Sometimes I prepare to write an article knowing people are going to love it. For example, when I wrote a lengthy piece describing how good Jamaal Charles is, I knew praise would be effusive. Not because of any particular skill on my part, but more because the subject matter on which I was focused is so... universally accepted and enjoyed. Those are fun articles to write.
Other times, I write an article KNOWING I’m going to get killed for it. This is one of those times.
Look, guys, I don’t know how else to say this... but Alex Smith was good against Tampa Bay outside of basically one play.
(activates feelings shield to ward off your scorn)
Seriously, I don’t know what to tell you. This has noticeably been the week when a large number of fans (at least on Twitter and in the comments here) as well as some media have really started going after Alex Smith, and it’s a bit mystifying to me as to why NOW is the time after reviewing the film. If anything, the Carolina game was the time to start getting fired up regarding Smith. But here we are.
Look, I get it: the offense didn’t perform well enough to put points on the board, and the defense was finally unable to bail the offense out. I really do understand. The problem is, this was a game where the scoreboard absolutely did not reflect how effective the offense and Smith were, due in large part because of two very specific factors:
- The utterly abysmal timing of a few key mistakes (one by Alex, one by Kelce, one by the refs) that took at minimum 10 points off the scoreboard (two field goals and 7 instead of 3 on another drive), and a maximum of 18 points (had the Chiefs scored touchdowns on the “two field goals” lost). I’ll talk about that shortly.
- The Buccaneers dominating time of possession in a similar fashion to what the Chiefs have done on other occasions to swing things in their favor. While time of possession isn’t an end-all-be-all statistic, one team having the ball for 35 minutes is... well, it’s rough.
We’ll talk about all that shortly. But first, let’s talk about why I say Alex Smith played well against Tampa Bay outside of a single snap (a really, really, really important snap, make no mistake). As always, I came to this conclusion based on re-watching every dropback on all-22 and charting some “stats” as well as depth of throws. Let’s look at those, then talk about the film and the weirdest offensive result of the season.
Missed Shots- 0
Happy Feet- 0
Drops- 1 (9 yards lost, likely touchdown lost)
Inaccurate Throws- 2
Potential Picks- 0
Drives Extended w/ Feet- 0 (though Smith did score a TD on a scramble, it wasn’t on 3rd down)
Franchise QB Throws- 1 (Smith made multiple decent-to-good throws, but only one great one. We’ll talk more about that in a second)
Screens- 0 (not a typo)
Throws Behind LOS- 2
Throws 1-5 Yards in Air- 11
Throws 6-10 Yards in Air- 14
Throws 11-19 Yards in Air- 2
Throws 20+ Yards in Air- 3 (2/3 completed)
Hopefully looking at those numbers allows you to begin to understand why I’d say Alex played well against the Buccaneers. I didn’t see him miss a single open receiver down the field (or even in the intermediate zones), at least not in a situation where he wasn’t delivering the ball to a good spot elsewhere. He also was very accurate throughout the game, with only two passes I’d call inaccurate.
Additionally, Smith didn’t have a single “happy feet” snap where he bailed on the pocket, which is highly unusual for him or any other quarterback who isn’t Drew Brees or Tom Brady (two guys who basically NEVER get happy feet. Even Aaron Rodgers does at times). He connected on the shots he took down the field (except one to Conley, which, again, we’ll circle back to in a second) and by and large helped the offense move the ball. Only one franchise QB throw isn’t impressive, but it was a very efficient game from Alex throughout.
Except, of course, one throw. And that throw happened to be one of the mistakes I referenced that came at the worst possible time. The Chiefs are down two in the 4th Quarter and have quickly moved the ball down the field on the back of this absolutely gorgeous throw from Smith to Kelce.
Alex Smith was weird Sunday, and not just that inexplicable pick in the RZ. Stuck a few throws like this, which is... well, weird. pic.twitter.com/nKGFAXtvJb— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 24, 2016
The Chiefs were facing 2nd and goal from the Tampa Bay six-yard-line, and Smith just made an utterly horrific decision, trying to force the ball to Chris Conley on a quick slant (after a play action, which I HATE for the record) despite the safety being in the vicinity. The ball gets tipped, but I’m not sure it matters either way (after watching and re-watching and re-watching some more, I’m pretty sure the safety at least knocks it down even if it’s fired in there rather than tipped), and the safety picks it off and brings it back to midfield. The Panthers ended up scoring a touchdown shortly thereafter. It’s a 10 point swing conservatively, and quite likely a 14 point swing.
That one bad play was enormous in costing the Chiefs the game, and the reality is that most people aren’t going to think about much else besides that when they remember how Smith played. And I understand that. When one of your big calling cards is “won’t make mistakes,” making such a blatant one is going to sting.
Outside of that play, though, I challenge you to find a legitimately bad play from Smith the rest of the day (wait, he had the football slip out of his hands on a a throw, so there’s that one). He was on point with his reads, made accurate throws, and did a really nice job in the pocket by and large, keeping his eyes downfield and moving around to buy time (and scrambling for a touchdown when everyone was covered). Like I said, it was an overall good day marred by a single bad decision (REALLY bad decision). If Alex Smith plays like he did against Tampa Bay, I think the Chiefs score 25+ points 8 out of 10 times.
So why didn’t they? Well, like I said, the timing of the few miscues the Chiefs had was really, really unfortunate. This poor timing started off on the very first drive with this drop.
Such a tough drop by Kelce after a GORGEOUS route wiping out the linebacker. That's a TD if caught. I hate my job sometimes. pic.twitter.com/QaLaO8mmKz— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 24, 2016
Let’s all take a moment of silence for that linebacker’s dignity and reflect quietly for a moment on how impossible Travis Kelce is to cover (9 targets against the Bucs, buy the way. DO MORE OF THAT ANDY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. SERIOUSLY). After that, though, it’s rapidly downhill.
Kelce’s lone weakness as a player, as best I can tell, is that he occasionally lacks focus. That’s what I see when he doesn’t stick blocks like he should at times (when he’s locked in he’s a fantastic blocker, but he doesn’t always really get after it), and that’s why he sometimes suffers from drops. He still commits the cardinal sin of looking to run before completing the catch, and on this play it costs the team a very, very likely touchdown. The Chiefs kicked a field goal, so there’s 4 points off the board.
We’ve covered Alex’s pick, so there’s (conservatively) another 3 points off the board.
The ref mistake that I’m referencing (I’m not generally a “blame the refs” guy, but there were some REALLY crucial missed calls against Tampa Bay) came on the Chiefs first drive of the second half. The Bucs had scored a field goal to go up 12-10, but the Chiefs responded by quickly getting the ball down the field and were facing 3rd and 7 at the Tampa Bay 36-yard-line. Smith took a shot to Conley down the field, which fell incomplete. And why? Well...
This play preceded Andy's decision to punt from TB's 36-yard-line. That, uh, at least LOOKS like contact past 5 yards impeding Conley. pic.twitter.com/2P1NSTgtE0— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 25, 2016
You can’t see it in this view, but Smith pump-faked as Conley made his deke inside to set up a double move. The defender bites on the fake and jumps inside, only to be caught completely on his heels when Conley cuts back to run upfield.
Now, the defender is toast, and so he’s left with a couple of options. One is to play it straight and try to turn and run with an already-accelerated Conley, which is guaranteed to fail. The second is to shift inside into Conley’s way then stand there, hoping that he doesn’t get called for illegal contact when he inevitably impedes Conley’s route down the field.
The CB chose the second option, and what do you know, it worked! Conley’s timing is completely thrown off and he’s slowed down, and the defender NOW turns to run (you know, now that they’re both starting from a standstill). It’s worth noting that the defender still has contact with Conley once the ball is in the air, though it’s debatable whether it’s enough to call pass interference.
Where Conley made the mistake here was not making a more “obvious” (for the refs) effort to avoid the corner, which would have forced a more blatant hold. As it is, this is textbook illegal contact (they were 10+ yards past the line of scrimmage) and it went uncalled.
Now hey, these types of non-calls happen every week. My point here is the TIMING of this particularly non-call really, really hurt. A 5-yard penalty here is a first down on Tampa Bay’s 31-yard-line. With the way the Chiefs were moving the ball there’s a real possibility they get a touchdown on that drive, and they are already in field goal range at the 31. Andy Reid decided instead to punt the ball from the 36-yard-line (a decision I HATED then and I HATE now), which bought the Chiefs 32 whole yards in field position and didn’t stop the Bucs from marching down the field.
Even if the Chiefs gain zero yardage on three plays, they have a very good shot at 3 more points if the ref calls that. Bringing in the other two plays (the pick and the drop), we now sit at 10 points conservatively left on the field.
Combine those 10 points lost with Tampa Bay dominating time of possession, and that’s how you get a low scoring output on a day the offense was moving the ball well and Alex Smith played quite efficiently.
So what can we hope moving forward? I guess we can hope that Alex plays the same way he played vs Tampa Bay moving forward absent that lone mistake, and hope that the defense suffered more of a injury-induced hiccup than a real step back against Tampa Bay. A lot rides on the game against Denver. Again, if the same Alex Smith that played against the Bucs shows up against Denver, I think the offense will do all right.
I look forward to the comments here. Remember, be gentle. I’m fragile.