Can Alex Smith throw deep?

SANTA CLARA – Here’s a serious question: What can’t Alex Smith do?

People used to say he couldn’t do a lot of things, like throw accurately or read defenses or win games.

Now, all of a sudden, he’s better at those things than Andrew Luck is.

So what can’t Alex Smith do?

How about this: Can he throw deep?

If there’s a knock on the guy, that’s it. He can’t throw deep. His arm isn’t strong enough, he underthrows his receivers, and he’d prefer to check down to shorter routes anyway. You’ve heard all that.

He threw deep twice on Sunday and both plays were unsuccessful. On one play he threw long to Michael Crabtree on the right sideline and the pass got picked off. Luckily for the Niners the Giants were offside on the play and the interception didn’t count.

The other time he threw deep he tried to hit an open Vernon Davis down the middle of the field but he underthrew him. He hung the ball up in the air long enough for the Giants closest defensive back to punch the ball out of Davis’ hands.

An elite quarterback makes these throws. Joe Montana, who barely had “B” arm strength, could throw deep passes. He had touch, timing, vision, everything you’d need.

Jim Harbaugh calls Alex Smith elite. So I asked Harbaugh this afternoon if Smith is an elite deep passer as well.

“He’s very good,” he said.

Very good is very different than the word I used – “elite.” If elite is an “A+,” then very good is a “B+.”

I asked Braylon Edwards the same question.

“We haven’t really had to make the throws for him to prove that,” he replied. “I think he can get the ball down the field deep. We have the receivers. Ted Ginn is blazing fast. You have guys that can make plays, and Alex is throwing the ball a little bit down the field. The ones that he has thrown down the field have been successful for the most part. The more we call them and the more he throws them, he’ll show you guys, but in my opinion I believe he can get the ball down the field.

Like Harbaugh, Edwards tempered his praise of Smith’s arm strength. First, Edwards qualified his answer by reminding us Alex Smith hasn’t thrown many deep passes. We’re aware of that.

Then he used the phrases “I think,” “In my opinion,” and “I believe.” As we learned in English class, saying you “think” someone is good is much weaker than just saying he is good.

But Edwards has a point – Smith hasn’t thrown deep very much this season. How can you say for sure how good he is at something he’s rarely done?

So, I asked the question to Smith himself.

Q: Alex, are you a good deep passer?

SMITH: “I think so. I think if you look at years in the past that’s all we did. We were a down-the-field-throwing team. All of a sudden I think it’s just a different situation. I think we have much more balance in the passing game this year with underneath, intermediate routes and the deep ball whereas in the past we were very heavy with just throwing it downfield and trying to push the ball vertically.”

Smith has gotten over every hurdle critics have thrown at him this season. There’s no reason to think he won’t get over this hurdle as well.

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