COHN: 49ers have become the class of the NFL

  • Alex Smith scrambles up the sideline for a long gain in the 4th quarter of the 49ers 27-19 win over the Lions on Sunday night.

SAN FRANCISCO -- I know what I know, and I'm not going to tell you how I know it. Agreed?

I knew for a fact against the Lions Alex Smith frequently called two plays in the huddle. He would come to the line of scrimmage, look around and, many times — yes many — killed the first play, and that meant the offense ran the second play.

Got that?

49ers vs. Lions 9.16.12


But I wanted confirmation. Jim Harbaugh — Harbaugh the Vague and Evasive — was answering postgame questions at his postgame presser in his usual vague way when I asked if Smith called two plays in the huddle and sometimes killed the first play.

Harbaugh eyeballed me as only he can eyeball a media pest. And then he said, "Yes." The coach actually answered a direct question and gave away a tiny fraction of what he calls "scheme," and to him scheme is the holy of holies and he never talks about it. Except this time he did. Yes, he said.

There may be a real person inside Coach Harbaugh, for which, at this moment as I write my column on a crushing deadline, I am deeply grateful. Harbaugh went on to say Smith had an especially excellent game. Part of the excellence was getting out of the wrong play at the line, and directing the offense to the right play.

Are you with me? And that leads me to a deep thought about Smith. Many of us — me especially — debate how good he is, or if he's good at all. Let's put all that aside for a moment. I mean, he's 2-0 so far this season. We don't know if he can bring a team back because lately he hasn't had to. So that discussion is highly theoretical.

But one thing we know for sure and we know it right now. Smith is special in one area. He is smart in life and, more important, he is football smart. And because of Smith's intellect, Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman can depend on him not to run the wrong play.

Understand how important that is. Smith almost always runs the perfect play given the situation. He may not always be successful with the play — although against the Lions he was plenty successful — but he runs the right play and avoids the wrong play. By way of comparison, the Lions' Matthew Stafford often ran the wrong play and ran it badly on top of that. Stafford is a kindergartner and Smith is completing his Ph.D.

But I don't want to get lost on Smith, because this is not exclusively a Smith column. It is a state of the 49ers column, one I'm happy to write. It's imperative to praise the 49ers, imperative after they beat the Detroit Lions 27-19. It is imperative to praise them, not a little, but to heap a mountain of praise on them.

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