The 49ers have collapsed on defense. The offensive line is a work in progress. Play calling has often been, well, awful. The supposed star receiver runs the wrong pass routes. Head coach Mike Singletary wants to play Stone Age football.
But why are they 0-4?
It’s all Alex Smith, according to some of my readers.
One reader said, after the Kansas City train wreck, that when the 49ers played well, Smith was only one part of it but when they played poorly, it was all his fault.
This reader compared Smith to Scott Bull. For those of you not versed in 49ers history, Bull was part of the run of mostly nonentities who tried to fill the quarterback hole between John Brodie and Joe Montana. In three seasons, Bull completed 76 of 193 passes, threw 17 interceptions and only three touchdowns and had a passer rating of 24.8.
Another reader was so upset after the Atlanta loss, that he fired off four anti-Smith e-mails to me in 12 hours.
Still another wanted to make a change to David Carr, who had the same kind of bad start to his career that Smith had, looking bad as a No. 1 overall pick for the Houston Texans because he came to a terrible team. He’s not a bad quarterback, but he was brought in only as a veteran backup if Smith were injured. Going to him now would be a panicky move that wouldn’t solve anything.
Let’s take a deep breath, people, and look at what’s really happening:
1. Smith has to play much better in the remaining 12 games or that will be the end of his career with the 49ers.
2. This is a team breakdown, not just a quarterback problem.
Smith has had one game when he looked like a topflight NFL quarterback this season: the second game at home against the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. He was poised, and outplayed Drew Brees, leading the 49ers on an impressive drive, capped by a pass for the two-point conversion that tied the game.
But he didn’t have a chance in the next game, when the pass protection collapsed, and he threw two critical interceptions in the loss to the Falcons.
That first interception came because Smith tried to do too much. He was off balance, threw high to Frank Gore and the pass was intercepted.
He has to learn to play within himself and not force plays. He can’t do it all by himself. No quarterback can. If he relaxes and just makes plays, he’ll be much better.
But, he also needs to get more help. The play calling improved last week with the new offensive coordinator, Mike Johnson. But if the 49ers don’t give him better protection, Smith can’t complete passes down the field.
The vaunted defense also needs to play up to its reputation. After the Niners had tied the game against the Saints, Brees drove his team into position for a game-winning field goal. When Atlanta recovered Nate Clements’ fumble on its 7-yard line, the Falcons were able to get into position for the game-winning field goal.
The quarterback is the most important player, but it’s never all about him. Football is a team game.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.