710ESPN audio: One way to measure QBs

The Mosaic Modern Fusion Restaurant in St. Louis' Labert International Airport served as a radio studio Thursday.

The guys at 710ESPN Seattle found me there for our latest NFC West discussion.

They've posted the audio and I'm happy to say we covered all four teams in the division on this one.

Co-host Bob Stelton asked whether we should expect more from the San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith this season, or if the team would play a similar style (you know, the kind that critics say demands less from the quarterback). I pointed to stats in the red zone and on third down as potential indicators for 2012. The 49ers expect improvement in those areas. That could mean playing more aggressively and asking more from Smith in those situations.

We should also point out that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has said Smith deserves credit for many things fans and stats typically do not account for, including presnap adjustments. It does seem, however, that those adjustments would produce better results on third down and across all situations.

The chart ranks 2011 NFC West quarterbacks by third-down conversion rate on passing plays. Drew Brees (57.6), Ben Roethlisberger (52.1), Aaron Rodgers (51.6), Philip Rivers (49.0), Matt Schaub (46.7) and Tom Brady (46.0) comprised the top six in the league. Tim Tebow (21.6) was 35th and last among qualifying passers, one spot below Sam Bradford.

The figures reflect more than quarterback play. Receivers have to get open, make catches and get past the first-down marker. Note also that quarterback rushes aren't part of the percentages here.

2011 NFC West Third-Down Passing by First-Down Conversion Pct.