Smith will try to inject some life into the 49ers against a stingy Colts defense when he makes his first career start at Candlestick Park.
The former Utah star served as Tim Rattay’s backup through the first four games, but did play in two of those contests—mopping up late in losses to Philadelphia and Arizona.
Rattay completed 57.7 percent of his passes this season for 677 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions, and couldn’t seem to get the Niners going when it counted. San Francisco has been outgained 1,894-917 and outscored 132-76—including 48-0 in the fourth quarter—in 2005.
The 49ers managed just 168 total yards in Sunday’s 31-14 loss to Arizona in Mexico City, the NFL’s first regular-season game outside the United States.
San Francisco scored two first-quarter touchdowns on fumble returns, but the offense was completely shut down by the Cardinals. Smith went 6-of-10, his first NFL completions, for 34 yards after Rattay was pulled in the fourth quarter.
“I feel that Alex gives us the best chance to win, and I believe he’s ready,” 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. “Tim has handled everything very well, but at this time in the process, I believe it’s time to get Alex in the game. … At 1-3, we didn’t draft Alex to just sit him on the bench. At 1-3, I believe we need to begin to utilize him.”
Smith faces a tough test against a speedy Colts pass rush led by defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who each have four sacks. Indianapolis has 15 sacks this season, second-best in the league.
Plus, Niners starting left tackle Jonas Jennings is unlikely to play Sunday with a torn labrum in his shoulder. That leaves Freeney lining up against backup Anthony Clement, who was repeatedly beaten by Arizona’s Bertrand Berry last week.
“There’s always game plan things that you take into consideration, and that will be one of them,” Nolan said. “I believe everyone who plays Indianapolis addresses the Freeney issue, and that will be attended to.”
Freeney and the Colts put together another strong defensive performance last Sunday, holding their fourth straight opponent to 10 points or less in a 31-10 win at Tennessee.
Indianapolis, allowing an NFL-low 6.5 points per game, hadn’t given up an offensive touchdown through the first three games and didn’t let the Titans reach the end zone until 4:31 remained.
The real story of the game was the resurgence of the team’s high-scoring offense, limited to an average of 15.7 points through the first three games after scoring more than 500 in 2004.
Manning, himself a former No. 1 overall pick, threw for 264 yards and four touchdowns—including two to Marvin Harrison to tie Steve Young and Jerry Rice’s NFL record for most TDs between a quarterback and receiver.
Harrison caught nine passes for 109 yards and reached 101 career touchdown catches, third all-time behind Rice (197) and Cris Carter (130). Edgerrin James had 90 yards rushing and a touchdown catch to help the Colts win their fourth straight at The Coliseum.
“I guess we won’t have to answer the question what is wrong with the offense now,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said.
Manning, Harrison and the rest of the Colts passing attack could have a big game against a shaky Niners defense that is allowing league worsts in both passing yards (368.3) and total yards (473.5) per game.
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