Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR color commentator Gary Plummer previews the 49ers opponents every week of the 2009 season on 49ers.com. For this week's "Points of the Game" column, Plummer breaks down the 49ers week eight opponent – the Indianapolis Colts.**There were a few games in 2006 where Alex Smith showed the type of promise that he displayed last week in the second half against Houston. Back then, he was getting comfortable with Norv Turner's offense and obviously, that was the time in his career where he had his most success.
But to me, it looked like his mechanics were better last week than in 2006.
Smith's footwork is better now than it ever way. At the quarterback position, it's about getting the right steps as quickly as possible. The key is making the proper reads while you're making the steps. And Smith's mechanics looked flawless against the Texans. He looked confident and probably the word that comes to mind is decisive.
There have always been glimpses with Smith.
We've all seen his scrambling ability and his arm strength, but the one thing that has been missing is his decisiveness. There's a reason he was taking first in the draft, a lot of people thought he was going to be a good football player. Had the 49ers not taken Smith, he still would have been selected very high.
He's obviously worked very hard at becoming a better quarterback. But in my estimation, the one thing he was missing was his mechanics. They weren't there because he was a shotgun quarterback in college. Early on, he just didn't look comfortable dropping back to pass. Now, he looks as comfortable as any quarterback in the NFL.
Smith's decision-making will help this offense a lot.
When you look at the other quarterback who will be on the field on Sunday, Peyton Manning of the Colts, he doesn't even have a great offensive line by any stretch. But he makes them so much better, because he makes such quick decisions. If Smith can react quickly, he will really help the 49ers offensive line.
Smith will also aid running back Frank Gore a lot. Smith has the ability to make all the throws, but it's not just the deep ball that makes all the difference. It's also the deep intermediate routes that are over 10 yards.
Teams have been cheating against Shaun Hill, because he isn't as strong with those throws as Smith. Now you have teams playing more honest against the 49ers with Smith's arm strength. Opposing safeties will have to worry about the deep ball and teams can't play 8-9 men in the box. That's really going to help Gore tremendously.
The relationship that Smith has already developed with Michael Crabtree is huge too.
Alex had no idea he was going to be the starter when he helped out Crabtree during the bye week. To me – that's selfless right there. That's called being a "team player." Often times, those unheralded things add up to bigger things. The fact that he worked with Crabtree during the bye week, gave him better timing. It showed last Sunday.
On defense, the 49ers have a major task in stopping Peyton Manning. He's simply the best quarterback in the NFL. There's no question about it. You can talk about Drew Brees or Tom Brady, but Manning does more with less than any quarterback in the league.
If you put college receivers on the field with Manning – he would find a way to get them the ball. He makes his teammates better and that's the true measure of a player. And nobody in the NFL does that better than Manning.
Even if the Colts are banged up at the wide receiver position, it doesn't matter, Manning will find ways to get them the ball. He still has a tight end in Dallas Clark too. You can't forget about him because he's become one of the best receiving tight ends in the league.
Coverage-wise, the 49ers defense can't get distracted with Manning's pre-snap histrionics or gestures. A lot of times it means absolutely nothing and guys get caught up in disguising coverages, they get out of position. That's another way he can get an advantage on you. And while you're making adjustments – sometimes, he snaps the ball quickly. I've seen him catch defenses standing around in almost every game of his I've seen.