SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- NFL teams pay millions to offensive linemen and ask them to protect their quarterbacks.
The league has rewritten its rulebook to protect quarterbacks further.
Only so much can be done to spare quarterbacks from the concussions that are imperiling San Francisco's Alex Smith and Chicago's Jay Cutler while threatening to leave their teams with backups behind center when the Bears visit Candlestick Park in Week 11.
Around the NFC West: Nov. 12, 2012
Smith apparently suffered his concussion on a fourth-down sneak. That was the initial word from coach Jim Harbaugh via team doctors, although it's tough to know with certainty, as Gwen Knapp explained in her postgame column. When Smith suffered a concussion against Dallas in Week 2 last season, the 49ers noticed no symptoms until after the game.
I wondered Sunday how far a team should go to safeguard its quarterback.
A well-executed sneak can be an effective play, but at what cost? Quarterbacks generally aren't skilled power runners. The 49ers' options at running back include career franchise rushing leader Frank Gore, 2011 fourth-round pick Kendall Hunter, veteran Brandon Jacobs, 2012 second-round choice LaMichael James, fullback Bruce Miller and fullback Anthony Dixon. Jacobs and James were not active for the game Sunday, but with so much invested in players whose primary job is to carry the football, why not let those guys run behind a line featuring three first-round draft choices?
A coach might reasonably call this 20-20 hindsight. Quarterback sneaks are part of the game. So are injuries. But why increase the risks unnecessarily?
NFC West fans might recall Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck suffering a wrist injury on a sneak against Arizona in 2010. Another Seahawks quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson, suffered a torn pectoral on a called QB run against the New York Giants last season.
Cutler suffered his brain injury Sunday while throwing right after he stepped past the line of scrimmage.
Perhaps we'll learn more about Smith's injury and how it happened when Harbaugh addresses reporters Monday. I wouldn't expect to see Smith charging into the middle of the Bears' line Monday night, should he play at all.