In the free-falling Arizona Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers found the perfect opponent for Alex Smith to improve his numbers against, throwing three touchdowns to his only one incompletion, as they beat another NFC West team with their smothering defense 24-3.
Smith set a new NFL record for highest completion percentage in an NFL game for a quarterback with at least 15 attempts. How good? He set it at 94.7% after completing 18 of his 19 passes. Everyone who was keeping check of the numbers was amazed, and Jim Harbaugh didn’t miss an opportunity to praise his QB, who he has been working so hard to improve his confidence over the last couple of seasons.
Eighteen of 19, I have never seen that. How important for your quarterback to play very well? It is very important and I don’t know how you play much better. It was a fantastic game by him.
Smith played so well that the Niners hardly needed their bone crunching running game to be deployed in its full extent. They got 113 yards on 29 carries, mostly through a subdued Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, and the Cardinals put a lot of effort into stopping the Niners biggest weapon. Smith just used what he was given; short pass routes, wide open, each and every time.
Smith’s average per attempt was 12.2 yards, which surprisingly isn’t his highest mark this season. He averaged 12.6 in the 45-3 win over Buffalo a month ago, in which he had a few bigger throws than in this one. There was nothing big about his passing against the Cardinals. Short, short, short to keep the chains going, and relying on his recievers to make the big plays with their own legs, like Randy Moss completing a 47 yard play for a touchdown with some amazing stuff near the sidelines.
Smith’s average pass length was 5.6 yards downfield, his shortest in a game this season. Most of the work was done by gaining 107 yards after the catch, their second-most in any game in the last five seasons.Michael Crabtree had a team-high 61 yards after the catch, his most in a game this season, and Randy Moss’ lone reception was a 47-yard touchdown pass on which he gained 41 yards after the catch.
The crumbling Cardinals didn’t pose a threat throughout the entire game. They did improve their protection as John Skelton was sacked “only” four times and managed to get four times to Smith, but he handled the added pressure on most snaps pretty well. The 49ers defense allowed only 7 yards on 9 carries, which might be even more incredible than Smith’s passing accuracy.
Stephens-Howling finished the day with six yards on eight rushes despite registering seven yards after contact, meaning his average point of first contact was behind the line of scrimmage. The 49ers recorded nine tackles for a loss of yards, Aldon Smith as usual standing out with 2 big sacks on Skelton.
After the perfect 4-0 start, the Cardinals’ defectiveness and flaws caught up with them. It’s not a question of playoffs anymore, but if their HC can stop this incredible slide. For the 49ers, it was more proof that their system, against most of the teams in the NFL, is simply too good to handle. The problem is implementing this when someone like the Giants, someone at that level, comes along.