What if I told you Alex Smith played his best game of the season on Sunday, and it wasn't particularly close?
What if I told you that Alex Smith bailed the Chiefs out with solid plays on multiple third downs on scoring drives while receiving little to no help from the guys around him?
What if I told you that even though it was Spencer Ware being a hurricane that blew the game wide open, Alex Smith was a huge reason the Chiefs had a comfortable lead before that happened?
You probably wouldn't believe me, and that's OK. Smith has been uneven this year, to put it kindly. A little skepticism is totally warranted. How about I start with some stats to get my foot in the door?
Smith was 20/25 for 253 yards Sunday. No TDs (because why throw it when you can hand it off to Dontari Poe, silly?), no picks. Look, any time you throw for 10.1 YPA, that's a good thing. But of course, you know me well enough to know that I don't put a whole lot of stock in base stats for QB's.
Maybe you're a QBR guy? On Sunday, Smith's QBR was 83.5, his second highest of the season.
Oh, you're not a stats guy at all? You think the film needs to be reviewed before any real discussion can be had on a player?
Good, me too. And seeing as Smith hasn't played particularly well for much of the season, I suppose the burden falls on me to make an opening argument.
How about this?
Smith has a defender in his face and a TINY window to fit the ball. Great throw. Great catch by Wilson too. pic.twitter.com/BFMkG1jgra— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 25, 2015
Believe me when I tell you I almost missed Smith's performance too. I commented after watching the game that he'd been pretty steady, but that was about it. Upon re-watching, though, Smith jumped out to me multiple times. Especially in the first half, when the running game was doing absolutely zilch and the pass blocking was... um... sub-optimal at times.
Generally speaking, with what we know about Alex Smith, you'd expect him to have a bad game in those circumstances. Instead, he was the main reason the offense didn't lay a giant goose egg in the 1st half.
Now look, this isn't a "Smith is elite, yo" article, or anything like that. It's just fascinating to me that a player as polarizing as Smith would have a good game and it would be so ... quiet. And as you all know, I can hardly help but write about things I find fascinating.
Smith did a significantly better job dealing with pressure Sunday than he has the majority of this season. A big part of that was his eye level. We've talked about eye level a lot this year; where a QB is looking as the rush closes in. All too often Smith has been dropping his eyes and turning into a slow RB, rather than keeping his eyes down the field and looking for open receivers WHILE moving to avoid the rush.
On Sunday, Smith's eye level was significantly better.
On this play (second down), Smith started to bail on the pocket, seeing Jah Reid about to get chucked (by the time of this screenshot, as you can see, Reid is on the ground and his defender is in hot pursuit of Smith). I fully expected Smith to drop his eyes and try to beat the defender to the edge for a nice little 4-5 yard gain. It's the kind of play we've seen Smith make a million times. Not terrible (evading pressure and getting positive yards is good) but not good (dropping eye level and missing potential receivers is bad).
Instead, as I've so artistically drawn for you fine people, Smith kept his eyes up even as he scrambled. What he found was a wide open Albert Wilson, who he hit down the sideline for a 16-yard gain.
And that play wasn't the only one where Smith displayed a newfound willingness to keep his eyes up despite having pressure getting to him. The first gif of this article Smith hung in there and threw a nice pass down the field despite a defender right in his face.
And no, it wasn't just those two plays, either.
Smith quietly had a solid game. Steps up from quick pressure, sticks the throw. Look at the attention Kelce draws. pic.twitter.com/9JVwoiTYXh— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 25, 2015
Do I have any idea why? Absolutely not. I wish I did. But Smith was just a lot more composed against San Diego, and it wasn't because the pressure wasn't there. It absolutely was.
And Smith wasn't just beating the pressure with his arms. He was (once again) opportunistic with his legs and was able to turn nothing into something multiple times. For example...
On this snap, the pressure is in Smith's face before he even gets to the top of his drop (in other words, before routes have had any time to develop whatsoever). The defender is on him before Smith can take more than a step or two to try and run away.
Don't ask me how, but Smith managed to shake loose of the pressure here and sprint for a 10-yard gain and a 1st down. This was one of several plays where Smith took immediate pressure and turned it into a positive play (though the other plays were 3-4 yards rather than 10). He picked his spots to run better than he has been in 2015, only using it when there weren't better options available.
Now, I can almost predict what the argument will be against the idea that Smith had a good game.
"But MN, the Chiefs offense stalled time after time in the third and early fourth quarter. If Smith were playing well, that wouldn't have happened!"
See, that kind of analysis is precisely why I do what I do. It's an assumption based on ... well, assumptions. It's basically saying "if drives stall, it means the QB failed. Period. 'Nuff said."
It's time to point out the flaw in this thinking once and for all. Take a look at this failed third and 10 (in the early fourth quarter).
Look, Travis Kelce is a fantastic tight end. He brings more to the table than anyone not named The Gronk in my opinion. But that's a really rough drop. Kelce's so good at getting YAC, but every now and then you can just see him getting all ready to take off after the catch and forgetting to... well, catch.
Now, if you're a proponent to the theory that TEAM results are an accurate indication of how well a quarterback played snap by snap, then you're ignoring plays like this. That's simply a fact. Smith delivered an accurate ball to Kelce on the run, and Kelce just dropped it.
Kelce had a TON of open space to work with and a head of steam. This is a huge play of Kelce hauls it in.
Remember how I said I hate base QB stats as a way of measuring QB play? Well, here's your exhibit A. If Kelce makes the catch and does Kelce things and gains 35 yards, then the Chiefs go on to score a TD a couple of run plays later, does that mean Smith performed any better on this drive?
Of course not. In that hypothetical, Smith made the exact same throw, then handed the ball off a couple of times. However, because the drive ended in a TD, box score analysts would view him more positively. It makes no sense.
But that's all a side issue, really. Basically just stuff I've wanted to point out for a while, and this was a good place to do it. The main point is that Smith had WAY more solid-to-very-good plays than he had bad ones on Sunday. And nobody really noticed. It's strange.
Even Smith's accuracy was up a notch from where it's been all year. Smith hasn't done a great job with ball placement over the course of the season. Often times, where you put a pass can be the difference between a 5-yard gain and a 20-yard game.
Smith hasn't been as accurate this year as he was last year and in 2013. And I'm not talking about the occasional sailed pass. That'll happen. I'm talking about consistently not putting the ball in an optimal position for the receiver. It's a big, big deal.
Over the last few weeks Smith has improved in this area, and Sunday he was way better than he's been since Week 1 in that regard. And if you don't think it makes a difference...
This play highlights the importance of ball placement better than almost any I can think of. pic.twitter.com/iL7aXL9y5p— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 25, 2015
I'm not going to argue about whether Smith is a "good" QB or an "average" QB or a "bad" QB or any of that. He is who he is, and peoples' opinions on him aren't going to change regardless of what I write. What I WILL say is that Smith somehow had a very good game fly under the radar, and I find that incredibly odd. I'll also say that with this defense, this running game, and these receivers... the level of QB play we saw Sunday will be enough to win almost every time.