FanPost

Oh, man! Why can’t Alex Smith throw deep?

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

From the FanPosts -Joel

According to ESPN's Passing Splits, Alex Smith has only attempted 3 passes 21+ yards downfield this year, completing only one of them. This is one of the go-to criticisms of Alex Smith, that he refuses to push the ball downfield. The only completion he's had throwing these balls was the 31-yard completion to Avery on 3 & 9 against the Cowboys. Smith's throw on 3 & 10 in the 4th quarter against the Eagles, also to Avery, did not qualify because the ball only traveled 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. The play included a five-step drop from the shotgun formation, which placed Smith 5 yards deep in the end-zone. While the pass did travel ~24 yards in the air, it was only ~15 from the line of scrimmage.

So he completes that pass to Avery against the Cowboys, but the opening shot to Anthony Fasano against the Jags falls incomplete, and the hail Mary before the half against the Eagles falls incomplete. 1-of-3, 31 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT. That means that on throws 21+ yards downfield from the line of scrimmage Smith has averaged 10.3 Y/A thus far in 2013.

Passes 21+

Comp.

Att.

Comp Pct.

Yds.

Y/A

TD/INT

A. Smith

1

3

33

31

10.3

0/0

Not spectacular, but certainly not a bad number. What is obviously worrying is the ridiculously small sample size. Smith does not like throwing it deep unless he has to; I think this much has been proven. Of all the QB's I looked into, his 3 attempts has been the fewest, and his one completion also ties for the fewest. Here are the passing splits of some other QB's I looked up thus far in 2013, organized by division.

NFC EAST

Passes 21+

Comp

Att.

Comp Pct.

Yds.

Y/A

TD/INT

EManning

2

8

25

121

15.125

1/2

TRomo

1

4

25

38

9.5

0/0

RGriffin

1

8

12.5

24

3

1/1

MVick

2

8

25

86

10.75

2/0

NFC SOUTH

Passes 21+

Comp.

Att.

Comp Pct.

Yds.

Y/A

TD/INT

DBrees

4

10

40

179

17.9

2/0

MRyan

1

3

33

81

27

1/0

NFC WEST

Passes 21+

Comp.

Att.

Comp Pct.

Yds.

Y/A

TD/INT

CKaepern

3

10

33

87

8.7

1/1

RWilson

3

6

50

117

19.5

1/1

CPalmer

3

8

37.5

104

13

2/0

NFC NORTH

Passes 21+

Comp.

Att.

Comp Pct.

Yds.

Y/A

TD/INT

ARodgers

6

10

60

227

22.7

0/0

JCutler

4

7

57

122

17.4

2/1

MStafford

1

4

25

27

6.75

0/0

CPonder

3

7

42.8

111

15.8

1/0

AFC SOUTH

Passes 21+

Comp.

Att.

Comp Pct.

Yds

Y/A

TD/INT

MSchaub

3

6

50

81

13.5

0/0

ALuck

1

8

12.5

47

5.88

0/1

AFC NORTH

Passes 21+

Comp.

Att.

Comp Pct.

Yds.

Y/A

TD/INT

BRoethlis

1

10

10

31

3.1

0/0

JFlacco

2

15

13.3

63

4.2

0/0

ADalton

3

8

37.5

148

18.5

1/0

AFC EAST

Passes 21+

Comp.

Att.

Comp Pct.

Yds.

Y/A

TD/INT

TBrady

1

10

10

38

3.8

0/0

RTannehi

2

5

40

68

13.6

1/0

EManuel

2

5

40

36

7.2

2/0

GSmith

4

11

36

131

11.9

0/2

AFC WEST

Passes 21+

Comp.

Att.

Comp Pct.

Yds

Y/A

TD/INT

PManning

3

8

37.5

90

11.25

2/0

PRivers

2

8

25

78

9.75

0/0

Now, because we are only three weeks into the season (this article is pointless?), there are clearly some outliers that need to be taken care of. The Steelers are horrible this year, and all the pressure is falling on Big Ben; he is not 1-of-10 bad. Peyton Manning has been scorching hot; he will not continue to have 66% of his passes downfield go for TD's.

However, a lot of these statistics correctly fit the QB they are sizing up. Flacco really is the gunslinger we make him out to be. Only without Boldin there, he has seen much less success. Rodgers has the most arm talent of any QB in the league--period. (though having the best receivers should mediate the "WoWs" his stats generate a bit).

Smith's 10 Y/A on these throws seems to be about the league average, though I have not posted every QB. His Comp Pct. also seems to be about average. The interesting thing here is the number of QB's with more (in some cases many more) attempts downfield, but with equal completions. Tom Brady (10 attempts), Ben Roethlisberger (10), Tony Romo (4), Andrew Luck (8), Robert Griffin III (8), Matt Stafford (4). Then you have guys like Flacco (2 of 15), Rivers (2 of 8), Vick (2 of 8) and Eli (2 of 8), who have squeaked out one more completion, but at the cost of their Comp. Pct.

But enough of face-value, lets make some inferences with these statistics.

Even though the story has been spun more times than I can remember, I think it is worth noting that Smith is playing in a new offense for what is now the 8th time in a 9-year career. I try to stay away from subjective explanations of this sort, but since it is the basis of this section, I have to tread into these waters.

Smith was never a prolific downfield thrower during his time in San Francisco, but he did have something that made this part of his game much easier: Vernon Davis. Indeed, all of the 49ers significant offensive weapons are players that came up with, and struggled with, Alex Smith before Harbaugh came to town. Frank Gore was drafted the same year as Alex Smith, 2005; and Vernon Davis just a year later, in 2006. Crabtree was drafted the year Alex Smith came back from his shoulder injury, 2009. Even though I may be overstating it a bit, the chemistry that develops between players over this time is both significant and incalculable. When throwing to Davis downfield, Smith always seemed to put the ball where he could get it, and when throwing to newer additions on the team (Kyle Williams, Randy Moss) Smith always seemed to overshoot a bit.

The success of KC's offense in the future, I believe, hinges on Smith's ability to foster such a connection with his new receiving corps.

In any case, there are some other QB's who have experienced similar turnover in the 2013 year, and I think it is worth comparing Smith to these players. Carson Palmer, like Smith, switched teams, moving from OAK to ARI. He is now with a new head coach and is throwing to new receivers. Tom Brady is with the same team as last year, but he is throwing to a completely new set of receivers. Gronk got injured, Hernandez got arrested, Welker got traded and Lloyd retired. Philip Rivers is on the same team, and is throwing to a few of the same receivers, but is playing in a new offensive system for a new coach.

Passes 21+

Comp.

Att.

Comp Pct.

Yds.

Y/A

TD/INT

ASmith

1

3

33

31

10.3

0/0

TBrady

1

10

10

38

3.8

0/0

CPalmer

3

8

37.8

104

13

2/0

PRivers

2

8

25

78

9.75

0/0

So, does Smith compare favorably to these QBs? Not really.

Palmer is in the most similar situation. He is playing for a proven offensive mind (Arians v. Reid) and has a proven playmaker on his team (Fitzgerald v. Bowe). Brady and Rivers are both lacking deep threats on their team. Palmer's performance in this metric dwarfs the other 3 QB's listed.

Why doesn't Smith throw it deep more?

I have absolutely no idea. But there are two competing ideas in my head, and depending on which proves to be right, I also might not care. Smith has thrown 3 balls 21+ yards downfield from the line of scrimmage through three weeks, which averages out to 1 per game. Most QB's have thrown somewhere between 6 and 10 passes at this range through 3 weeks. That is 2-3 such passes per week.

Does that really matter? One extra pass per game? Would any of us feel better about the passing game if Smith just forced himself to throw deep two times per game instead of once?

The really maddening thing, for me at least, about these criticisms of Smith's play is that he has consistently been able to make these downfield throws when he had to. I don't like editorializing (who am I kidding...), but I think it is pretty safe to say that without Smith's throw to Avery on 3 & 9 against the Cowboys, and his 3 & 10 throw to Avery against the Eagles, the Chiefs could very well be 1-2.

Week 2: Cowboys come out of the halftime break with a 10-7 lead. Romo begins the half with an 8-minute scoring drive that gives the Chiefs the ball with under 7 minutes left in the 3rd. Then, after one 1st down, the Chiefs drive stalls at their own 32, and they are facing a 3 & 9. If Smith doesn't make this throw to Avery, and the Chiefs have to give the ball back to DAL with good field position (and all of the momentum), the ‘boys could have easily taken a 2-score lead and given the ball back after the 4th Quarter break.

Week 3: As the 4th quarter starts, Smith leads a TD drive that puts the Chiefs up 2 scores, but the Eagles quickly, and non-chalantly, respond with a TD drive of their own. Chiefs drop the ensuing kickoff, and the crowd begins to pick up volume as the Chiefs face a 3 & 10 from their own 5-yard line. If Smith doesn't stand tall in the pocket and deliver this perfect ball to Avery, the Chiefs have to give the ball back to the Eagles with good field position (and all of the momentum) in a position to get the go-ahead score. Instead, Smith converts the 3rd & long and marches them downfield to put the game out of reach.

Hmm...

Both of these downfield passes were completed when the Chiefs needed a big play. People say, "Oh, Smith has a weak arm, he only gets passes downfield on play-action ‘shot' plays." Yet, both of Smith's long completions (and The Catch III, I might add) this year came on 3rd & long, in a critical game situation where the defense knew a pass was coming.

Is it possible the pejoratively-marked "intelligent" QB is picking his shots? Playing it safe for most of the game because an interception is unequivocally worse than a 20-yard completion is good, and then turning it on when the team needs him to take shots? Yes, it is possible.

But it's also BORING. Hey Alex! You won more games than Kaep in 2012! You lost your job because you never hucked it. You have led the worst team in the league to a 3-0 start; I think its due time you let loose a bit. Start huckin'!

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.

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