Alex Smith changed perceptions with clutch plays during the San Francisco 49ers' 36-32 victory over New Orleans.
The 49ers put more trust in him, Ashley Fox explained, offering insights from the detailed video work Ron Jaworski and Greg Cosell conduct through NFL Films.
San Francisco 49ers
K.C. Joyner, who once described the 49ers as likely playoff pretenders because their offense hadn't proven to be explosive enough, began to change his mind as the playoffs approached. He pointed to Smith's historically good decision making and Drew Brees' risk-taking as reasons the 49ers would likely win the turnover battle against New Orleans. He even said a shootout would favor the 49ers.
Now, with Smith coming off his finest moments, Joyner thinks the 49ers' quarterback has a chance to take another big step forward -- if the 49ers upgrade the weapons around him, notably at wide receiver.
Joyner also likes the 49ers' chances against the Giants in the NFC Championship game, largely because Smith has shown a consistent ability to avoid turnovers.
I thought the 49ers made a statement with Smith when they faced the Giants in Week 10:
The 49ers proved Sunday they could run the offense through Smith and still defeat a playoff-caliber team featuring a Super Bowl winning quarterback in Eli Manning. They threw 11 times in their first 13 plays and got only 50 yards from their running backs, including zero yards on six carries from Frank Gore, who injured a knee and did not finish the game.
The 49ers called a higher percentage of pass plays on early downs against the Giants. That reflected confidence in Smith, I thought. To get a better feel, I calculated the 49ers' run-pass ratios on first and second downs this season. I then excluded plays that were run when one team was leading the other by more than seven points.
We could loosely define these plays as early down situations in one-score games. For accounting purposes, quarterback scrambles were considered called pass plays.
Smith set a season-high with 63.3 percent called passes against New Orleans in these situations. His game against the Giants was his only one in the 60-plus percent range previously this season.
Smith changed some plays at the line of scrimmage. Other times, the 49ers' approach might have reflected matchups or other variables unrelated to how much confidence the team was showing in its quarterback. Those are things to consider when checking out the chart.