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Alex Smith from both sides: A fence-sitter's call for peace

Let's come together and really look at Alex Smith as a Chief so far.

Doug Pensinger

The lines have been drawn. Sides have been picked. And Chiefs fans, in the middle of what should be the most fun season in years (9-1, executed the biggest turnaround in NFL history, and are almost a shoo-in to make the playoffs), are constantly at each others' throats.

Is it just me, or were we fighting less when the team was 2-14 and beyond all hope? What on earth is going on here?

Alex Smith happened, that's what is going on. The turmoil and fan division predicted by visiting 49ers fans when we made the trade has taken complete hold. There does not exist a post with more than 100 comments where Alex Smith doesn't cause Chiefs fans to get all "internet mean" on one another.

The comments saying that Smith is Cassel 2.0 have begun to increase in their frequency. Every mistake he makes is coming under intense scrutiny and being magnified a hundred times over. In the meantime, people from the other side of the fence claim that Alex Smith has been very good. Blame from that side of the fence is thrown at the wide receivers, the offensive line, and the coaching.

Each side has dug in and defends their position with the ferocity of a momma bear protecting her cub (a weird analogy, but pretty accurate). No one wants to hear what the other side has to say, and both groups at this point are basically resorting to taking jabs at one another.

And so it falls upon me, the man on the fence, to try and bring the two sides together. Or, at the very least, get you up on the fence with me. It's comfy up here (this isn't some chain-link fence, mind you. This is some quality wood. Also, there's a joke in that second sentence somewhere), and you can see for miles. Because you know what really makes this whole Alex Smith thing interesting? BOTH sides have good points.

So come now, let's reason together.

To the Alex Smith "Homers"

It's OK to say it. In fact, I'll say it with you! I think we'll all get some sense of relief saying it ...

Alex Smith has not been that good this year.

C'mon, didn't that feel good? It's OK to look at the stats a little bit. His completion percentage has been low, his YPA is subpar, and he's not throwing the ball far at all per attempt. Put all those things together and you've got a problem.

I completely understand that you're concerned about the play calling, the pass blocking, and the receivers. I absolutely share those concerns, and those things all need to improve.

I think we'll all get some sense of relief saying it ... Alex Smith has not been that good this year.

But you can't just ignore what the film shows you. Smith has been inaccurate pushing the ball down the field this season. He's allowed pressure to get to him and lower his eye level (from watching the routes to watching the rush). And while his athleticism has been very impressive, he relies on his legs too much when things break down. This has directly led to sacks. Additionally, he's shown some accuracy issues on the shorter routes as well.

In other words, Smith needs to shoulder some (or even a lot) of the blame for our offense being mediocre this year. He's had his struggles. They're easy to see on the stats sheet.

But I don't want you to feel as though I'm giving you some half-baked, stats-only analysis. So I'll give you some examples from the most recent game where, in large part because of the offense, the Chiefs let a potentially huge opportunity to put a stranglehold on the division slip away.

One you've probably already heard about was on the Anthony Sherman fumble. No, the fumble wasn't Smith's fault. However, he had two superior options to the one he choose on that play.

via @Jacobs71

One was Bowe, who came open on the left and would have been inside the five at the absolute worst. Now, re-watching the play there was safety help over the top on Bowe, so I can maybe see why this throw wasn't made (if Smith didn't get to that read in time for it). However, on the other side of the field Donnie Avery was wide, wide, wide open on an out. He very likely waltzes into the end zone if that throw is made (assuming he catches it ... so, yeah, maybe).

While the Sherman fumble cost the Chiefs points, Smith checking down there is what led to it. Some of the blame has to go to Smith.

Every quarterback misses reads, you say? Well, yes, that's absolutely true. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be called out on it. I'm not asking for perfection. I'm asking that Smith make the correct read when he's got multiple receivers open in the red zone. Those are the type of mistakes that cost you games. One problem the Chiefs have had is closing out drives. Plays like this show that Smith is part of the problem. Again, that's not a call for perfection, but performance.

For another example, look to the drive to end the 1st half. And no, I'm not talking about the sack. I'm talking about the play before. And yes, I'm aware that the play I'm talking about ended in a 16-yard gain to Bowe. What's my problem with that play, you ask? Well, I can show you better than I can tell you.


As you can see, Smith is about to start moving forward in the pocket, where he eventually makes a throw to Bowe (the higher of the two red arrows). Bowe is open at Denver's 45 yard line. Good play, right?

Well ... kinda. As you can see, I've circled the Denver safety, who is already starting to break toward Bowe in anticipation of the throw. And if you check the lower of the two arrows, that leaves Dexter McCluster WIDE OPEN. He's not only farther down the field, but he's got the sideline to work with and only one defender with a good shot at stopping him from getting to the end zone (a defender who would have a blocker on him).

Again, I'm not asking for perfection. But this was a CRITICAL drive in the game, and Smith flat-out made the wrong choice. These are the types of missed decisions that have people saying all kinds of things about Smith. And looking at the picture above, you can understand why to an extent, can't you? It doesn't help that the very next play he took an absolutely terrible sack that brought the Chiefs out of field goal range. A rough drive, and one that falls on Smith's shoulders. He cost the Chiefs points there.

There were other plays I could point out. He tossed a couple into the dirt in the second half as well. But my point is that Smith HAS been making some mistakes that are costing the Chiefs. And while he's done some good things here and there, you've got to understand how skittish it makes Chiefs fans feel when they see a quarterback make those types of mistakes. We've been hurt before.

So yes, other parts of the offense are a problem. But Alex Smith has to shoulder a big part of the blame. He's the most important player on offense, and when he misses on plays like he did against Denver, that's an issue which needs to be recognized. He's got to play better than he has been if the Chiefs want to be a serious Super Bowl contender.

To the Alex Smith "Haters"

Now to hop back over the fence to the other side of things. This whole "Smith is the new Cassel" stuff has got to stop. It's just completely inaccurate. So is the idea that Smith has just been along for the ride and never makes any plays.

I've written entire columns talking about the offense stepping up when it was needed the most. Early on against the Texans and the Browns when the defense was getting torched. The clutch FG drive against Philly (which was 90 percent Alex Smith, don't bother to pretend otherwise). Good drives to reclaim the lead against the Cowboys and the Titans. In all of these situations Smith has played a crucial role. You put a subpar quarterback into that many bad spots and you've got a couple losses on your record. The Chiefs did not, and it was in part due to Alex Smith making plays.

Since it would seem most of the folks in the "haters" camp view this last Sunday as yet another failure by Smith, I'll use examples from that game.

Everyone knows about the Donnie Avery drop in the first quarter, so I won't belabor the point there. That was an absolutely phenomenal throw. I mean on the freaking DOT. You cannot make a better throw than that in the NFL. And after re-watching that play a million times (give or take), I have to agree with my man HisDirkness on this one: if Avery catches that ball, the safety takes out the corner without touching Avery. He scrambles to his feet and runs in for an easy touchdown. This is a clear example of Smith making a GREAT play ... but being let down. So when you ask yourself, "Well, if he's such a playmaker why didn't we score more points?", this is one easy play to look at.

This whole "Smith is the new Cassel" stuff has got to stop. It's just completely inaccurate.

But beyond that, Smith did make plays against Denver. He actually took multiple shots downfield, as well as in the "intermediate" zone the Chiefs have been needing to work more often. Before you point to his completion percentage and start screaming about there's no way he was good, you should note something. Pro Football Focus keeps count of "aimed" throws (as opposed to throwaways). Smith had 38 aimed passes, of which four (including the one just discussed) drops. Maybe taking that into account will let you at least give me a shot to point a few things out to you.

One example of a great play by Smith? The very first play of the second quarter. He sells the play action to Jamaal Charles and throws the ball 30 yards right into Bowe's hands in stride. Bowe, naturally ... stumbles and falls rather than racking up additional yardage. The drive ended in a touchdown in part because of an exceptional throw by Smith. That kind of throw down the field is exactly the kind people have been calling for, and credit should be given where it's due. Don't believe me?


I'm aware the picture quality sucks, but that's mostly because Bowe was on the run. And as you can see (in somewhat blurry fashion), Smith dropped that sucker RIGHT where it needed to be. While Bowe was on the run 30 yards down the field. Don't say Smith isn't making any plays, it's simply not true. That right there is making a play.

And then comes the inevitable question ... "If Smith was making plays, why was his stat line so bad and why did we only score 17 points?"

I'm glad you asked! Because that question is a good one. And since we're focusing on this game in particular (as it seems to be the game that has made the Alex Smith arguments explode), I'll use this game as an example of the bigger picture.

Alex Smith WAS making plays Sunday (again, not that he didn't have some bad plays), contrary to what you (you being the "hater") have been saying. The problem he ran into is that almost every big play he made got taken away from him. The Avery drop is the most obvious one (tell me, how would you feel about Smith's game if you added in an additional 70 yards and a touchdown?), but it's hardly alone.

The VERY NEXT PLAY, Smith went deep again, this time deep right to The Beard. The ball ended up about two yards too far, and I chalked it up to an Alex Smith overthrow. Until I re-watched it and found that the man covering The Beard made contact with McGrath while the ball was in the air (and McGrath was well past five yards) and managed to knock him a little off-balance.

Was it a big hit? No, and it didn't draw a flag. But it did wobble McGrath just a little. That wouldn't be a big deal had the ball been overthrown. But you can see from where it landed that had McGrath been able to keep running unimpeded the ball was placed exactly where he would have been. Of course, he wasn't there, and the world (at least the world without All-22) would go on believing that was a poor throw by Alex Smith. He made a good play and a good throw, but the team got nothing out of it.

Another example of this is a drop that never made it to the box score. With 8:25 left in the second quarter, the Chiefs faced a 3rd-and-2. Smith loads up and goes 20-plus yards down the right side of the field, where Bowe has gained some separation. Here's a picture as the ball is arriving.


That throw is absolutely on the money down the field. And Bowe flat out drops it. Of course, there was a holding call elsewhere, so the Chiefs got a first down anyway. Which means two things: that the drop didn't go on the box score and that no one remembered it (except a few here I've seen talk about it). Plus, the drive ended up going down the field regardless. So people ignored this play.

But it's a second example of Smith making a great play that would have drastically altered his stats (the sticking point for most "haters"), and instead ended with nothing. If you're going to focus on stats, you should at least consider what the film has to say about how the stats ended up what they were.

But speaking of made plays, how about a 17 yard read option sprint? Smith sold the daylights out of that play and was gone. To be totally fair, though, this was just a great play call as well, and I'm mostly bringing it up to try and subliminally plant the idea for more read option into Reid's mind. Anyway, back to talking about Smith...

The plays mentioned above are not the only examples of Smith making a play against Denver. But, much like with "homer" section above, my intention isn't to walk you through every play of the game. My point is that the extreme view that Smith isn't making plays is as wrong as the extreme view that he's playing really well and it's everyone else who is the problem.

To all Chiefs fans

Alex Smith has done some really bad things, and he's done some really good things. The fan reaction to the Broncos game is a perfect example of just how wildly some people are starting to exaggerate both in order to be right about this.

If you walked away from the Broncos game thinking Smith was a victim to mistakes by others and didn't have much part in the offensive struggles ... you're revealing a bias and you need to be more open to the idea that Smith struggled at times. Because that's not how the game was. He needs to be better than he was in the Denver game and he needs to be better than he's been for much of this season.

In the meantime, how about all of you come on board this fence with me?

If you walked away from the Broncos game thinking Smith didn't make any plays and was only hurting the Chiefs out there ... you're revealing a bias and you need to be more open to the idea that Smith IS making plays out there. Because that's not how the game was either. Smith made some exceptional plays out there and did quite a few good things (ask Brsrkr, he'll tell you!). If Smith continues to throw the ball the way he was against Denver, good things are going to happen.

In the meantime, how about all of you come on board this fence with me? Like I said, there's a great view from up here, and we can use that view to see how this whole thing plays out. Together, instead of shouting at one another and acting like the other side is absolutely crazy for thinking the way they do.

Besides, it gets awfully lonely on this fence.

(Personal and self-serving side note here. As some of you know, I VERY reluctantly joined Twitter a little while back. I generally don't do the whole "follow me" thing because, well, I'd have to punch myself in the face. But my wife has made an interesting bet with m e... I can't go into the details, being a gentleman, but she doesn't think AP has the power to get me an extra thousand followers. Help a fella out by clicking that cute little link next to my name at the top, yeah? I swear I only tweet about the Chiefs)

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