After Troy Smith’s virtuoso performance against the Rams in mid-November, NFL teams appeared to piece together an effective game plan for stopping the 49ers 6-foot quarterback: Keep him in the pocket and force him to make accurate passes.
That blueprint — or book, if you will — severely limited Smith’s effectiveness and eventually led to his demotion.
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo regrets that he didn’t receive the memo a little earlier.
“I wish someone had shared that book with us because we couldn’t do it,” Spagnuolo said this morning in a conference call. “He had a terrific game against us obviously.”
Indeed, Smith, in his second start since 2007, threw for 356 yards, converted a game-saving fourth-and-18 and shredded St. Louis’ secondary with deep strikes — completing five passes of at least 30 yards in a 23-20 overtime win at Candlestick Park on Nov. 14.
Whether Smith will get an opportunity to reprise that performance isn’t known. At least not publically.
Niners coach Mike Singletary hasn’t announced if Smith or Alex Smith will start Sunday’s game at St. Louis and he might not open that envelope until game day.
Spanguolo, whose wizardry as the Giants defensive coordinator earned him a head-coaching gig, said he’s not wrapped up in trying to discern which signal-caller will start.
“You’re really defending the system,” said Spanguolo, in his second year in St. Louis. “… We’ll have to prepare for both in some regards with the slight differences, but there’s a lot of other things that that football team does offensively really well and I think they do it really well with either quarterback.”
His praise of San Francisco’s 26th-ranked offense notwithstanding, it’s possible Spanguolo, the architect of the defense that flummoxed New England’s Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLII, isn’t getting cold sweats game planning for either quarterback.
In his three starts prior to his demotion, Troy Smith completed 48 percent of his passes and compiled a 60.0 quarterback rating. Alex Smith? If he doesn’t start Sunday, he’ll have as many demotions (2) as wins this season.
Spanguolo says he’s more concerned about stopping a system — not a Smith.
“We can’t focus on that,” he said. “Again, we’ve got to get ready to play a football team. Our defense has to get ready to defend an offense — there’s 11 guys over there that they’ll line up with. We can’t get caught up in that. We’ll have to have things prepared and ready for either quarterback. But, again, I think they’re both terrific players so we’ll proceed as if they’re going to have a good quarterback taking snaps.”