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49ers' Alex Smith is right about passing yards

Alex Smith created quite a stir with his comments about the overblown nature of passing yards as a quarterback stat. We've since heard Smith ridiculed by the stats-inclined football intelligentsia. Smith makes an easy target.

Now I consider myself more partial to the value of the right statistics than the average fan, but it's worth noting that Smith is absolutely right in this case. Of course he's right. Let's look at what he said:

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"I could absolutely care less on yards per game. I think that is a totally overblown stat because if you’re losing games in the second half, guess what, you’re like the Carolina Panthers and you’re going no-huddle the entire second half. Yeah, Cam Newton threw for a lot of 300-yard games. That’s great. You’re not winning, though," Smith said.

Total yards for quarterbacks are overrated. They always have been. Yards-per-attempt is a great stat for quarterbacks, but cumulative yards don't tell you much. Matt Schaub and Carson Palmer ranked ahead of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in passing yards in 2010. That's mostly for the reason Smith mentions: You throw the ball a lot when you are behind.

The NFL has long used yards gained and yards allowed to measure offenses and defenses. It has never made any sense. Points matter. Yards-per-play matter.

“We’re up in the third and fourth quarter and naturally you’re going to be in four-minute offense,” Smith said. “You’re going to be grinding it out. You’re going to be running the ball a lot more and you’re not going to have as many 300-yard passing games.”

300 yards passing games often do come in losses. We don't think Smith was taking a shot at Newton whatsoever; Smith was just using a good example to make his point.

The only quibble we'd have with Smith's argument: Quarterbacks wins are another overrated stat. Signal callers usually get too much credit for their team when they win, and too much blame when they lose.

That's a topic for another post.

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