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Smith's 'glass jaw' will eventually get exposed with 49ers


SANTA CLARA — The Internet is a place of theories and sometimes of fantasies. This week it was Fantasy Central.

Leading up to today's 49ers-Cowboys game, 49ers fantasists insisted Jim Harbaugh did not use his complete offensive playbook against the Seahawks because: 1) He didn't have to, 2) He was hiding the really good stuff for Dallas.

To which I reply: Ha ha ha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Please remember the Seahawks scored a touchdown with about four minutes remaining in the game and trailed by a mere two points before Ted Ginn Jr. unexpectedly went off. No coach in his right mind — I'm assuming Harbaugh is in his right mind — would hold back good, strong, effective plays and risk losing to a really bad bunch just so he could surprise team No. 2. It's just not how it works. Every team tries its best to win now.

Harbaugh was not hiding plays from Dallas because he has no more plays to hide. Think about that. Harbaugh never will admit this, but he is working with severe limitations on offense, most involving quarterback Alex Smith who is not much of a quarterback at all.

Harbaugh does not trust Smith. Just recall all those times near the goal line last week when he called runs for Frank Gore — did not let Smith pass. Of course, Harbaugh wouldn't admit that. At his day-after-the-game news conference, he said, "I don't know that we'd say that we were playing safe. That's attacking in our mind."

That's some attacking.

Harbaugh is fibbing to prop up Smith's ego and because sometimes he just can't help himself when it comes to fibbing. But he was playing it safe and he was saving Smith from making the horrible mistake that loses a game.

Which brings me to boxing. The best analogies in sport always come from boxing. Alex Smith is a boxer with a glass jaw. I think of him as Floyd Patterson, former heavyweight champ who could not take a good poke to the kisser. Still, Patterson was a good fighter. His manager Cus D'Amato taught him to keep his gloves in front of his jaw — the peek-a-boo defense — and instructed him, for God's sake, to keep off the ropes and stay out of corners. Old Cus tried to save Patterson from himself.

In this analogy Harbaugh is playing the part of Cus — saving Smith from himself. He avoids having Smith throw long. He avoids having Smith throw across the field. Mostly, he avoids having Smith throw at all. He is trying to make Smith into the ultimate game manager. That's quite an improvement from last season when he was the ultimate game loser.

When Harbaugh told reporters, "You may look at it as safe, we look at it as playing to win," he was telling the truth. He really was. He plays to win by keeping the game out of Smith's hands as much as possible.

But here's the thing about fighters with glass jaws. Sooner or later, the jaw gets exposed. Sooner or later the fighter with that affliction gets bombed. Sonny Liston knocked out poor Patterson twice in the first round.

Smith may well get knocked out against Dallas. Here is his glass-jaw, knockout scenario. The Niners fall behind against the explosive, high-scoring Dallas offense. The 49ers can't be cautious because they need to get back into the game.

So, Harbaugh asks Smith to start throwing a bunch of passes — bombs away. Smith gets confused and throws a few beauties to Cowboys defenders. The game becomes a slaughter. Smith gets counted out in a corner.

Last week, Harbaugh insisted the offense he's running is the West Coast Offense. "Similar terminology and verbiage," he said. "The West Coast is a big system. It can encompass the talents of your players to be used in a variety of ways."

Well, I saw the West Coast Offense run by Joe Montana and Steve Young. No one protected those two from themselves. They got to play. They got to do big things. Remember The Catch? Alex Smith gets to do little things.

He's not running the traditional West Coast Offense. He's running the Little West Coast Offense — the Pee Wee West Coast. It's what happens when your quarterback has a glass jaw.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.