QBR ranks: 49ers' Smith far and away best

The three names listed last in ESPN's weekly quarterback performance rankings have one thing in common: NFC West divisional heritage.

The Arizona Cardinals' John Skelton was 32nd. The St. Louis Rams' Kellen Clemens was at No. 31. The Seattle Seahawks' Tarvaris Jackson was 30th.

This would normally be unwelcome in these parts, but I'm going to embrace their Week 16 badness as beneficial to the division's long-term health. Skelton and Jackson had been winning enough recently to change perceptions about them. Having them struggle in defeats that knocked their teams from playoff contention makes it tougher for anyone, including the teams, to overestimate their capabilities.

The case of Alex Smith in San Francisco is a little trickier. Smith continues to lag in the season-long Total QBR rankings, but he has been quite good in recent weeks, save for a rough outing at Baltimore. Five times in the 49ers' last seven games, Smith has produced QBR figures that would project as worthy of Pro Bowl consideration if maintained over a full season. Those looking at raw passing stats might also notice that Smith has 24 touchdowns with only six interceptions while posting a 15-5 record in his last 20 starts.

The key plays Smith made for the 49ers in Week 16 -- two scrambles and a few clutch throws -- were enough for San Francisco to win despite suffering a blocked punt and a couple key injuries.

"I really thought that he was the difference in the game for them," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters Monday. "I thought he did a very nice job. He didn’t turn the ball over at all, which was great for them. But those few plays -- that handful of plays where he kept the thing going -- I thought gave them an advantage on us that day."

Life gets a little more complicated for Smith now that a jaw injury is threatening to sideline tight end Delanie Walker, possibly for the season.

The situation at wide receiver is also in flux. Ted Ginn Jr. has been hurt, Kyle Williams suffered a concussion Saturday and Braylon Edwards announced his release via Twitter on Tuesday morning. Starter Josh Morgan is on injured reserve.

2011 NFC West Total QBR by Week (50 is average, 100-point max)

Quick thoughts on how NFC West passers graded out in Week 16 according to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point:

  • Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (73.8 QBR, 75.6 NFL rating): Smith completed 14 of 26 passes for 179 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions, two sacks and one fumble, which the 49ers recovered. He scrambled five times for 22 yards, gaining 12 on a third-and-8 play to sustain a touchdown drive. This performance was good enough under the circumstances for the 49ers to win a close game against a good, but limited opponent. Questions about the 49ers' ability to keep pace with more dynamic offenses -- specifically those for Green Bay and New Orleans in the NFC -- will persist. But the 49ers were not playing those teams Saturday. Smith did what he had to do to win the game he was playing.

  • Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle Seahawks (11.8 QBR, 82.9 NFL rating): Jackson completed 15 of 28 passes for 163 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions, three sacks and one lost fumble. He gained 5 yards on three carries. Jackson's NFL passer rating for the season nearly mirrors the one former Seahawks starter Matt Hasselbeck has posted in Tennessee. Hasselbeck ranks significantly higher in Total QBR, however, because plays associated with him have done more to increase his team's win probability. Jackson's tendency to hold onto the ball has led to sacks and other problems for Seattle. That was the case when the 49ers forced him to fumble late in the game. The turnover was pivotal.

  • Kellen Clemens, St. Louis Rams (9.4 QBR, 49.1 NFL rating): Clemens completed 9 of 24 passes for 91 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions, three sacks and one fumble, which the Rams recovered. He gained 10 yards on two rushes. The Rams leaned heavily on running back Steven Jackson in this game. Clemens was under pressure and could not lead the Rams into the end zone. Nothing he did gave the Rams a realistic shot at winning the game.

  • John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals (6.3 QBR, 60.5 NFL rating): Skelton completed 23 of 44 passes for 297 yards with two touchdowns, three interceptions, five sacks and one fumble, which the Cardinals recovered. He rushed four times for 6 yards. The fact that Skelton's poor play doomed the Cardinals to a 23-0 deficit proved more important than the plays he made in getting Arizona back into the game late. The fourth-quarter production meant little in the end.

The clutch-weight average column reflects game situations, not how well players performed during those situations. Any clutch average above 1.0 reflects a quarterback performing in higher-pressure situations.

2011 Relevant NFC West QBR Ranks: Week 16