Yesterday evening, the 49ers endured yet another shellacking, this time at the hands of the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers aren't a top-flight NFL team--they're just about in the middle of the pack in terms of offensive and defensive performance. Their quarterback, Philip Rivers, came into the league at about the same time as Smith (and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers), but his stats (and Rodgers's) are so much better than Smith's that they hardly bear comparison.
The 49ers have been reluctant to give up on Smith. Even after six years of dismal failure, the money they paid to him, and the hopes they pinned on his eventual maturation, have caused them to procrastinate. This procrastination has put the team's situation, and the status of their young coach, Mike Singletary, in a precarious dilemma. Surely, upper management, the Yorks and their Son Jed, must be coming to the end of their patience with Smith. A number of excuses have been made for Smith's lack of performance. He's had to deal with a succession of offensive coordinators, each of whom has been fired after one season or less. He's had to deal with different head coaches. He's had some injuries--one serious (a shoulder condition). There's been a lack of continuity in the team's approach to offensive strategy.
But some of these problems have their root cause in Smith's performance. A failure on the field can be blamed on offensive game plans, and offensive coordinators. The team's overall record can be blamed on coaching, on head coaches in particular. But in the NFL, no team, no matter how good in all its aspects, can be expected to overcome poor play at the quarterback position. I was not a fan of Mike Nolan, and I can see how Singletary, despite his manly, dignified bearing, probably lacks some of the strategic knowledge and acumen to lead his team to a championship, but coaching hasn't been the problem with this team. Smith's poor performance has made the whole team appear much worse than it is. On paper, the level of talent on this team, generally, is quite high, but because of the breakdown in the driver's seat, the whole vehicle seems to be poorly designed.
If Gore, or Vernon Davis were playing on a competent team, with even an average quarterback, they'd be leading the league in yards or receptions, and touchdowns. If the 49ers had scored twice as many touchdowns as they have, their defense likewise would probably be leading the league in points and yards allowed. This team's failure isn't a breakdown in overall skill or coaching, it's collapsing because the team can't score, and can't sustain drives. And those are failures of the quarterback.
Following Steve Young's last year, in 1998, when the team went 12-4, Jeff Garcia maintained the team's superior record at the QB position, for another three years, but beginning in 2004, the team hasn't had a talent that approached the caliber of Montana/Young/Garcia. No team that reaches the Superbowl can succeed without great play at the QB position. There are no exceptions to this rule.
In 2010, Singletary knew that he was expected to take his team to the play-offs; in his earliest press conferences, he routinely promised "we will be in the play-offs"--it became his mantra. But as the season has progressed, that rote promise has dimmed. He knows, as everyone does, even Smith, that this is Smith's last chance, and now, with two regular season games to go, the handwriting--the ugly obvious graffiti--is on the wall: this is Smith's last season as a 49er. The one remaining question is, is it Singletary's last season, too? If management decided, before the season began, that it was committed to Smith for another whole season, with or without Singletary's input or accession, the results can hardly be laid at Singletary's feet. No matter who he picked for offensive coordinator, the results wouldn't have been markedly different. It hasn't been a matter of bad luck or bad breaks.
Last night's game had all the earmarks of a typical Smith performance: Poor "pocket presence"-- he bumps into his own lineman, doesn't "sense" lineman as they approach him, invariably chooses the wrong escape route out of the pocket; poor field vision--he can never seem to find the open receiver downfield, and "dumps" short passes for little or no gains; he lacks confidence, and projects a sense of incompetence and frustration on the field (and teammates--especially lineman--pick this up immediately, and become demoralized during the game). None of this is new. They're the same things Smith has been showing for the last five years. It's gotten so bad, I find myself routing for the team to get blown out, because the lower they finish in the standings, the better their position in the draft sequence, and the sooner they're likely to give up on this wash-out phenom. How long do you think the Packers, or the Patriots, or the Colts, or the Steelers, would have stuck with a guy like Smith? Not more than a season and half, I'd wager. Below are Smith's current lifetime stats:
|2010||San Francisco 49ers||9||298||179||60.1||33.1||1,974||6.6||219.3||12||4.0||10||3.4||62T||23||6||21||122||79.2|
|2009||San Francisco 49ers||11||372||225||60.5||33.8||2,350||6.3||213.6||18||4.8||12||3.2||73T||33||5||22||134||81.5|
|2008||San Francisco 49ers||0||--||--||--||0.0||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||0.0|
|2007||San Francisco 49ers||7||193||94||48.7||27.6||914||4.7||130.6||2||1.0||4||2.1||45||11||1||17||121||57.2|
|2006||San Francisco 49ers||16||442||257||58.1||27.6||2,890||6.5||180.6||16||3.6||16||3.6||75||34||8||35||202||74.8|
|2005||San Francisco 49ers||9||165||84||50.9||18.3||875||5.3||97.2||1||0.6||11||6.7||47||13||2||29||185||40.8|
Smith must go ! ! !