs in average yards per carry. That is, the 49ers have a very good thing going right now as far as their running game is concerned, and it's hard to see Harbaugh disrupting it.

Could Gore's rib injury mean more carries (and by more, I mean one) for Jacobs? Perhaps, but Gore went through a full practice Monday and has a long time to recover before the team's next game.

@refresh303 what position is the weakest link and most likely to address early in the draft?

For the second straight year, outside linebacker is the weak link in terms of numbers. However, the 49ers should get a boost at the position even without the draft. That's because injured 2012 draft picks Darius Fleming and Cam Johnson essentially will be rookies next year.

I've been impressed with Fleming from a work ethic standpoint. He's been an every-day sight at the facility and has been on hand to observe every practice. He's ahead of schedule in his recovery from an ACL tear, and the hope is that he begins the offseason program along with the rest of the team.

As for Johnson ... I watched him warm up before the Seahawks game. He is clearly still dealing with a knee injury that affected him throughout the offseason. It's likely the reason why the team signed Eric Bakhtiari instead of activating Johnson off the practice squad when Clark Haggans was serving his suspension.

But to answer your question, tight end could end up being an obvious choice. Remember, Delanie Walker is in the final year of his deal. I'm sure there are some teams out there that see him as an upgrade over their current No. 1 tight end (Buffalo? Scott Chandler? Giants? Tampa Bay? Cleveland? Arizona? Seattle?). The 49ers also probably will be picking late in the first round when the top tight ends usually are taken.

@keverend with the season almost halfway through, who is your surprise/disappointing player of the season so far?

Answ: He hasn't been a disappointment on the field, but Randy Moss has gotten less playing time and has been far less a factor than I imagined he'd be back in, say, June. I guess I got caught up in the the Moss hysteria along with everyone else. But in my -- and everyone else's defense -- he looked pretty damn good during those offseason practices.

As far as surprises, I really didn't know much about Mario Manningham before he got here. He's so quick and fluid ... There's potential for him to become one of Smith's favorite targets because he does such a good job of getting open.

@hardlyclerkin How respected is Harbaugh in the league? I mean, we have heard about many a coach complain about him.

Well, there's a difference between 'I respect Jim Harbaugh' and 'I like Jim Harbaugh.' The guy has 19 wins since entering the NFL last year, and he had to deal with a lockout-shortened offseason last year. That alone commands respect. His teams are tough but not dirty, and he's accumulated an excellent coaching staff, something that opposing coaches have to respect.

Now do they like Jim Harbaugh? There might be one guy -- he coaches in Baltimore -- that can answer in the affirmative. The hat-throwing, sideline hysterics and official grubbing probably are turnoffs everywhere else. (But guess what? Jim Harbaugh doesn't care.)

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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