A couple of weeks ago, when I wrote about Alex Smith struggling against the Steelers and how rough a start it had been for him in 2016, I had a nagging suspicion in my mind that he was due for a bounce back game.
All the signs were there. The Chiefs were coming off a bye week, where Andy Reid does his best work. Smith seems to have a habit of playing at his best at moments where his back is against the wall. The Chiefs were getting back Jamaal Charles for real action rather than spot duty. The Raiders defense resembles a steel wall if it was full of holes and only six inches high and actually made of cheese and not steel.
However, when Smith started off the game with a pair of rough snaps (bailing on pockets where he had the option of moving around to daylight), all I could think was Oh no, here we go.
And indeed, the first drive for Smith was rough, featuring two happy feet snaps and a pair of missed shots (if you don’t know what I’m tracking for these film review articles or what my process is, click here and take a look).
From that drive on, though? Smith essentially pitched a shutout. Let’s take a look at the numbers, right after we watch a pass that is actually good enough to be called perfect.
Man, this throw to Maclin gets better with every angle. You can rarely say a throw was actually perfect. I think this was. pic.twitter.com/a08ck30QoN— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 21, 2016
I don’t think you can throw the ball down the field better than that. And props to Jeremy Maclin for making a nice snatching grab over his shoulder. Can’t defend that.
Missed Shots: 2 (both on the first drive)
Happy Feet: 2 (both on the first drive)
Drops: 1 (5 yards lost)
Inaccurate Passes: 1 (a down the field shot to Demetrius Harris who was tightly covered. It was a my guy or no one throw that sailed deep. Seriously, that’s it)
Potential Picks: 0
Drives Extended by Scrambling: 0
Franchise QB Throws: 3
Throws behind LOS: 5
Throws 1-5 Yards in Air: 4
Throws 6-10 Yards in Air: 7
Throws 11-19 Yards in Air: 3
Throws 20+ Yards in Air: 2
I think perhaps the most important stat to take from all of this is the lack of inaccurate throws. Smith has struggled with accuracy this year on throws all over the field (as opposed to last year, when his accuracy was generally solid except down the field).
Against the Raiders, Smith was sticking every throw he made, and his ball placement was almost always right where you wanted it. Not only were his passes catchable, but they were put in spots that made catches easy and interceptions impossible. Going a full game with only one inaccurate pass is remarkable, and that doubtlessly contributed to his throwing 15 straight completions at one point.
Smith wasn’t just throwing accurately. He was also throwing with good timing and anticipation of the coverage his receivers would be facing.
Look where Conley is in the route when Smith releases. Trust. Also, Conley needs more targets. pic.twitter.com/7nMGr4EuLJ— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 21, 2016
While the Chiefs did a lot of their damage on the ground against the Raiders, it’s been noted here (and elsewhere) that the run/pass ratio was fairly even before the Chiefs started protecting the lead in the fourth quarter by ramming the ball down Oakland’s throat (which was just fantastic to watch). And because in large part Smith’s quick, accurate reads and throws, the passing offense more than carried its end of the burden.
I commented in a previous article that Smith wasn’t asked to do too much. By that, one shouldn’t take that Smith didn’t make some tough reads and throws. He did both. He also helped convert multiple important third downs, including this one to Travis Kelce.
I love that Smith was willing to throw into smaller windows Sunday, including this crucial 3rd down to Kelce w/ a free blitzer in his face. pic.twitter.com/UP3ixR05sU— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 21, 2016
This was with 5:50 left to go in the game and the Chiefs leading by 16 points. Now, the game is fairly out of reach, BUT ... the Raiders had all their timeouts, and with quick-strike offense like theirs 5:50 is a great deal of time. The Chiefs absolutely needed a first down here, and Smith dialed up a simple (but not easy) pitch and catch with Kelce, who is just too much for almost anyone to handle alone.
See the ball placement on that throw? Obviously, a quick slant at that distance isn’t the most difficult throw to make, but to make it THAT accurately to where the tight coverage of the defender becomes irrelevant? That’s more difficult. But Smith delivered.
Smith also, as shown in the first GIF, stretched the field a couple of times to keep the Raiders honest up front. As we’ve discussed here roughly 1,940 times, this is crucial to allow the Chiefs running game and short passing attack to function. And when Smith is sticking throws like this...
Man, what a job by Reid creating a mismatch (Mack covering Wilson) and what a throw by Smith to take advantage. pic.twitter.com/94uPmLSIMm— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 18, 2016
... the Chiefs offense suddenly becomes very problematic to deal with.
The offensive line definitely did its part by providing solid protection much of the day. However, Smith helped the line by making quick decisions and throws. Now, hear me on this, that doesn’t mean Smith was constantly throwing to his first read (though on some plays he clearly was based on the coverages or a designed call). Smith also had several plays where he fired through his reads much more quickly than he has been this season and found the open receiver before the rush could even come close to threatening him.
Minus that first drive, Smith was borderline flawless against the Raiders. While he only made three franchise QB throws, he made multiple other very good throws. He dissected Oakland’s coverages, found open receivers against zone, threw the ball decisively and accurately, and stuck the majority of his shots down the field (and would have stuck one more had Chris Conley not been blatantly held after burning is CB in the 3rd. Horrific non-call, the CB got worked and dove to grab Conley).
In short, it would be a mistake to say that Smith was just along for the ride with the running game against the Raiders. He’s remarkably efficient play led a passing attack that posted a blistering 10.2 yards per attempt (subtracting Maclin’s... whatever that was), and he was just as much responsible for the offense’s very solid performance (outside of some red zone issues that, frankly, I pin on Andy Reid) against an admittedly bad Raiders defense.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how the team can’t win with Alex Smith playing the way he was. Well, the exact opposite is true regarding Sunday. THAT Alex Smith can be a key contributor to an exceptional offense.