Did anyone ever think Alex Smith would be compared to a quarterback named Manning?
Through his first six NFL seasons, the 49ers quarterback mostly was compared to former No. 1 picks who had failed to live up to expectations, not those who had won Super Bowls.
Yet this week as the Niners and Smith get ready to play the New York Giants Sunday at Candlestick Park, Smith’s name is being mentioned in the same stories as the Giants’ Eli Manning.
Both quarterbacks are getting large amounts of credit for leading their teams to the top of their divisions – the Giants at 6-2 atop the NFC East and the 49ers at 7-1 leading the NFC West.
Smith was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft in 2005; Manning was the No. 1 overall choice in 2004. As the top pick, Smith was supposed to be the Niners’ savior; as the little brother of Peyton Manning, Eli was expected to be just as good, immediately.
Smith is sixth in the NFL with a 97.3 quarterback rating; Manning is No. 5 at 98.8.
Smith has been an efficient leader, throwing just two interceptions against 10 TD passes, while guiding San Francisco to four victories on the road against eastern teams Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Detroit and Washington; Manning is coming off a superb performance in a road victory over the New England Patriots, leading the Giants to a fourth fourth-quarter comeback this season.
Manning leads the NFL with a fourth-quarter QB rating of 121.7; Smith is fourth at 106.7, reports Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group.
“Alex seems to be playing well throwing the ball. That’s playing smart football,” Manning told the media Wednesday, referring to Smith’s TD-to-interception ratio. “That’s what you have to do at his level. It seems like he’s getting completions, throwing high-percentage passes, not throwing dangerous balls and having the risk of interceptions. It seems like he’s playing really well and their whole team is.”
Says 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh of Smith: “He’s every bit the elite quarterback as there is playing in the game right now.”
Giants coach Tom Coughlin looks at the 49ers and sees a good team that sticks to its style, from Smith’s leadership – “He’s managing the game much better,” he says -- to the great play of the defense and special teams.
“They’re 7-1 and deservedly so,” Coughlin told ESPN New York Wednesday. “They play to their style. They run the ball. They defend the run. They don’t turn the ball over. They’re also No. 1 defensively in the red zone. They play a certain way. They take good care of the ball. They don’t turn it over. There are very few giveaways and a lot of takeaways.”
Now in his seventh season, Smith is thriving under a new coaching staff and Harbaugh’s West Coast offense. Manning says Smith has evolved into a different quarterback this season, one 49ers fans likely never thought they’d see.
“I know he’s had a lot of different coordinators, coaching changes and injuries,” Manning said of Smith. “I know he’s worked real hard, and I’m glad to see him playing at a high level.”