This post is a follow-up to one I posted back in May, which you can find here. In that post, I did a statistical comparison between Alex Smith and Joe Flacco, trying to prove (actually trying to disprove, and failing) a statement made by AP poster and statistician juvatbull was correct: "Alex Smith's future looks bright--at least as bright as Joe Flacco's." My conclusion based on the limited data was that juvatbull's claim was reasonable and likely correct.
At the time, many fanposts and fanshots were being made in support of Alex Smith, and though the stats were interesting, they were less than compelling because ultimately football is not played on a score card. We saw how Smith played in Harbaugh's offense over a season and a half. We had not yet seen how he would play this year in Reid's.
Now, 5 months later, we have seen what Smith has done on the field. Regardless of how I think he is playing, I thought 8 games in was far enough to revisit my conclusions as to Smith's expected performance.
First, I made the claim that if Smith was asked to pass more, that he would be less efficient. I admit, I was not going out on a limb with this one, and now after 8 games we see that this is indeed correct. Smith is passing more. His average attempts over the initial 24 games observed was 27 per game. His average has climbed 35.75 attempts per game, and his efficiency has dropped.
Taking that a step further though, I also predicted the rate of decline. My prediction was thus:
My prediction is his quarterback rating will be about 100 if he averages 25 attempts per game or less, and will drop by about 15 for every 5 more passes he averages above that.
As I mentioned above, Smith has been averaging 35.7 attempts per game this season and his rating over that time is 82.1. So my prediction has proven incorrect thus far, since I predicted Smith's efficiency rating would have been closer to the low-70's rather than the low-80's based on his current rate of attempts per game. I suspect the reason for the disparity is that Smith's attempts have been in a range for which the data I analyzed was the weakest (In the original data set, Smith only had more than 34 attempts in 3 of the 24 games observed, while this season so far Smith has only thrown less than 34 times in 1 game). My estimate was just a calculated guess, one proving inaccurate so far. I don't believe Smith is actually performing better than expected, I think my expectations were just too conservative.
The other prediction that juvatbull made, that I agreed with was that his performance would be comparable to Joe Flacco's. Comparing raw numbers, I have taken half of Flacco's totals from last season to compare to Smith thus far and to this point Smith is a bit behind Flacco in most passing categories. In total yards and touchdowns, Smith is behind 238 yards (about 30 yards per game less), 2 touchdowns. Alex, though is contributing yards on the ground, having over 250 to this point this season. Flacco had 22 yards on the ground all last season. Smith also takes better care of the football. So far, Smith is on pace to have less than half the turnovers Flacco had last season. I should also mention that Flacco was playing against slightly better competition last season.
Overall, though, as far as their efficiency, the two quarterbacks during their respective seasons seem pretty comparable. Their net impact on the game seems about equal when Smith's running performance is factored in. To my estimation, Smith has performed to expectation. Not exceptionally good, nor exceptionally bad, and at least about the same level as last-year's Superbowl winner.
I do think Smith has some room for improvement, though. He is playing more nervous in the pocket, not setting his feet and throwing accurate passes the way he has the past two seasons. I think this is partly due to protection. He has taken as many sacks this year as he did last year, but he has also scrambled more this year than last, turning what would ordinarily be sacks into positive gains, and thrown more incomplete passes rather than taking sacks. I think it is fair to say he is under more pressure now than he was the last two years, and that is impacting his consistency and accuracy in the same way that Charles' is not having the success on the ground he had in years past. As the offensive line improves, everything else should on the offense. I also think Smith would be more efficient if we were running the ball a bit more, rather than using short passes as a running game.