Well then, let's get right to it. First stats; then hate; then more stats.
The first part dives deeper into the comparisons of the 2011 49ers to the 2013 Chiefs.
The second part is a personal story about why I hate the New York Giants.
The third part is a stat-perspective on Alex Smith's historic ability to avoid interceptions, and how it has a chance to reach unprecedented levels today.
If you don't want to read my personal story of revenge, you can skip the middle section and simply read the first and third bits.
Part 1 - We are the same, you and I
The 2013 Kansas City Chiefs are a mirror image of the 2011 San Francisco 49ers: new coach on a team already loaded with talent, top defense, developing pass attack with a great run game, an All Pro punting weapon, and so on and so forth -- you know the story by now.
But one thing that has not been put out in the long list of similarities is Alex Smith's stat line.
As should be expected in a new system with new receivers, coaches, rookie tackle, and injured tight ends, Smith has regressed from his 2012 numbers. However, he has regressed a bit more than I expected. And I remain quite positive that, by season's end, his numbers will improve and his regression will look more realistic.
The good and bad news of this is that he is currently hovering just above his hypothetical "floor" -- i.e., his 2011 stats.
It is bad news because, obviously, it is indeed regression and not the top 10-to-5 statistical play Smith is capable of when an offense gets rolling on all cylinders.
But it is good news for a couple reasons: one, if this is his floor, then one can expect progress moving forward; and, two, the film and team context is kinder to Smith than the stats. He is making the throws necessary and executing to a degree, but the offense clearly has some young kinks to work out. In time, they will work them out, and Smith's stats will respond accordingly.
Completion percentage in both years is at 6.1%. Touchdown percentage in both years is at 3.8. Interception rate is at 1.1 and 0.00 respectively -- both career bests. Adjusted yards per attempt is just above 7. Passer rating just above 90. Sack percentage is down to around 9.0. And, of course, Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt is around 6.1. Even Smith's QBR is back to just below 50, as it was in 2011.
In all the major areas, Smith is playing at 2011 levels statistically. On top of that, he is facing a lot of the same struggles as that year: new offense, o-line having issues in pass protection, inconsistency at receiver, etc.
The encouraging news, again, is that not only is this his realistic floor, but it is likely to improve as the issues around him improve and as everyone, including Smith, becomes more comfortable in the offense. Getting some starting tight ends back will also help -- both in the power run game and the play-action passing off of it.
Having watched the 2011 49ers season as it happened, I can tell you now that the Chiefs offensive line is better, and Donnie Avery alone is a more legitimate receiving threat than the 49ers had all year outside of Vernon Davis. And we haven't even gotten to Dwayne Bowe, who should emerge soon so long as Avery can continue demanding attention.
Until the deep ball opens up a bit more, Smith will keep relying on YAC and the designed throws to Jamaal Charles out of the backfield. His numbers will, thus, continue to suffer in certain aspects. But don't let that get you down, because Smith is playing winning football through three games. The 2011 49ers can attest to that.
Keep in mind, after all, the 2011 49ers won 14 games that season and led the league in Pythagorean win expectancy -- which is a really good predictor of next year's win percentage. Anyone expecting them to regress heavily in 2012 need only look at that basic stat to see otherwise.
This is very important, because going from 6 wins to 13 means one would expect heavy regression the following year. This is something Kansas City may have to worry about in 2014, depending how the rest of this year plays out. But no one (except myself and a few others) expected Smith to improve in his second year in Jim Harbaugh's offense, and no one took notice of the team's excellent Pythagorean win record. Smith will surely show continued improvement in Andy Reid's offense, and a solid expected win record will help stave off regression.
The 49ers had a great expected record because they lost a mere four games in 2011 by a combined 18 points.
Two of those were via field goals in overtime. One was a 2 point defeat on the road to Arizona. The other a 10 point loss at Baltimore on Thursday night where San Francisco traveled clear across the continental U.S. to play four days after a home game in the Bay Area. As you can tell, none of these losses indicate poor play.
Two weeks prior, in fact, they had beaten the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants 27 - 20 at home in a game where Smith was credited with a 4th quarter comeback.
This sort of play for the 2013 Chiefs, despite what many say, is in-fact sustainable through the year, and even in to the next. And it all assumes Kansas City doesn't improve on offense. Considering the team is 3 - 0 despite all this, Chiefs fans have plenty to be excited about. It starts today by moving to 4 - 0 against Tom Coughlin's squad.
Which brings us to the following...
Part 2 - I hate New York
If Alex Smith is playing 2011 49er football, and the Chiefs are mirroring that squad in many ways, then what lessons might be learned from the result of that season?
As you are aware, San Francisco ended their 2011 campaign with a heart-wrenching overtime defeat in the NFC Championship Game to the New York Giants. I know it was heart-wrenching because I went up North to San Francisco to drink in a bar for the game.
A lengthy personal anecdote follows, if you'll indulge me.
I was more-than-sufficiently buzzed by half-time of that game, let alone a 5th quarter. A ball bounced off punt returner Kyle Williams' knee. "What the hell was he thinking?" Another is slapped away in overtime. "This can't be happening..."
Mark my words. It's the same thing I said in my original introduction post on The Phoenix: the Chiefs will make the playoffs. But winning one or two or three or four playoff games is a matter of many things other than skill. Just ask Joe Flacco.
Reducing variance is a great way to assure yourself a fighting chance in any game, but it requires every single man be a well-oiled cog in the machine. One screw up by some random dude in the most basic of tasks provided him and the machine fails. Think of it as the Spartan army guarding Thermopylae. Every single man guards the man to his left in perfect harmony until Ephialtes decides to screw everything up and tell the Persians of the secret passage to flank the Greek lines.
Instead of winning 20 - 17, you lose 20 - 17. That was my 2011 49ers. This is your 2013 Kansas City Chiefs (at least, based on the evidence so far).
Packed into the middle of a crowded bar, my fingers were locked with some random girl's in those final moments -- in a sort of desperate dual prayer to the Football Gods -- but no luck. My hand slid out of hers as the football slid through the uprights for the fatal blow. I was crushed.
It was clear to everyone there that I cared more about this team than anyone else at the bar. There were more than a few "bandwagoners" whose loyalties were equally obvious: they had heard earlier that day that some local team was playing some important game, and surely this was a grand excuse to get liquored up. Even a seemingly knowledgeable fan standing behind me required an explanation from yours truly: "If the 49ers win today, they will definitely win the Super Bowl." I continued, assured, "The 49ers don't lose Super Bowls."
It will always be true that Alex Smith failed to win a Championship in San Francisco. But it is also true he never lost one. You might think me crazy, but I am not the only 49er fan in the world who would rather lose the NFC Championship Game than lose the Super Bowl. 5 - 0 is a beautiful, Godly thing to us.
You could give us a decade of losing seasons and ridicule -- such is life. You could give us Kansas City's record last year of 2 - 14 -- which is what happened in 2004 and led to the #1 overall pick and the selection of you-know-who. You could even give us Mike Singletary dropping his pants and exposing himself to the team -- weirder shit has happened. But you could never take away that glorious zero.
Smith gained redemption in the eyes of most fans in January of 2012 by winning the greatest playoff game I have ever seen with his legs -- first -- and then, when required, his arm. Smith led a 80 yard touchdown drive in 1:44 to take the lead. Then, 30 seconds of game-time later, down again, he up'd the ante and drove 85 yards in 1:23.
He overcame the plague that fans had placed upon him as a "bust" and a "loser." He was a winner. He still is one. He proved himself. He gained acceptance.
But, like the introspective, brooding Greek hero Achilles, cut down at the peak of his growth (sorry for all the Greek metaphors), a concussion ripped the soft-spoken, much-maligned Smith away from San Francisco at his height. He was 25 of his last 27 for 304 yards, with 4 touchdowns and 0 picks. Re-read that. He led the league in passer rating and was on pace to set the NFL completion percentage record.
An unnecessarily courageous attempt to gain a few more yards cost him his job. About 10 months earlier, two separate, freaky mishaps on the part of a now-notorious back-up kick returner cost Smith a chance at immortality.
And so, with the blissful tears of pure ecstasy from the week prior's emotional victory over New Orleans the furthest feeling from my heart, I took a seat at the bar as it quickly emptied. I ordered another beer. Received it. Looked into it. Drank. Looked into it some more. Crushed.
The New York Giants fan who had been friendly to me said I was the only real 49er fan in the building. I muttered "Thank you" into my beer and, being dishonest for the sake of extending the friendliness he had shown me, told him I hoped his team beat the damn New England Patriots.
The girl whose hand I had been holding wrapped her arm around me in condolence. On any other day of my life I would have kissed her for such a gesture and made sure I spent my only night in the Bay Area with more than a beer in my hands, if you get me. But there were more important things to muse that night.
Part 3 - Alex Smith's NFL Record-Setting Risk Aversion
Indeed, over the next few months, I couldn't stop thinking about the loss. I am sure most of you can relate. When the schedule was posted for the 2012 season, the NYG@SF game became an immediate highlight.
The week of the game, I made this post regarding Smith's historic INT rate. In it, I perused many game logs at Pro-Football-Reference to come up with the greatest run of low interception percentage in NFL history. I came up with the following list:
- 0.92%, Alex Smith + (6 / 650), 2011 - 2012, age: 27
- 0.96%, Tom Brady (6 / 625), 2010 - 2011, age: 33
- 1.04%, Jeff Garcia * (6 / 576), 2006 - 2007, age: 36
- 1.10%, Aaron Rodgers " (6 / 541), 2010 - 2011, age: 27
- 1.14%, Steve DeBerg (6 / 524), 1989 - 1991, age: 36
- 1.15%, Jason Campbell (6 / 522), 2007 - 2008, age: 26
- 1.21%, Jeff George (6 / 494), 1992 - 1994, age: 26
- 1.22%, Neil O'Donnell ^ (6 / 490), 1998 - 1999, age: 32
Basically, from 2011 to 2012, just before the Giants game, Alex Smith was the only quarterback in NFL history to throw 650 passes while maintaining an INT rate below 1.0. The closest to that was Tom Brady, who thew 625 times.
Believe it or not, the post goes on to detail an even better mark that may never be matched. If you take Smith's attempts from 2010 after "The Revelation" game against Reid's Eagles, you get a truly historic mark of safe play:
- 0.87%, Alex Smith. Only 7 interceptions in 802 attempts.
Naturally, the Football Gods responded to my wonderful, stat-driven post of Smith's safe play by having Alex throw three interceptions in the very next game against the New York Giants. A game where, as MNChiefsFan noted in his game-reviews of #11, Colin Kaepernick was put in at every opportunity to kill drives and stall momentum.
Not his fault. Not Smith's either, who was also dealing with an injured finger on his throwing hand. The performance was hardly indicative of anything at all. Just another freaky train wreck primarily on the shoulders of Jim Harbaugh. But the damage had been done, and Smith losing his INT% streak at home in an ugly outing to the same team that had cost him a shot at the Super Bowl was icing on the cake.
So, as you can see, I hate the New York Giants. I absolutely despite them. I hate their city. I hate the attention they get from mainstream press. I hate their two fluky Super Bowls. I hate their helmet catch. I hate their knee fumbles. I hate that bullshit forward progress call. I hate them for killing Joe Montana. I hate them for the two tragedies described above that affected Smith's shot at a Super Bowl and then took away his interception streak.
If the Football Gods have any concept of justice, if they are benevolent, omniscient, and strong, they will do everything necessary to push the Chiefs to 4 - 0, the Giants to 0 - 4, and Alex Smith to 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and 300 passing yards in an absolutely obliterating victory.
The Phoenix's INT rate, including this season, now rests at 11 picks in 988 attempts. That's a near 1,000 attempts of maintaining an INT rate at 1.1%. -- half the league average. Absolutely crazy. This nets Smith a historic record of interception-free passing, and it would be really , really sweet and personally awesome for me if Smith contributed further to that mark today.
God speed, Kansas City. Please kill the Giants dead. Kill them dead. Do it for Joe. Do it for Alex. Do it for Andy Reid. Do it to further legitimize yourself in the eyes of the football world. Do it to keep that beautiful goose egg on your well-earned record.
Kill them dead.