The knee-jerk habitual thinking is that Alex Smith cannot throw a ball far downfield. This idea has become a shibboleth oft repeated by NFL pundits, both amateur and professional. It has become a mantra almost as popular as the “game manager” epithet.
Pigeonholing people is a common human tendency, but it is not one of our most endearing traits. And it ignores the evidence to the contrary.
Even with a limited receiver group, Smith completed several very long balls in 2011. One in particular, a 60-yard touchdown to Ted Ginn, Jr that was called back on a holding penalty, was a beauty I have replayed on my DVR many times. A perfect throw caught during a full-speed run. Add to that the throw to Vernon Davis on the last drive in the Saints Divisional Playoff game, a bullet down the sideline that set the 49ers up for the final touchdown.
The bullets thrown to Vernon Davis for touchdowns in clutch situations were beautiful passes that even the game announcers could not help but applaud.
And, even with a weak receiving corps, a strong rushing game and a strike-shortened preseason, Alex Smith still threw for 3,144 yards in the 2011 season. He finished 19th in total yards.
But in 2012, I suggest Smith will surprise all of us.
He has enthusiastically and voluntarily worked with a throwing coach, using modern scientific methods to identify and fix mechanical problems with his technique this offseason. He had developed some bad habits after shoulder surgery by favoring the shoulder. This should improve his accuracy on the mid-to-long-range balls.
Smith is heavily critiqued even though his accuracy was good enough in 2011 to win 13 games, several surging from behind with clutch throws that were beauties to watch.
Imagine what he can do with the addition of three new prime receivers, two of which, Randy Moss and A.J. Jenkins, can really stretch the field. Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree can bedevil the middle depth defenders while Vernon Davis is the ultimate wild card and threat.
Kendall Hunter, Frank Gore and LaMichael James will provide short field and screen-play threats that can take it all the way, given half a chance and a timely block or two.
One limiting factor on Smith’s total yard record is the fact that the 49ers strongly beefed up an already very good rushing squad. Every second used to gain a rushing yard takes time off the clock that is not available for passing plays. Adding a beefy Jacobs for short yardage rushes will obviate the need for some pass plays.
Even with the rushing attack improvements, Alex Smith has an opportunity to show off a more complete repertoire of passes. I would not be surprised if he rose from 19th in total yards to break into the Top 10.
And that means throwing for more than 4,000 yards.
Alex Smith finally has the tools to take the "monkey off his back."