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Tuesday, December 27, 2011
QBR ranks: 49ers' Smith far and away best

By Mike Sando

The three names listed last in ESPN's weekly quarterback performance rankings have one thing in common: NFC West divisional heritage.

The Arizona Cardinals' John Skelton was 32nd. The St. Louis Rams' Kellen Clemens was at No. 31. The Seattle Seahawks' Tarvaris Jackson was 30th.

This would normally be unwelcome in these parts, but I'm going to embrace their Week 16 badness as beneficial to the division's long-term health. Skelton and Jackson had been winning enough recently to change perceptions about them. Having them struggle in defeats that knocked their teams from playoff contention makes it tougher for anyone, including the teams, to overestimate their capabilities.

The case of Alex Smith in San Francisco is a little trickier. Smith continues to lag in the season-long Total QBR rankings, but he has been quite good in recent weeks, save for a rough outing at Baltimore. Five times in the 49ers' last seven games, Smith has produced QBR figures that would project as worthy of Pro Bowl consideration if maintained over a full season. Those looking at raw passing stats might also notice that Smith has 24 touchdowns with only six interceptions while posting a 15-5 record in his last 20 starts.

The key plays Smith made for the 49ers in Week 16 -- two scrambles and a few clutch throws -- were enough for San Francisco to win despite suffering a blocked punt and a couple key injuries.

"I really thought that he was the difference in the game for them," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters Monday. "I thought he did a very nice job. He didn’t turn the ball over at all, which was great for them. But those few plays -- that handful of plays where he kept the thing going -- I thought gave them an advantage on us that day."

Life gets a little more complicated for Smith now that a jaw injury is threatening to sideline tight end Delanie Walker, possibly for the season.

The situation at wide receiver is also in flux. Ted Ginn Jr. has been hurt, Kyle Williams suffered a concussion Saturday and Braylon Edwards announced his release via Twitter on Tuesday morning. Starter Josh Morgan is on injured reserve.

Quick thoughts on how NFC West passers graded out in Week 16 according to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point:
The clutch-weight average column reflects game situations, not how well players performed during those situations. Any clutch average above 1.0 reflects a quarterback performing in higher-pressure situations.