The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Smith

You can see the frustration on Travis Kelce’s face.

Every time a pass goes sailing over his head, or Alex Smith throws a down away trying to escape the pressure, you can sense that Kelce is frustrated. He grits his teeth and goes back to the line, but he does it with less energy. His eyes don’t have the same sparkle that comes after a positive play by a Chief.

You won’t see this with other members of the receiving corps, at least not to this extent. But you will see it with Kelce, who is unequivocally the most outgoing and raucous player on the team. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, for better or for worse.

Certainly, most of Kelce’s frustration is directed towards himself. He wants to make the play every time, and when he’s not in position to do so, he takes it personally. But when Smith doesn’t give Kelce a chance to make a play, for the briefest second, you can see Kelce might not be frustrated merely with himself.

There’s no discord in the locker room- Smith is a great guy, he probably has a good working relationship with Kelce, and Kelce probably holds no hard feelings for missed throws. This example serves to illustrate a point that we all already knew- Alex Smith is not perfect. But he’s not worthless either. He gives Kelce plenty of great opportunities to make great plays.

I have struggled all year with how to evaluate Alex Smith. I do not think he is as bad as the adrenaline-fueled commenters in the game threads would have you believe, but his results suggest a mediocre quarterback who isn’t close to any sort of "elite conversation." And it’s tough to think of him as mediocre when he’s so different from other mediocre quarterbacks. He’s not a Kyle Orton, Brian Hoyer, or Joe Flacco (Yes, I went there). So what is he?

Alex Smith is the best quarterback to fit the Chiefs’ system right now, and he’s not going to get the Chiefs to a Super Bowl. He is both a great quarterback and an awful one, and we saw both faces Sunday at Pittsburgh.

Alex Smith as Dr. Jekyll

In the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll is the mild-mannered, friendly half of the titular character. This has always confused me, because "Jekyll" sounds like the name of a wild and crazy guy. I had to go back and check, and yes, Jekyll is the tame one. I still think Robert Louis Stevenson made a grave error in naming his character(s).

When the offense is firing on all cylinders, Alex Smith is Dr. Jekyll. Alex Smith is a result of the offense, rather than the other way around. When Jamaal Charles looms as a threat to break a run, or De’Anthony Thomas is just simply on the field, the defense has to respect their presence. This opens up the passing game for intermediate throws- and occasionally a deep shot. It’s at these moments where Alex Smith looks his best, and this is what we saw for much of the first half on Sunday.

No one is ever going to accuse Alex Smith as being "elite." But he has shown flashes of brilliance, which, if sustained, could bring a team a championship. Smith has a unique balance of mobility and the veteran wisdom to not overuse that mobility. (Robert Griffin III, EJ Manuel, and Colin Kaepernick all make the mistakes that Smith doesn’t.) He doesn’t throw interceptions, and when everything clicks, he can have a performance like he did in the AFC Wild Card game against Indianapolis in January, or the NFC Divisional round game against New Orleans in 2012. In one he proved he could start games, and in the other he proved he could finish them. We have yet to see the complete package.

A few paragraphs ago I wrote that Alex Smith is the best quarterback for the Chiefs right now, and I stand by that. Among the alternatives, who is better? Chase Daniel just isn’t as good as Smith. Tyler Bray and Aaron Murray aren’t ready yet. For outside options? Jay Cutler is the anti-Smith, and also a disaster. I don’t think you can argue any backup quarterback that would be available is better than Smith, and we’ve seen those backfire everywhere recently (Matt Flynn? Kevin Kolb?). And the Chiefs aren’t trading up for Mariota or Winston at the top of the draft.

Smith is the best option for the Chiefs. And that’s not a bad thing. Smith is good for a young, developing receiving corps. He’s not going to lead them into any mistakes. He’s not going to put them into physical danger. He is going to teach them well. On the other hand, the young receiving corps isn’t helping Smith at all, but then, it wouldn’t help any quarterback, and Smith deals with them better than most.

Smith is also good for a team which lives and dies in the turnover battle. The problem? The defense is not forcing turnovers. (I joke that "Almost intercepted!" is the Chiefs’ version of "Past a diving Derek Jeter." The joke gets sadder every time I tell it.)

We know that Smith doesn’t throw picks, but let’s put that into context:

TD/INT ratios for QBs with over 200 pass attempts, 2014




Carson Palmer



Aaron Rodgers



Drew Stanton



Mike Glennon



Alex Smith



Russell Wilson



Who do we have in that chart? You’ve got Carson Palmer, who is the Alex Smith for a Cardinals team which is basically the Chiefs, but better. (They’re last year’s Chiefs.) You’ve got Mike Glennon and Drew Stanton, who benefit from a small sample size. You’ve got Russell Wilson, who is probably a top tier quarterback- but only if you have a broad definition of "tier"- and you’ve got Aaron Rodgers, who is not a human. Among that company, Smith doesn’t look too bad. And if you move the arbitrary endpoint to 300 pass attempts, the list contains just Rodgers, Wilson, and Smith.

Let’s play Player A/Player B. Here are two quarterbacks through Week 15 this year:




























Which would you take?

Okay, well, you probably figured out that one is Russell Wilson and one is Alex Smith. But which is which? Smith is actually Player B, with slightly better passing stats. We’d all take Wilson over Smith, because Wilson has an added weapon in his legs. But viewed purely as passers, there’s virtually no difference between Smith and the most recent Super Bowl winning quarterback. Alex Smith must be a good quarterback, right?

Alex Smith as Mr. Hyde

Wrong. Alex Smith is pretty terrible. He has lost any ability to put together last minute, game-winning drives, he’s too afraid to take shots downfield, and when he does, he has no accuracy.

In the past, I might have tried to explain how these arguments are wrong, but you hear them all the time because they all have a ring of truth to them. Smith has looked absolutely horrid in two-minute drills this year, culminating a few weeks ago against Arizona in what was definitively the worst fourth-quarter drive I have ever seen. There’s a good reason for that.

When you make Alex Smith one-dimensional, he turns into Mr. Hyde, the murderous alter ego of Dr. Jekyll. The victim? The Chiefs’ playoff hopes.

A two-minute drill is a one-dimensional drive, and knowing this, defenses can focus on preventing the pass. With no one to throw to, Smith gets skittish, doesn’t take the shots downfield, and goes to his check downs- sometimes erratically. In Pittsburgh, Smith got sacked only when the Steelers rushed three or four players, dropping the rest into coverage. You don’t have to put a ton of pressure on Smith- just drop everyone into coverage and force him to make a play.

You can’t put all the blame on Smith for this. He’s the third-most sacked quarterback in the league. The offensive line needs help. You’d be scared to throw to this group of receivers too. But he has to understand the game situation. Mr. Hyde can’t show up on the last drive of the game, because that’s when we need Dr. Jekyll most. Smith has to do whatever it takes to fight off that metaphorical transformation and ensure that he makes the plays he has shown himself capable of making when the doctor is in.

Smith actually has three game-winning, fourth quarter comeback drives this year, the most in any season of his career except 2011. But we don’t remember those. Only one took place inside of two minutes. One of the others was the result of a fortuitous fumble, and the last took place right at the beginning of the fourth quarter. I’ll bet you can’t name them all.

We remember the games where Alex Smith did not convert on the last-minute drives, despite being given the opportunity. There have been plenty of those opportunities this year, and all of them were painful. If Smith is succeeds on just one of those, the Chiefs are playing a win-and-in game with San Diego on Sunday.

Mr. Hyde has reared his ugly head all too often, and like Travis Kelce, we’re getting tired of seeing it.

Chiefs fans deserve better, but Alex Smith's contract keeps him around for another four years. He’s good for some aspects of this team, and given the right situation, can succeed. He’s a fit for the team. But he’s not going to bring us home the Lombardi trophy that we so desperately crave.

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.