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Alex Smith’s time is running out

I started out the Alex Smith film review series with one goal in mind: to ease the workload at the end of the season when I write the big-big reviews. Doing Smith’s was routinely taking 30-plus hours. I never intended to use it for a platform to make a larger statement about Smith.

Unfortunately, I didn’t anticipate the way this season would begin.

Everyone who reads Arrowhead Pride knows that I like Alex Smith. I think he has some skills that are useful and has done a great deal to help the team win. However, this season has started off about as poorly as possible for Smith (outside of the second half and overtime against the Chargers), and it’s time we talk about it.

I’ll just come right out and say it: I think Andy Reid should at least be CONSIDERING sliding Nick Foles into the starting spot if things don’t turn around.

Now, given that at least half of you stopped reading after that line and went straight to the comments, let’s shift gears and talk about the Pittsburgh debacle.

A lot more went wrong than Alex Smith against the Steelers (nearly the entire team no-showed. It was brutal). But Smith himself was undeniably horrific. If you’ve never read about the "deep stats" I track when reviewing quarterbacks’ all-22 film, feel free to check it out here. Everyone else, let’s jump straight into the numbers then talk about the film.

Missed Shots: 11

Happy Feet: 5

Drops: 6 (approximately 20 yards lost, two touchdowns lost on one drive)

Flushes: 6

Saves: 1

Inaccurate Throws: 6

Potential Picks: 2

Drives Extended by Scrambling: 0

Franchise QB Throws: 3

Passes Behind Line of Scrimmage: 10

Passes 1-5 Yards in Air: 10

Passes 6-10 Yards in Air: 13

Passes 11-19 Yards in Air: 12

Passes 20+ Yards: 2

That is an absolutely brutal game, folks. I mean BRUTAL. You know how I’ve often championed the idea that Smith’s tendency to miss open receivers is wildly exaggerated? Well, that wasn’t the case this game. There were snaps in which Smith missed multiple open receivers down the field as he danced around the pocket. It was tough to watch.

And speaking of dancing, Smith’s pocket presence was virtually nonexistent during the first half of the game. He was running from phantom pressure and failing to move to open spots (something that’s not QUITE worthy of a happy feet stat, but still hinders the offense) far too frequently.

And before you tell me that it’s on the offensive line, allow me to retort.

Look, you have to accept it: Smith was bad against the Steelers. It wasn’t the line’s fault. It wasn’t Andy Reid’s fault. It wasn’t his receivers’ fault. His struggles were on him.

Did Andy Reid compound the issue with some ridiculously bad play calling? Yes, yes he did. On all but maybe 1-2 of the passes behind the line of scrimmage the Steelers had swarmed to the ball well before it arrived. Screens were just not working, and Reid stuck with them to the tune of at LEAST a dozen or so. That was ugly.

But there were open receivers down the field on many snaps in the first half that Smith just flat-out missed. And I don’t mean "guys were open after Smith released the ball" or "guys were open on the other side of the field when Smith threw to the first read." I don’t count those, because that’s silly. I’m talking legitimately open players that SHOULD have been seen had Smith kept his eyes up, or guys that Alex should have read were open due to the coverage but just... well, missed.

For example, you remember the dropped snap play where Smith hit Albert Wilson for a decent gain? All well and good, except...

Smith had a little time here to survey the field after being forced out of the pocket. He SHOULD have taken a moment and scanned the coverage. He SHOULD have noticed that the zone defenders were drifting toward the middle of the field and he SHOULD have remembered that Maclin’s route left him on the right side. A quick glance that way and he would’ve seen Maclin moving down the field while the defenders moved the opposite direction.

I’m sure some people will say that’s too picky. After all, the Chiefs got a first down on the play. However, it’s representative of the type of play Smith missed against the Steelers. Maclin was wide, wide, wide open. A lofted duck of a throw means a touchdown. While there was some pressure at that point, it wasn’t a panic moment. Smith just failed to reset after scrambling outside of the pocket.

Could I do better? Of course not. But I’m not a professional quarterback. A lot of THEM could do better on that play. It’s just a fact, unfortunately.

I have written many positive things (and some negative things) about Alex Smith over the last few years. I still believe he’s a tough guy who will do anything to win. However, this season two major parts of being a quarterback have been big struggles for him: accuracy and pocket presence. The former was a strength of Smith’s last year, the latter has always been a weak spot in his game. However, both have gone downhill significantly the majority of this season, and it’s led to Smith being a legitimately bad quarterback in two full games (Houston and Pittsburgh) and the majority of a third (San Diego). And while Smith wasn’t bad against the Jets, he wasn’t more than OK either.

If you’re going to have lower valleys, you have to raise the peaks. Part of what kept Smith around as a starting QB is that his valleys weren’t low. That meant his peaks didn’t need to be as high. But so far this season, the valleys have been more like canyons.

The Alex Smith we have seen this season is not capable of leading a playoff run, let alone a Super Bowl run. And that’s a problem, as (despite not being perfect) the Chiefs have a roster talented enough to do either (I’m not kidding).

I have never been in favor of benching Alex Smith. A big reason for that, prior to this season, is that he was clearly a superior option to the quarterbacks behind him, and it wasn’t close. People loved to believe that Chase Daniel was as good as Smith (or nearly as good), but the film never showed that. The rest of the options were guys like Tyler Bray and Aaron Murray, who were clearly not ready to take over.

Now, the Chiefs have Nick Foles.

Yes, I’m aware that statement isn’t exactly a great rallying cry. However, I have always liked Foles more than most, even in his rookie year prior to all the hype his 27-2 season got him.

What we saw from Foles during the preseason was a lot of what I have liked about him since he joined the league: he’s moves around well in the pocket, has a decent arm, and is willing to throw into tight windows.

What we DON’T know about Foles is his accuracy or ability to read a defense. His accuracy was shaky during the preseason. However, that consistently looked to me like it was due to his rushing things, which is pretty natural when you’re literally a week or two into learning a new offense. Foles has historically had decent accuracy and I don’t believe that will be a lasting problem. Now, his ability to read defenses? A total unknown for everyone but Andy Reid.

But here’s my point: Foles wouldn’t need to come in and be elite to improve the Chiefs offense. He could play at the same level he played at this preseason and the offense would improve. Smith has struggled that much.

Again, I’m not saying it’s time to make a move. This is Alex’s team and he has, in my opinion, done enough to earn a bit more slack. But with the emergence of Chris Conley and Spencer Ware, along with the improved play of the offensive line (yes, it has been improved from last year, it’s just been hard to see with Smith’s struggles) ... we should be seeing Smith play at a higher level than we’ve ever seen him play. Instead, he’s regressed to a level well beneath what we saw last season.

If Smith comes out and lays another egg against a Raiders defense that has been burned by EVERYONE, that seat needs to go from room temperature to in the sun on a hot day for a few minutes.

Andy Reid needs to improve his play calling. Make no mistake about that. Hopefully he meant it when he said back to the drawing board and we see as radical a change in the offense as we saw last season after the 1-5 start. But the biggest thing that needs to change right now is Alex Smith.

I really hope this is all a distant memory by the end of the season and we’re all pointing and laughing at my lack of faith in a guy who is known to get back up 11 times after getting knocked down 10. But the tape doesn’t lie, and Smith’s time is running out.

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