Kansas City Chiefs Mailbag: The end of Alex Smith columns

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

So today we're going to do something a little different. I'm looking to start dumping mailbag questions (for the record, just because I haven't used your question yet doesn't mean I won't. I promise!), but I'm also looking to end an era for the columns I've been writing.

MoreAlex Smith's speech to Utah graduates

You see, over the course of the last year I've written multiple columns on KC Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. It started last summer, when I wrote an article begging Andy Reid / John Dorsey not to trade for him. After the trade went down (no one ever listens to me), I spent hours upon hours watching Alex Smith's 2012 game film to see if he was as awful as I figured. To my surprise, he wasn't. And so I gave him a shot.

In case you're interested in my "journey" with Alex Smith (columns)...

What's my point, other than it's a miracle my wife hasn't left me? I'm O-U-T of the Alex Smith discussion after today, at least for now. I've said my piece (and really, about nine guys' worth of pieces). Battle lines are drawn, and people aren't going to change their mind. So what's the point of arguing? I prefer peace, dude. Until the season has started, I won't have any new takes on this particular issue. It's time.

With that said, let's take on one more Alex Smith question for the road, then call it a day.

Seth,

We discussed Alex Smith vs. playoff teams in his career a while back in an epic Smith thread and had this sitting in my outgoing drafts for quite some time, so consider the timeframe. Maybe a future post to consider how far we can go with Smith at the helm?

2013: assuming Denver, Indy, and Dallas / Philly make it, he’s currently 1-3 (if SD makes the playoffs, 1-4, as I won’t count this upcoming game) = averaged 57.15 percent completion, 237 yards., 6.33 yards per attempt, one TD and .5 INT per game.

2012: 2-1, averaged 68.8 percent completion, 185 yards, 6.68 yards per attempt, 1.33 TDs and .5 INTs per game. Rushing: 4.66 att., 16.6 yards and three sacks for loss of 11.66 yards per game.

2011: 3-1 (not counting playoffs themselves, only time he’s played in the playoffs, btw), averaged 60.1 percent completion, 163 yards, 5.61 yards per attempt, .5 TDs and .5 INTs per game. Rushing: 1.75 att., 7.25 yards and four acks for a loss of 20.75 yards per game. (Nine sacks in a loss to Baltimore…holy crap).

2010: 1-5 (first five games were against playoff teams, went 0-5), averaged 62.86 percent completion percentage, 247 yards, 7.05 yards per attempt, 1.5 TDs and 1.5 INTs per game.

2009: 1-3 = averaged 54.07 pecent completion percentage, 186.5 yards, 5.49 yards per attempt, 1.75 TDs and 1.75 INTs. per game.

2008: … no games played

2007: 0-1 = went 17-35, 209 yds., 48.6 percent, 5.97 yds per attempt, one TD, one INT.

2006: 2-5 = averaged 59.02 percent completion percentage, 175.7 yards, 5.92 yards per attempt, 1.14 TDs and 1.14 INTs per game.

Total: 10-19 vs. playoff teams from 2006-2013, played well enough in some, played below average in most.

-RememberDelaney37

Wow, what a way to go out, right? First things first, this email came awhile ago, so let's clean up the 2013 numbers.  Against playoff teams in 2013, Smith's stats are as follows (I'm including the playoffs, since it's crazy to exclude the playoffs when trying to figure out stats against, you know, playoff teams):

1-5 W-L record. 60.3 completion percentage, 270 yards per game, 6.93 YPA, 1.83 TD / game, .5 INT  game.

And for those of you who would say, "Hey, the playoff game is skewing things," know two things:

1) Penalizing a player for a great performance is silly.

2) Smith was above the average completion percentage, yards per game, and YPA in four of the six games the Chiefs played against playoff teams last year. It wasn't a matter of one great performance dragging his averages up, it was one terrible performance (first game against the Colts) dragging it down.

All right, so what have we learned? Well, RD's main point in all of this was to paint a picture of Alex Smith against playoff teams. And as he states in his final sentence, the conclusion is that Smith has generally been poor against playoff teams, thus the 10-19 record against them since 2006.  RD's main question is how far I think we can go with Smith, considering this information.

My answer, as you're probably guessing, has multiple components.

1)  Are we really going to act like what happened four or more years ago is remotely as important as what has happened the last three years?

One fun fact about becoming a lawyer: applying for the bar is one of the most annoying things you'll ever do. I've spent the last several weeks desperately searching for addresses I stayed at for a month nine years ago, or the names of supervisors I had at my first job (when I was 16). It's a HASSLE.

What does that have to do with Alex Smith? It gave me some insight to just how long ago 2006 was. Try to track down what you were doing in 2006. In a lot of cases (especially for someone in their late 20s, like myself), it's almost impossible. It was a LONG time ago. In 2006, I had never changed a diaper, I was dating a series of increasingly unstable women, and my average night consisted of at least half a dozen drinks and at least one party.

Now? I have four kids, I've been married for years, and I don't touch the sauce. Again, a LOT can change in eight years.

In 2006, Marc Bulger and Jon Kitna were two of the five league leaders in passing yards (and no QB had over 4,500 yards passing).  Zach Thomas led the league in tackles. LaDainian Tomlinson and some guy named Larry Johnson were the top two rushers in the league.

In 2006 Derrick Johnson was an underachieving second year player. Shawne Merriman was the next Lawrence Taylor. Jay Cutler split snaps with Jake Plummer (The Snake!).

In 2007, Brett Favre was playing ... for the Packers. Chad Johnson was named Chad Johnson and was third in the league in receiving yards. Randy Moss was scoring 23 touchdowns. Willie Parker was "Fast Willie." Carl Peterson was the GM for the Chiefs. I think you get my point.

I don't treat what happened a half dozen years ago (or four years ago) as important as what happened last year, or the year before. I just don't. And neither do you. Don't believe me? Fine, I'll prove it to you.

What do you think of Marshawn Lynch? Dude's Beast Mode, right? What about his first five years in the league, when he averaged under four YPC? He's only been a great runner for three years. If you're calling Lynch Beast mode but holding 2006 against Smith, your bias is showing.

How about the aforementioned Derrick Johnson? I love DJ, but the world-shattering, game-changing DJ we've come to know and love was widely considered a bust around this very site. Inconsistent, right? Doesn't want it bad enough, remember? Of course, that's not how we view DJ. Because that's not who he is anymore.

In 2008, Jamaal Charles was a speedster with hands issues who couldn't get on the field much.

After the 2010 season, Calvin Johnson was looking back at one very good year, one good year, and two very sub-average years. He was a good receiver, but not even considered when talking about the top guys in the league.

My point isn't that Smith is All-Universe like Megatron or Jamaal Charles.  It's merely that you really DON'T attach much importance to what happened in 2009 or 2010. And that's fine, none of us do. Except, for some reason, when it comes to Alex Smith.

So my first response would be "I really don't care what Smith did before the last couple years, at least not when comparing to what he's done the last 3-4."

2)  Wins and losses are not an individual stat

I'm going to make two statements that annoy me equally.

A quarterback can play a brilliant game and still lose, as well as a mediocre game and still win. We saw both last season.

"Alex Smith is a winner. Look at his record over the last three years!"

"Alex Smith isn't a winner. Look at his record against playoff teams last year!"

Neither view makes sense. A quarterback can play a brilliant game and still lose, as well as a mediocre game and still win. We saw both last season.

Is quarterback THE preeminent position in the league? Absolutely. Does that mean all you need to do is look at wins and losses to judge a QB? Absolutely not. It's not even a starting point the way basic stats are.

So my second response would be, "Interesting stuff on the 10-19, I guess. Wouldn't make a difference to me if it were 19-10, though. Either way, it's relatively meaningless."

3)  Averaging out basic stats isn't going to give you enough information

We're finally getting to a place where we're learning something. Stats averaged out over a series of games at least give you a general idea of how the guy played over time. Of course, that doesn't really give much of a clue for how an individual game will go, given the wide variation between performances (the stat line from the first Colts game is so different from the second Colts game that it's hard to believe it's the same QB).

And of course, you've got the usual problems with stats. They don't provide an ounce of context. For example, if you look at just the stats from the second Raiders game this year you'd swear Smith was borderline dominant. However, a review of the film shows that while Smith played a smart game with some good throws, he was hardly as exceptional as the stats suggest. Basic stats don't account for screen passes that go the distance, or terrific throws that get dropped by receivers. They're limited, and that's why you never hear about a football coach having his scouts study basic stats to get a read on an opponent.

So ... what? Once and for all, how far can Alex Smith take the Chiefs?

When I take those three points into account, my grand total of thought is ... meh. I don't know how much we can really learn from any of those particular statistics. I just don't see them as a particularly accurate indicator of what we'll see in the future.  Too many variables.

As far as the ultimate question of how far the Chiefs can go with Smith at the helm goes, my answer will stay the same; I don't know. And that's where I'm at. If it makes you feel better, I could swap out "I don't know" with "It depends."

Depends on what, you ask? On what half of the season last year was the Alex Smith we're getting this year.

Through the first nine games last year, Smith was basically exactly what we all thought he'd be. He managed games, didn't make many mistakes, and only occasionally had "big" moments (the third and long throw vs. the Eagles, the comeback drive vs. the Cowboys). In the last seven games (the portion of the season that won me over), things appeared to be different. He was throwing the ball around more, taking more chances. Was it an illusion?

It was not. Smith's season can be pretty neatly divided up to "before the bye week" and "after the bye week" (deep stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus)

Before the bye week (nine games)

18 attempts 20+ yards in the air, or two per game

52 attempts 10+ yards in the air, or 5.8 per game

Four TDs on passes 10+ yards in the air, or .44 per game

After the bye week (seven games)

27 attempts 20+ yards in the air, or 3.86 per game

48 attempts 10+ yards in the air, or 6.86 per game

Seven TDs on passes 10+ yards in the air, or one per game

Those are some very, very, very different stats. The first set (Smith before the bye) would represent the lowest number of "deep" passes (20+ yards in the air) attempted per game of ... literally anyone in the league last year. Lower than Christian Ponder. Lower than Matt Cassel. Lower than Sam Bradford!

The second set of numbers is completely different. At 3.86 "deep" attempts per game, Smith was ahead of Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Tony Romo, and other guys known for slinging the ball deep.

So Smith was much more aggressive pushing the ball down the field the second half of the year. Does that mean his interceptions rose? Well, no. His interception rate stayed very steady, actually improving slightly from one INT every 78.75 passes to one INT every 79.67 passes. So Smith was challenging defenses vertically almost twice as often while maintaining his low number of interceptions. That's good news.

So Smith was challenging defenses vertically almost twice as often while maintaining his low number of interceptions. That's good news. -

The standard rebuttal to this information is "Well, we were losing, so of course Smith was more aggressive." That's only kinda / sorta true. The Chiefs were winning for most of the game against Denver (second game), San Diego, Washington, Oakland, and Indianapolis (second game).  The only games the Chiefs were playing catchup were the first Denver game and the first Colts game. So it's not as though Smith was recklessly trying to come back from insurmountable leads to get garbage stats.

It seems like in situations where Smith was aggressive, good things happened for the Chiefs.

One can call Smith a game manager all they want, but when the team needed yards he stepped up in a big way. That indicates he can handle the load of being a playmaking quarterback. And if you think leading the league in that category is a matter of luck, look at the rest of those names in the top seven. It's not luck (well, except when it's Luck).

On a final note with all this, the tape (which is ALWAYS where you and I should go to figure stuff out) confirms what stats indicate: Smith was a whole lot more aggressive after the bye week. He still displayed a maddening tendency to tuck and run too quickly, but three things were different:

It seems like in situations where Smith was aggressive, good things happened for the Chiefs.

1) Smith was actively looking to throw the ball deep.

2) Smith was keeping his eyes down the field longer (still not as long as I'd like, for the record).

3) Smith was no longer overthrowing the deep ball the way he had been earlier in the year.

There's at least one guy who agrees with me that the offense changed as the year went along...

"It was our first year in the offense, we didn’t turn the ball over, we were opportunistic in the red zone, but yes we didn’t really have the entire playbook at hand, and that’s to be expected in the first year with a lot of new faces. So as the year went on and we got more comfortable and coach Reid got more comfortable with us and his staff, he started to trust us with more and we showed that we could handle it. By the end, I was feeling really good about things." - Some Guy


Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2014/02/08/4809279/smith-looking-to-the-future.html#storylink=cpy

Another interesting tidbit: no quarterback who attempted over 40 "deep" passes was let down by his receivers more often than Smith on those throws. The Chiefs receivers dropped a staggering 14.6 percent of catchable deep throws in 2013. No other quarterback dealt with a drop rate of even 10 percent. Good. Lord.

So why am I telling you about these stats and Smith's film in the second half of the season? Is it to beat the "Alex Smith will bring us to the Super Bowl" drum? No, not really. I'm not sure how this season will go for Smith. It certainly is a possibility that Smith just caught a "hot" (relatively speaking) stretch to end the season, or that he was able to take advantage of crap defenses. If Teddy Bridgewater falls to the Chiefs at 23, I'm all for taking him (yes, I'm serious. I love that guy's film).

So this isn't a "Here's why Smith is awesome" column ...  This is a "I think what we saw the last seven games of the year on offense could be the norm in 2014" column. And to urge you to check the tape out and see what you think. 

That open ending seems a fitting place to close out The Alex Smith Series. At least for now. Who knows what next year holds? If (and yes, this is a big "if") what we saw from Smith to close out year was what we'll be seeing week in and week out, the Chiefs offense will be more explosive than any they've had in years. Like I said ... it depends.

I know at least one guy who seems excited to see what 2014 will hold...

"I felt like Indy was just kind of a taste of what we could do," Smith Some Guy said.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2014/02/08/4809279/smith-looking-to-the-future.html#storylink=cpy

Email mailbag questions to MNchiefsfan@hotmail.com, or tweet @RealMNchiefsfan. Except for Alex Smith questions.  We're done with those for the foreseeable future.

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