There has already been a lot of discussion about Alex Smith this week, thanks to some ... uh... controversy regarding a certain pass to Charcandrick West (or, rather, a non-pass to Jeremy Maclin) and discussion on Travis Kelce’s role in the offense.
However, when I said I’d review Alex Smith’s all-22 every week, I meant it. Except for that one week I didn’t. You’re not perfect either, I bet.
Let’s get right to it, shall we? The Chiefs offense had a decent (though not great) day against the Saints, and for the second week in a row Alex Smith was highly efficient in his basic stats, completing 70.8 percent of his passes at a clip of 8.92 yards per attempt (both of those are very good stats, though without context they don’t tell us a TON about Smith’s day).
Let’s get to the more detailed stats. If you don’t know what those are, click here for an explanation. Or just figure it out from the context, because life is a journey you should live a quarter mile at a time and ain’t nobody got time to read the instruction manual, guys.
Missed Shots: 2
Happy Feet: 1
Drops: 1 (12 yards lost, a key first down in the fourth quarter lost)
Inaccurate Throws: 3
Potential Picks: 1
Drives Extended with Feet: 1
Franchise QB throws: 2
Throws behind the line of scrimmage: 8 (holy smokes, Andy Reid)
Throws 1-5 yards in the air: 1
Throws 6-10 yards in the air: 4
Throws 11-19 yards in the air: 7
Throws 20+ yards in the air: 3
As always, that’s a lot of numbers to take in. Let’s break things up with a GIF, shall we?
Smith needs more snaps like this under duress. Eyes stay up, ball doesn't come down. Because of that he finds Kelce for a 1st down. pic.twitter.com/2ffevrGSlH— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 25, 2016
I would say Smith’s performance against the Saints was slightly less impressive than his near-flawless game against the Raiders, but it was still very efficient and far on the side of good.
(Man, that wording really makes it sound like Alex Smith is some kind of character struggling between being good and being evil ... you know what, close enough. I like it that way)
Smith was more aggressive against the Saints than I’ve been accustomed to seeing, pushing the ball down the field multiple times. In fact, in a genuinely bizarre twist, Smith has taken some heat this week for throwing the ball quickly to covered receivers as opposed to safer, easier throws that would perhaps have required more patience.
For example, the Chiefs first drive ended with two incomplete throws down the field, one to Demetrius Harris, which was ruined by an inexplicable non-call...
Harris gets held here for most of the route. No call. Must be that home cooking the Saints complained about. pic.twitter.com/yeVJ2YGuv5— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 26, 2016
Now I’m no physics or biology or science expert, but I feel as though there must be some kind of impact on a man attempting to run a certain direction when another man repeatedly tugs on his shoulders and hips. Just a feeling I have.
That said, it was the play immediately following that had quite a few people riled up. Smith took a deep shot to Jeremy Maclin (so far so good) that fell incomplete due to being overthrown (well, that stinks, but it happens), AND it seemed in the process Smith ignored Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill on the same side of the field (well, now we’ve moved into that stinks). A lot of heat got put on Smith for apparently throwing the ball into triple coverage rather than making the easy throws to open receivers.
And to be clear, Hill and Kelce definitely DID come open and Maclin DID have defenders closer to him than either of his fellow Chiefs receivers. Here’s a look at a screenshot (which, keep in mind, is hardly a perfect representation of a play because, you know, people are holding still instead of running) as Smith begins his throwing motion.
So as you can see here, Kelce has already run by shallow defender who is facing the wrong way and MUST believe he’s got safety help deep. So he’s definitely open. Hill is even with his corner, who is also (tough to tell here) not facing the right direction to turn and run with Hill (as if he could anyway), so he’s about to be open.
Maclin, in the meantime, has his corner in front of him. Now, he DOES end up beating the corner and getting separation. However, the safety is potentially in a position to make a play on the ball. Of course, he doesn’t do that because of the route combination dialed up by Andy Reid.
With two safeties deep, Reid sent all three of his playmakers to the intermediate or deep zone on the right side, flooding that area with too many receivers for the safety to help defenders who are (from how it looks) in man coverage. Reid is very good with route combinations that force zone defenders to choose between players, and in this case the safety has to choose between helping with Maclin, Kelce or Hill.
The safety ends up choosing Maclin, but only after the ball is thrown. His hesitation, which is created by the play design, leads to the safety arriving to late to make a real play on the ball, which results in a window between the safety and corner (and the safety from the other side of the field) for a potential touchdown. Smith saw all of this unfolding early, apparently, and he chose to take a shot.
I have to say, I have a hard time getting upset that Smith tried a throw like this, regardless of whether easier throws were available. For far too long, Smith has been overly conservative and unwilling to take the types of shots we see there. The team is better off in the long run if Smith is willing to say “you know what, Mac’s gonna be one-on-one deep, I’m gonna go for it” and doesn’t hesitate.
All that is a longwinded way of saying that people were fired up over Alex missing Kelce and Hill when, in reality, the reason for the miss was the quick decision (something we’ve wanted to see more of from him) to be aggressive down the field (something we’ve wanted to see more of from him) and trust his best WR (again, something we’ve wanted to see more of from him). I just can’t kill him for that.
Smith’s aggressiveness extended to multiple other throws. Obviously there was this one.
I still cannot believe Smith threw this pass. So not his MO. And what a job blowing past the CB and tracking the ball by Hill. pic.twitter.com/lw5lqx8eoH— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 24, 2016
People have been talking about this all week, so there’s not much else to say. Tyreek Hill is really fast and looks to be very good at tracking the ball in the air. It should be MANDATORY that at least 2-3 bombs are tossed his way a week in my opinion. And Smith trusting him to run underneath the pass (Smith put more air underneath the throw, which is something he’s needed to do on those deep shots) is a big deal.
However, that aggressive I’ll trust my receiver attitude came through the most late in the game. You remember, I’m sure. third and 17 with 6:44 left in the game. The Chiefs are leading by 10 but don’t seem to have the game locked down quite yet, especially since they have the ball on their own 21-yard line and seem about to give the Saints wonderful field position. The Saints, knowing the Chiefs have a mile to go to get a first down, line up in a rather ... uh ... unconventional way.
Since counting resembles math, and math is evil, I put numbers next to the Saints defenders so as to save you from committing an evil act. That’s right, those are SEVEN Saints secondary players lined up 15 yards off the line scrimmage.
Obviously, the Saints are doing this because the Chiefs need to get to the 38-yard line. Basically, the receivers are going to have a tough time getting open, with multiple defenders playing deep enough to keep their eyes on Smith and still stay in front of the route runners.
Fortunately, Smith kept putting that aggressive foot forward and delivered what may be his finest play of the season.
Far and away Smith's best play of the day. Smith kept his eyes off Conley until the last possible second to hold defenders away from him. pic.twitter.com/bCSsUr9Oq2— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 25, 2016
Smith takes the snap and scans the field left to right. It was (wisely) pointed out to me that it’s impossible to say whether Smith was going through reads or simply trying to draw defenders away from Conley. Either way, it’s a good thing. Smith holds off as long as he can, then fires an absolute STRIKE to Chris Conley into roughly a two-foot window, which is all there was for a completion. It’s worth noting that Smith made this throw with a defensive tackle about to bury him.
Conley rewards the spectacular play by Smith with one of his own, a fantastic contested catch in which he demonstrates the strong hands that have Chiefs fans salivating. It’s a great play, and one that results in the Chiefs draining more time off the clock and (eventually) giving the Saints a much longer field to deal with on their comeback attempt. In games decided by a single score, 20 yards of field position and an extra couple of minutes are everything.
My overall point is that while Smith wasn’t quite as efficient as he was against the Raiders (he had a couple of inaccurate throws that could’ve been big plays), he was actually more aggressive in pushing the ball downfield and throwing into tight windows. It’s an interesting development, and we’ll have to see if it continues as it did down the stretch last year OR fades away like it did at the beginning of this year.
Either way, it’s nice to see two strong performances in a row from Smith after starting the year off as poorly as he did. I’m slowly starting to believe that Smith’s struggles against Houston and Pittsburgh are the outliers this season rather than the norm. We’ll see if that belief is rewarded come Sunday against a shaky Colts defense. Smith SHOULD be able to put up another strong performance against that group, and I’d like to see him take another step forward to help our offense move from “efficient” to “explosive.”