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Is Alex Smith This Year’s NFL Playoffs Version of Ben Roethlisberger Circa 2005?

  • SKsStaff

The NFL playoffs are a whole ‘nother beast, as some say. It is a time when players shine or fold, coaches are lauded or vilified, and owners are elated or upset, depending on the outcomes of games. The media also loves to blow storylines way out of proportion and all of the sudden, non-football fans have a vested interest in which team wins.

There is something to be said about rooting for the underdogs. Rocky Balboa, the Americans in the Revolutionary War, Women’s Suffrage, but in a lesser form, the playoffs bring out natural underdogs. This year, that comes in the form of San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith.


Drafted first overall by the Niners in 2005, the stakes were pretty high for Smith to succeed and be the next great quarterback in 49ers history. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, he has been labeled a bust. However, one has to wonder if the instability of the Niners coaching staff over the years hurt Smith’s development.

Ever since Jim Harbaugh signed on to the head coaching position in San Francisco this past offseason, Alex Smith has been tasked with doing just enough to win football games. The formula is pretty simple, don’t turn over the ball, hand the rock to Frank Gore, and pass for around 200 yards per game. The heavy reliance on the defense is the key to the whole Harbaugh system.

As a result, Smith has flourished by putting up his best season to date passing for 3,144 yards, 17 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. Meanwhile, he’s completed 61.3 percent of his passes, all of which are career-best marks. Smith helped the Niners reach the postseason with a 13-3 record, and has many fans re-evaluating that “bust” tag they applied years ago.

There was another quarterback drafted a year before Smith, who early in his career relied on his legs to extend plays and a defense to limit the individual burden of winning games. Ben Roethlisberger (Big Ben), played under legendary coach, Bill Cowher early in his career and in 2005, Roethlisberger led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 11-5 record (he was 9-3 that year). During the regular season, Big Ben passed for 2,385 yards, 17 touchdowns, nine interceptions while completing 62.7 percent in only 12 games.

That postseason he passed for 803 yards, seven touchdowns, rushed for two touchdowns, while completing to nearly 62 percent of his passes. During that Super Bowl run, he defeated Carson Palmer’s Bengals, a Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts team, Jake Plummer and the Denver Broncos, and Matt Hasslebeck’s Seattle Seahawks. The point being made here as that in order to make it to the big game, quarterbacks need to beat their better or more established counterparts.

That being said, Smith can say he beat one of the very best quarterbacks in the game today, Drew Brees, in last week’s win over the New Orleans Saints, 36-32. In a game where it could have easily spun out of control in the waning moments, Smith out-dueled Brees who earlier in the season broke the all-time single season passing yards record. Smith rushed for a 28-yard touchdown and then threw a 14-yard touchdown pass with seconds left to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The Niners relied on Smith when their defense failed them in the fourth quarter, which is reason to believe that he just may have turned the corner.

For comparison’s sake, Big Ben has made a career of extending plays and doing just enough to win games. The Steelers’ Super Bowl run that year reeked of a stifling defense and a great running game (Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis) with the quarterback who didn’t turn the ball over, always putting the offense in a position to succeed, and passing for around 200 yards each game. Pittsburgh were underdogs that postseason, playing three roads games before defeating the Seahawks with help from the officials, perhaps.

If you need even more evidence, the Niners defense in 2011 is second in the league in points allowed and fourth in the league in yards surrendered. The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers were third and fourth, respectively. Meanwhile, the Niners were eighth rushing yards and Steelers were fifth overall in 2005.

The Niners have the luxury of two home games before a possible Super Bowl appearance, but Smith will need to defeat another elite quarterback, Eli Manning, and a very hot New York Giants team. While Smith’s career won’t be defined by this next game, it could impact how fans perceive him in the future and he only stands to gain here. He’ll need to play like he has nothing to lose, and at this point, it’s a cliche he’s been playing under all season long.

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 Lead Columnist/Editor: James Kraft

You can follow him on Twitter: @jkra0512

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4 Responses to Is Alex Smith This Year’s NFL Playoffs Version of Ben Roethlisberger Circa 2005?

  • The only glaring difference is that Ben did this in his 2nd year in the league, where being a game manager is the norm for a young quarterback. However, Smith didn’t have the luxury of good coaching and good defense almost every season in his 7 years either. So this makes me wonder if Smith’s plateau is reached and can only win if his situation is like it is currently, or will he develop that clutch gene and ability to put up big numbers when needed that Big Ben has displayed countless times throughout his career. It will be interesting to see next season if Smith progresses or regresses.

    • I agree, Jim. It’s more likely that Alex Smith won’t have a career that mirrors Big Ben’s, but it’s tough to argue that when they both came into the league Big Ben received vastly better coaching. I think, above all else, that contributed his Big Ben’s meteoric rise in his first few seasons. Just go to show that a stable coaching staff make players better.

      • I think Smith can throw when he has to, as evidenced by beating the Saints, that run and throw were clutch as it gets. Albeit against a porous Saints defense. His confidence will be there and I’d be surprised if he didn’t continue to improve, or at least be a winning QB as his career enters the prime years. I’m dying to see what Ben does as well next season when he is finally 100% again with that receiving corps. I don’t care what people think, by winning alone Ben should be considered elite in my opinion. He threw for 4,000 yards this year missing a game and without an ankle the second half of the year lol. I’m looking for 30+ touchdowns and 4k again out of him next season….but with no playoff loss to Tebow this time!

  • The Steelers had a much better team around Ben for along time,,,Alex Smith has never had a team this good.I really don’t think you can compare the 2 but still nice article…Alex is an old vet QB now not a second year QB…

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