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Chiefs' Alex Smith is throwing deeper so far in the preseason

I'm not here to talk about the merits of Alex Smith as a franchise quarterback. I'll leave that to all of you people in the comments. I look forward to such steaming-hot takes such as "he can't throw farther than five yards" and "he's a winner." Keep the gloves up, people.

That said, Smith is the quarterback for the Chiefs, and in the foreseeable future that's not changing. I'm sorry, those who are championing Chase Daniel.

So then the question becomes; what will Smith do this year? Well, I can't answer that for sure. What I CAN do, though, is look at what Smith has done this preseason and try and figure out if it's meaningful. I can also take a look at a couple of passes that caught my eye on Friday and cross my fingers that it's a sign of Smith leaning a different direction this season.

First, a caveat; these numbers are a small sample size and perhaps meaningless. Proceed only if you want to know if Smith has done something different so far this year than he did last year. Whether it matters ... well, again, we don't know. All we can do is collect data and hypothesize.

Here's an interesting chart of Alex Smith from last season when it came to where he was throwing the ball.

Pass Att. Att. 20+ Yards Att. 10-20 Yards % of Passes 10-20 Yards % of Passes 20+ Yards
464 24 82 17.67% 5.17%

As you can see, Smith was not stretching the field much last season. Perhaps you'd heard that somewhere? If not, I'll give you a moment to recover from your shock. Also, while I'm giving you shocking information ... Bruce Willis was a ghost the whole time. I know, I know. Spoilers. I ruin everything.

I'm not even going to begin to get into the "why" behind the lack of a vertical game last (a combination of Smith, the line, and the receivers was ... well, it didn't go well), but it's safe to say there wasn't even much of a threat of deep ATTEMPTS last season from the Chiefs. I'm certain many of you have read some kind of "almost no team threw deep less than the Chiefs in 2014" blurb in multiple places. Well, the blurbs were right. The Chiefs weren't throwing the ball down the field much.

We all lamented the lack of deep shots last year. So... what's going on so far this year? Again, let's keep in mind the caveat that we're 2 preseason games in (so why am I doing this? I dunno. Why are you reading it? Stop questioning my life decisions!). But so far, here's what Smith has done with the first string offense...

Pass Att. Att. 20+ Yards Att. 10-20 Yards % of Passes 10-20 Yards % of Passes 20+ Yards
28 3 7 25.00% 10.71%


IF one were so inclined as to read into a couple of preseason games (which I am, and you are too or you wouldn't be this far into this article), one would be at least intrigued by those numbers.

Smith, through two games, is throwing the ball down the field more than last year at a solid clip. We've all seen the obvious shots down the field to start each game. Those shots aren't really about success. The corners have been looking for it both times and they were well covered. Make no mistake, this wasn't necessarily about success. It was about actually, you know, MAKING those throws. Even the attempt matters.

We'll keep track of this situation through the next preseason game and as the year progresses. It's worth keeping an eye on.

Another mission Smith needs to accept is making more contested throws. We've been around and around on this issue, but the simple fact is that Smith often crosses the line from "conservative" to "too conservative." At a certain point he has to be willing to take a shot and let his receivers make a play on the ball. This rarely happened last year (some blame the WR group for this, and I think that's in part true, but it's also on Smith).

So far this year? Well ... maybe. We'll see. I don't recall a lot of throws like this from Smith last season.

I'm a big fan of this throw, even though it's not a shot down the field, for a couple of reasons.

First, Smith has to gun it in there in order to get it past the linebacker. That's not something Smith is often willing to do. It's out of his comfort zone.

Second, I appreciate the fact that Smith is willing to chuck it into a tight window. That's not a throw he can toss "away" from the defender because if he does Avant is going to get killed by a different defender. Smith HAS to put it in a spot where the throw is at least somewhat risky, but he made it anyway. Fight those overly conservative instincts, Alex!

Third ... well, it's really just those two things. But I needed to say "third." Because points are a lot stronger when you can say "third."

Oh, and quick side note before someone says it in the comments; no, Maclin wasn't wide open. His defender broke as Smith threw the ball. Don't ever judge how open a WR is based on where defenders are after the throw. NFL defenders are so fast and so quick to recognize where a throw is going that by the time the ball is in the air they are already reacting.

This throw is not a big deal in that it's a throw a quarterback SHOULD be willing to make. However, it's not a throw Smith was often willing to make last year.

It wasn't the only moment that made me say, "hmmm ..." on Friday. Another throw that didn't really change the stats sheet (outside of an incomplete pass) caught my eye as well.

Here's Smith on the first drive about to make a throw to Maclin to go for the first down (it was third and a billion, give or take)


A couple observations here. First, NO, Avant was not wide open people. There's a safety hovering just off camera in that zone. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, what is there to notice?

First, look at Anthony Sherman! He's open! That's exactly the kind of "bait" defenses love to throw at quarterbacks on third and long to tempt them into an easy completion that doesn't really threaten the defense. Smith took those options quite a bit last year. It's at least worth noting he ignored it here.

Second, notice where Maclin is. He's about to make his cut outside to the first down marker (see, he actually ran his route to the marker, not three yards in front of it. A novel concept, no?) and has the corner's hips turned the wrong way. However, he hasn't really made his cut yet and certainly hasn't gained any separation. Yet Smith is already in his throwing motion (and really pulled the ball to throw a moment earlier, even before Maclin had stopped to cut).

Trust, man. People talk about it all the time, but it's tough to quantify. Smith trusted Maclin to run the route to the right spot and make a play on the ball. He also put it in a great spot.


That's a great route by Maclin and a very well-placed throw by Smith. My only complaint is I think Smith could've put a little more on the ball (though he was putting it over the head of the shallow defenders). That said, 95 percent of the time or so this is a complete pass and a first down.

Instead, the rookie corner for the Seahawks (who played very well all game ... Pete knows how to find and coach up secondary players better than anyone) made a fantastic recovery after getting turned around initially and was able to JUST get his hand in to knock it away. Incomplete pass, people move on.

But the route, trust, and accuracy there made me say "hmmm..."

Smith absolutely needs to trust his receivers more this year, and he absolutely needs to throw the ball down the field more. It's too early to say anything for sure other than... maybe.