‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
Ernie is the author of “Lombardi and Landry.”
Even as Eli Manning was throwing 25 interceptions last season, one never would have put his work against Alex Smith’s.
It would have been a ludicrous comparison, Manning against a floundering, confidence-challenged career failure like the Niners’ quarterback.
Not now, though. With both quarterbacks having fashioned career years heading into Sunday’s NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park, Smith has become worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the Giants’ offensive leader. That’s not to say he’s flown past Manning — he hasn’t, and the opinion here is that Manning easily outdistances him Sunday.
But at least he’s had the kind of year that makes for a plausible comparison.
Of course, Manning had himself a team-record setting season, while Smith came nowhere near the production of predecessors like Joe Montana or Steve Young. But he did show in the 27-20 Nov. 13 win over the Giants that he has advanced light years since former coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary alternately questioned his toughness and leadership qualities.
Here’s a short comparison between the two.
RUNNING ABILITY: This is about the only area where Smith has Manning beat. Between the regular season and postseason, Smith has compiled 207 yards on the ground, highlighted by his 28-yard touchdown run in the closing minutes against New Orleans last week. He’s extended numerous scoring drives with timely scrambles, many for double-digit yardage.
Considering the defense gave up 59 scramble yards to Aaron Rodgers last week, the defense had best be awake for Smith. Manning is better at slipping pass rushers inside the pocket. Once outside, he shows the elegance of an old-fashioned piano mover. But at least he knows when to give himself up.
PRODUCTION: Manning’s 4,933 passing yards proved he’s the focal point of what — years ago now — once was a run-based offense. Better yet, he cut his interceptions from 25 to 16, even while throwing more. He’s been accurate, but even more important than that, patient in not forcing throws into the end zone where he might suffer a costly interception.
Smith has operated under a much different offense that seems tailored to put him in successful positions. With powerful Frank Gore leading the way, he’s had a strong ground game to take the heat off him and keep the pass rush honest. Still, he threw just five interceptions this year while not only managing games, but taking a proactive part in the offense.
COMEBACK ABILITY: Manning has five fourth-quarter comeback victories this year alone, as has historically excelled in the fourth quarter. So there’s no reason to doubt that if the Giants are down and anywhere in striking distance in the last half of the final quarter, there’s a good chance they win this game.
But Smith showed last week in a epic playoff game that he’s got the stuff that legends are made of, too. Twice in the final 3:34 against the Saints he brought the Niners back. And his winning, threaded throw to Vernon Davis with nine seconds left showed his veins have downright frozen over.
As we said, give the decided edge to Manning here, simply because he’s had worlds more success than Smith over an eight-year career. Just don’t count Smith out.
This year, at least, he has become a worthy comparison to Manning.
Who gets the edge in Manning vs. Smith? Make your case in the comments below…