Around the NFC West: Quick look at QBs

NFC West quarterbacks did some good things in Week 5.

Seattle's Russell Wilson completed all but one of his 10 pass attempts on third down during a 16-12 victory over Carolina. His third-down passer rating (130.8) led the NFL for the week among players with more than three third-down attempts.

Around the NFC West: Oct. 10, 2012

St. Louis' Sam Bradford wasn't as efficient, but he tossed two third-down scoring passes during a 17-3 victory over Arizona.

The Cardinals' Kevin Kolb, meanwhile, deserves some credit simply for making it through a game in which he took nine sacks.

Then there was the San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith. His 303-yard passing effort during a 45-3 victory over Buffalo helped the 49ers set a single-game franchise record with 621 total yards. He completed 18 of 24 passes with three touchdowns, no turnovers and no sacks.

Smith leads the NFL in passer rating (108.7) and Total QBR (81.9) this season.

But as Albert Larcada of ESPN's analytics team notes, Smith hasn't necessarily produced that high QBR score by conventional means. His third-down metrics are below average, for instance.

"He is torching defenses on first and second downs with at least seven defenders in the box, posting a 96.3 QBR -– three points better than any other quarterback," Larcada wrote. "This is a marked improvement for Smith, who was not able to take advantage of run-preventing defenses in the past.

"A lot of his success on these plays has come by throwing the ball over the top of aggressive defenses. On throws at least 15 yards downfield in these situations, Smith is 10-for-16 with two touchdowns and no interceptions and is one of three QBs with a 100.0 QBR."

Larcada notes that Smith's metrics lag on third down and in clutch situations, defined as fourth quarters or overtimes when the score differential does not exceed eight points.

But when the 49ers needed Smith to convert third downs while protecting a fourth-quarter lead against Detroit, Smith completed 5 of 7 passes for one touchdown and four first downs. That included 3 of 4 passing for 34 yards and three first downs in third down.

If we select only situations the QBR metric considers above average for clutch weight -- meaning situations through the first five games when quarterback play was more critical -- the numbers favor Smith again. He has completed 29 of 42 passes for 411 yards with three touchdowns, no picks, two sacks and one rushing first down (89.0 QBR) in these higher-leverage situations.

It's tough to diminish what Smith has accomplished so far this season. I'll be back in a bit with a broader look at where the 49ers' offense (and other NFC West offenses) rank through five games.