A week after Staley cut the bridge of his nose open in Green Bay, Smith had his nose gashed in the home opener against Detroit on Sunday, prompting the Pro Bowl left tackle to think of the nickname. All Smith knows is that the cut helps symbolize his durability in the pocket.
“It’s tough for me to look any tougher,” Smith joked on Wednesday, “but I guess it does.”
The 49ers signal-caller deemed the cut merely a cosmetic issue and not something that should affect his play on Sunday at Minnesota. Asked if he approved of Staley’s moniker for the duo, Smith smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know.”
Regardless, Smith has enjoyed a white-hot start to his season in 2012. Following a career year in 2011, Smith has opened the new campaign by ranking second in the NFL with a 115.9 passer rating, good for second in the league behind Matt Ryan’s mark of 117.6.
In his second year under offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Smith has shown crisp and effective decision-making while keeping turnovers to a minimum. In two games, Smith has completed 70.2 percent of his passes (40-of-57) for an average of 218.5 yards and two touchdowns a game. He’s also extended his franchise record to 216 consecutive passes without an interception.
It’s partly result of his preparation during the week with Coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman. It’s also partly a result of his heady play in between the lines.
“I say this a lot, this truly is the ultimate team sport,” Smith said. “I mean that, coaches included. Really, it takes everybody. And then if one piece isn’t in place, the whole thing doesn’t work. That’s really how I think about it. It takes all of us for that kind of chemistry and everything to kind of come together.”
But Staley, Smith and the 49ers offense will be challenged by the NFL’s reigning sack leader Jared Allen and the Minnesota defense on Sunday.
“The thing that jumps out at you is obviously the defensive line,” Smith said. “Especially at home, Jared Allen almost broke the sack record last year and he plays really good at home with the crowd noise, gets off the ball. Kevin Williams inside, he’s an elite player. They’re good across the board up front.”
Allen recorded an impressive 22 sacks last season, including 12.5 at home. Williams, meanwhile, checks in at 6-foot-5, 311 pounds and is a load to move around at defensive tackle.
Smith didn’t stop there with his praise of the talent on Minnesota’s defense, as he also noted linebacker Chad Greenway and young safeties Mistral Raymond and Harrison Smith. Raymond is a second-year player out of the University of South Florida while Harrison Smith is a rookie first-round pick from Notre Dame.
“They’re good in the back end, too,” Alex Smith said. “Safeties are young guys but they’re good players, play fast and disciplined.”
The two teams got something of a preview of each other in the preseason, when the 49ers defeated the Vikings 17-6 in the exhibition opener. But Alex Smith knows Allen and the rest of the Minnesota defense will be going full-throttle for 60 minutes on Sunday at the Metrodome.
“It’s a good challenge for us,” Alex Smith said. “They do a lot different defense than what we played the first two weeks. It will help to have all the crowd noise at their place, I’m sure it will be wild.”
Like last year, the 49ers will stay in the Midwest between their Week 3 and Week 4 matchups to avoid lengthy back-to-back trips. Following the contest in Minnesota, the team will head to Youngstown, Ohio, for a week of preparation before flying to New York for the Week 4 showdown with the Jets.
Players have cited last year’s Youngstown trip as a key bonding experience with each other and the coaching staff and are looking forward to the change of pace once again.
“It’s tough to be away from your family for sure,” Alex Smith said. “But at the same time, thinking back on last year, it was also a good experience for us. Kind of another little mini-camp, you’ve only got 53 (players) going. You’re all together, there’s nothing really to do there. You practice, you prepare and you hang out with each other. Thought it was a good thing for us last year, enjoyed it.”