I will preface this entire column with a statement: Alex Smith did not have a good game against the Raiders.
I'm not here to argue that, deny it, act as though he was consistently good... nothing like that. Especially in the 4th quarter, where he's generally been solid in helping our team put our boot to the throat of the opposition. He was a part of several drives going to waste when we could've put the game away. He also missed Avery on what would've been a long TD (that one hurt), and missed a wide open Dex on 3rd down at least once.
So I'm not here to really argue with the idea that our offense has struggled and/or is a concern we should have. It clearly has and is. I'm more here to make two points.
1) Smith wasn't quite as bad as people are making him out to be (I'll only spend a little time on this, as it's not my main point)
2) It's interesting how one play can have an enormous impact on a game and on fan perception.
To the first point... I, along with every other Chiefs fan, was extremely frustrated with Smith during the Raiders game. I felt (and still do, to an extent) that Smith left some plays on the field, and our offense suffered as a result.
When I re-watched the game a couple times, I found something surprising; Smith wasn't as bad as my emotion-filled original watching caused me to believe. He wasn't GOOD, but he was in situations multiple times where he had no real chance at success. It was a poor offensive performance all the way around (that needs to be addressed ASAP), not just a bad QB performance.
The stats back this up. In 37 dropbacks, Smith was pressured (per PFF) 20 times. That is an absolutely unacceptable rate if you want to be successful as an offense. The pass protection was shoddy. There were multiple plays where he didn't have a shot. Don't believe me? Go back and re-watch the game. About 5 seconds in is all you'll need.
Smith didn't play well, but the now-well-circulated-and-thus-completely-believed idea that he was awful out there isn't entirely accurate. Like I've said, though, this isn't my main point. Smith wasn't good, and that's not up for debate in my opinion. No, my main point is my second one.
Alex Smith was one bad-luck play away from not being nearly this criticized
If you're able, go back and re-watch the first drive of the 2nd half Sunday. Our defense (being awesome) had forced a Raiders punt. We started with the ball at our own 30 yard line.
1st Play- 1st and 10 from the 30. Jamaal Charles runs left for 4 yards. Nothing really to see here.
2nd Play- 2nd and 6. Quick pass from Smith to Avery for 4 yards. Frankly, the throw was a little behind Avery. A pretty standard "our QB has been getting killed and we just want a manageable 3rd down" play.
3rd Play- 3rd and 2. Here's where things get interesting. The Chiefs line up in I-formation and run an option play to the right. Smith makes a heckuva fake to Jamaal Charles and then shows his still-impressing-me-after-six-weeks athleticism on a 13-yard run for a 1st down.
It's the fake I enjoy the most, as well as Smith's ability to get 13 yards instead of 5 with nifty running. I've re-watched that play about 10 times now, and it never gets old watching Smith just FREEZE #21 and #29 with a fake pitch to Charles.
4th Play- 1st and 10, now at the Raiders 45-yard-line. Smith scans the field, then throws right to JC for a gain of maybe a yard. I personally would've liked to see him hit Avery for what looked like an easy 5 yards.
5th Play- 2nd and 9. Chiefs line up in the pistol formation (love this). Handoff to JC for a 4 yard gain. I definitely want to see more pistol in our offense.
6th Play- 3rd and 5. Shotgun formation. This is where Smith had been struggling all day, as had our pass protection. Branden Albert does a poor job and lets his rusher get by him, forcing Smith right. Fisher's guy joins the chase (not really Fisher's fault, for the record. it's just what happens when the QB runs to the side your guy is on. He can disengage and give chase).
So now Smith is running right with 2 defenders chasing him. This is where one might expect him to try and use his legs to at least pick up a few yards, right? Nope. Instead, he keeps his eyes downfield and throws (while on the run and while about to be hit at the legs) 20 yards down the field, where Dwayne Bowe had gotten some separation. A solid throw and a nice catch make it 1st and 10 at the Raiders 22 yard line.
This was the play of the drive. Smith gets pressured immediately, but eludes the pressure with his athleticism, keeps his eyes on the prize, and delivers a very good pass despite being on the run and under heavy pressure. Very, very, very good play.
7th Play- 1st and 10. Shotgun. Smith actually has multiple receivers open, but makes arguably the most risky throw to Brock right in the middle of the Raiders zone. The throw is fired in there with enough speed that there's no danger of a pick. 9 yard gain. A little low, but not much to complain about.
8th Play- Shotgun. Albert and Jeff Allen both get pushed back into Smith's face quickly. While this happens, Fisher's man beats him outside. Smith, looking to get away from the pressure, ends up running right into Fisher's man. Play over, right?
Wrong. Smith channels his inner Eli Manning (the good kind of Eli, not the "I'm throwing 3 picks this game" Eli) and spins out of the sack. With other defenders closing in, he runs left and gets the 1st down. 2 yard gain, but a way bigger play than just those 2 yards.
9th Play- Short pass left to Avery. The defender is on it, and Avery probably should've taken a dive for a 3 yard gain. Instead, he tries to spin out and fumbles the football.
Just like that, a very solid drive ends in absolutely no points. The score remains tied, and Chiefs fans are forced to sweat a little longer.
My point behind all this isn't that Smith had an exceptional drive. I don't think one could label it "exceptional." My point, rather, is that on a crucial drive Smith made several drive-extending plays almost completely on his own. He did this with lousy pass protection and without significant help from the running game. In other words, had that drive ended in a TD (and the way we were going it was about to happen), that's an "Alex Smith led" drive.
Of course, that's not what happened. Avery fumbled, Smith struggled the rest of the game, and the common theme became "Smith sucked against the Raiders." And some of that criticism is very deserved.
My point behind the point? There's definitely a certain amount of luck that goes into how a player's day is perceived. On Sunday, Alex Smith got unlucky at exactly the wrong time, and in my opinion it affected the way his entire ame is viewed. If we score a TD there, people will have at least one drive to look back on positively that wasn't aided by field position. People are feeling more positive throughout the 4th quarter, even if Smith struggles. And the overall impression that people take from the game is more likely "Smith was OK" than "Smith was terrible."
Hopefully Smith's luck (and performance) is better tomorrow. But it's worth noting as a fan just how thin a margin there is between loving a QB and hating him. And that margin isn't always on the quarterback.