Alex vs. Troy Smith; Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers; Jenn Sterger vs. Brett Favre; A's After Guerrero?
by Glenn Dickey
Dec 08, 2010

Alex Smith will return as the starting quarterback as the 49ers host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. I thought Mike Singletary might stick with Troy Smith for the rest of the season but he saw enough of him in five games to realize he’s not the answer. Maybe Singletary is smarter than I thought.

Some fans will no doubt point out that the 49ers had a winning record, 3-2, in games Troy Smith started, but they weren’t beating much. The St. Louis Rams were the only .500 team in the group and the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals are truly dreadful, both 3-9 at this point. By contrast, Alex Smith started games against two .500 teams, the Raiders and Seattle Seahawks, but also against 10-2 Atlanta, 9-3 New Orleans and 8-4 Kansas City and Philadelphia.

Troy Smith had one sensational game, at home against the Rams in an overtime win, but otherwise his performance was between mediocre and terrible.

His worst game was against the Tampa Bay Bucs, who handed the Niners their first home shutout since 1977, in the dark Joe Thomas days.

He wasn’t much better against the Green Bay Packers in the Niners’ latest loss. He had one big play, a 66-yard touchdown pass that was mostly the 45 yards Vernon Davis ran after breaking a tackle after he caught the ball.

Overall, Davis was only 10-for-25, and commentator Brian Billick pointed out the obvious: He isn’t very accurate.

Billick, who started in pro ball on the public relations staff of the 49ers, remember Bill Walsh yelling at Joe Montana in practice because a pass wasn’t precise enough. “I thought it was a good pass,” said Billick, “but Walsh wanted it in the precise spot where the receiver could catch it in stride and run with it.” In games, his precision passing was exactly why Montana was so effective.

Troy Smith is the polar opposite. He has a tendency to fling the ball in the direction of his receivers and hope that they’ll get the ball. That’s a style that can work in college ball, where the defensive backs aren’t of the same caliber as those in the NFL, but if he had stayed as the 49ers starter, he’d have thrown more and more interceptions.

Billick was charitable, saying only that Troy needs to work on his accuracy. Billick knows that quarterbacks usually only improve their accuracy incrementally when they come to the NFL.

Case in point: Kyle Boller, whom I saw quite a bit of as a Cal quarterback. Boller has a very strong arm and I remember being impressed when I saw him airing it out in videos of high school games. He struggled in his first three years at Cal, mostly because he was playing for Tom Holmoe. When Jeff Tedford came in, he worked on Boller’s footwork and made him into a quarterback who was a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

Even then, though, I noticed that Boller wasn’t a very accurate passer. He was actually best on the long passes but he sprayed the ball a lot on shorter passes. I wrote that I doubted he’d be a success in the NFL.

That’s pretty much what has happened. He’s at .500 for his career, at a time when top NFL quarterbacks usually complete 60 per cent of their passes, and sometimes more. (Troy Smith is at 52.4). Now, he’s a backup with the Raiders, but he moved up only when Bruce Gradkowski’s shoulder injury knocked him out for the year.

Troy Smith has another problem: He’s listed as six feet but is probably shorter, which makes it difficult for him to throw from the pocket because it’s easy for taller defensive linemen to knock down his passes. His passing efficiency has decreased as defenses have had more success at keeping him in the pocket.

Drew Brees is also only about six feet tall, so the Saints have many plays in which he rolls to his right and throws. But Brees is also an extremely accurate passer, so that style works well for him and the Saints.

Also, as current play caller Mike Johnson noted, the Saints have been working on that style for several years. It’s not so easy for the Niners to suddenly put it in.

Troy Smith has now had two tryouts as a starter, first with the Baltimore Ravens and now with the 49ers. Thev’ve been short, but each one has shown those who evaluate NFL quarterbacks that he simply doesn’t have the goods. He put on a great show against the Rams, the most exciting 49ers game I’ve seen in years, and he’s always capable of doing that on occasion. But an NFL team needs consistency at quarterback.

Consistency has also been Alex Smith’s problem but he has NFL-quality skills. He is obviously not a crowd favorite. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets booed at the start of Sunday’s game, but a few good plays would turn the crowd around quickly.

Alex is on the last year of his contract, so he’s playing for his future. If he finishes the season strong, the 49ers would probably try to re-sign him. If he struggles, he’s gone.

As for Troy Smith….I wrote earlier that he was a one-hit wonder. I’ll stand by that.

PLAYOFFS: Because the NFC West is so wretched this year, some observers have said there should be a rule prohibiting a team that finishes below .500 from being in the playoffs, even if it wins its division, which may happen in the NFC West this year.

That’s a bad idea because it makes no sense to have divisions if the winner of one can’t be in the playoffs. Billick has a much better idea: Seed the playoffs. Once the teams have qualified, give the home team advantage to the teams with the best record. To cite a hypothetical case: If Seattle wins the NFC West with an 8-8 record and Green Bay finishes second in the NFC Central with 12-4, under Billick’s plan, it would be the Packers who would host a game between the two. As it is, Seattle would host the game because it won its division.

NFL QBS: Television watchers got a special treat on Sunday morning and Monday evening, watching what I think are now the two best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Tom Brady has been there for a long time, the nearest quarterback to Montana, with his perfect touch and leadership. Now, Aaron Rodgers has stepped up to the same level.

Rodgers, in fact, is much the same kind of quarterback that Brady is. Neither has the strong arm of, for instance, Brett Favre, but strength isn’t the only consideration in throwing the deep ball. Accuracy is vital, of course, and a quarterback must be able to give his receiver a chance to run under the pass – putting some air under it, as announcers say. Both Brady and Rodgers have that ability.

They both know how to throw the short and intermediate passes – almost as if they’d been coached by Walsh.

It’s conceivable that both could wind up in the Super Bowl, and wouldn’t that be a great matchup!

NFL COVERUP: The agent for Jenn Sterger, who has claimed that Favre sent her nude videos of himself, has urged NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to move faster on the “investigation” of the case. The agent noted that if the case isn’t decided before the end of the season, Favre will not longer be under NFL jurisdiction when he finally retires.

You think that’s what Goodell intends? Oh, my, you have a suspicious mind.

And, so do I.

OOPS! I really outdid myself last week when I called the St. Louis Rams the Browns. I can’t blame the error on age. I had the same problem when I came to The Chronicle 47 years ago. At that time, I did much more copy editing than writing and I could read others copy and spot errors but not my own. It’s a common problem for writers reading out their own copy because we see what we intended to write, even if we wrote something different.

Interesting trivia which you may not know: The late Ed Moose, growing up in St. Louis, was a batboy for the Browns. He switched his allegiance to the Cardinals when the Browns became the Baltimore Orioles, and he retained that allegiance to the end of his life, while paying lip service to the Giants.

A’S MOVES: The A’s aren’t having much luck with free agents. Negotiations broke down this week with Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma and they withdrew a $64 million offer to Adrian Beltre when he showed no interest – for the second year in a row.

Frankly, I think Iwakuma did them a favor. Japanese pitchers have often struggled on this side of the Pacific, mostly because most hitters are much more patient than in Japan, resulting in either more walks or more fat pitches that get hit out of the park. Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Red Sox is an excellent example. He was pursued by many clubs before signing with the Red Sox but has had
Only one really good year for the Bosox – 2008, when he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. Overall, he’s 46-27 with a 4.18 ERA for four years and has had injury problems as well.

Beltre is a more complicated case. He wants to go back to the Red Sox, apparently because he doesn’t understand that two doesn’t go evenly into one. The Boston trade for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez moves Kevin Youkilis to third base, leaving no place for Beltre to play.

Because there are few quality free agents this year, teams are overpaying for the ones out there. Jayson Werth got an incredible contract, seven years for $126 million from the Nationals. “I thought they were trying to reduce the deficit in Washington,” quipped Sandy Aldrson. Adam Dunn, a power hitter who struck out 199 times last season and is a defensive butcher, whether he plays first or in the outfield, got four years, $56 million from the White Sox. Now that the Sox have re-signed Paul Konerko, as expected, maybe they’ll use Dunn as the DH, but that’s a lot of dough for somebody not playing in the field.

The A’s also whiffed on Lance Berkman, who preferred to play in St. Louis, which is closer to his Houston team – and also a more likely playoff team.

Now, there’s talk they’re going after Hideki Matsui seriously, with Vladimir Guerrero as a backup possibility. Either one would add the power the A’s seriously lack. Matsui had 21 homers in 482 at-bats for the Angels last year. Guerrero, once a good outfielder with a powerful arm, absolutely cannot play in the field any more, as he proved in the World Series when the Rangers tried to play him there. But he can still hit: .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs for the Rangers last year.

A’s general manager Billy Beane said playing in the Coliseum hurts the A’s chances with free agent hitters because it’s a pitcher’s park and seldom filled to capacity. I’m sure that’s true, but players also know that, since Lew Wolff has been the managing general partner, the goal has been to get to San Jose, not to win games.

The San Jose move is not going to happen./ I’m amused by writers who keep putting out stories that the select committee which is supposed to be compiling a report on ball parks hasn’t reported yet. Of course it hasn’t. Commissioner Bud Selig doesn’t want a report. He knows the idea of taking away the Giants exclusive rights to Santa Clara County is a dead issue, especially now that the Giants have won the World Series.

When the Oakland planning commission reported on a possible ballpark site just south of Jack London Square, Wolff’s only comment was that he had looked at Oakland sites and wasn’t interested. He’ll put out a more detailed report in a media e-mail just before the start of the season. Can’t risk giving A’s fans any hope. They might come out to the park in greater numbers and upset all his plans.

VACATION: This is my last website column until Dec. 22. I’’m taking time off with my family.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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