Some weeks, this job is just a whole lot of fun.
I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s wearing, writing about Alex Smith (easily the most controversial Chief) every single week. I don’t LIKE seeing fights in the comments. I don’t LIKE getting emails telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about from both sides of the issue. I don’t LIKE knowing that no matter what I write, someone is going to be mad.
But sometimes, it’s not so bad. When we can all (well, maybe all) sit down and agree on Alex Smith, that’s just gravy.
Alex Smith played an exceptional game against the Falcons.
Smith's 2nd deep shot to Kelce was borderline perfect. If Kelce doesn't bobble this it's a touchdown. So great to see him used like this. pic.twitter.com/wpP5Mxhkcs— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) December 5, 2016
If you’re a new reader (and I fully expect Arrowhead Pride to get some new looks as the Chiefs gain steam), this is what I do: I watch every dropback on all-22 film, charting depth of throws as well as various stats. For a much more detailed explanation, click here. For the rest of you, let’s jump right into the numbers then talk about Smith’s film against Atlanta.
Missed Shots- 2
Happy Feet- 1
Drops- 1 (23 yards)
Inaccurate Throws- 3
Potential Picks- 0
Franchise QB Throws- 3
Throws Behind LOS- 7
Throws 1-5 Yards in Air- 5
Throws 6-10 Yards in Air- 4
Throws 11-19 Yards in Air- 4
Throws 20+ Yards in Air- 5 (2 completed, 1 drop, 2 inaccurate)
Alex Smith did a few things against the Falcons that really stood out to me on film. One of those things can be quantified: Smith, on third and fourth down, was 8/9 for 81 yards and a touchdown. That’s ridiculous, and a gigantic improvement over what we’ve seen from Smith the majority of this season.
Smith was making key throws in big moments, including a strike to Albert Wilson on third down to effectively end the game.
3rd down game-icing throw/catch. Smith eyes Kelce just long enough to draw safety, fires it to Wilson perfectly (on the body). Game over. pic.twitter.com/YIy960Na1v— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) December 7, 2016
That is not a difficult throw, and it’s one your QB ought to be able to make. However, I still love seeing Smith manipulate the coverage with his eyes by glancing at Kelce (which draws up the safety) before rocketing the ball into Wilson. The placement is flawless, as it prevents the other safety from having any sort of chance to hit Wilson and allows him to go to the ground to finish the game. Simple and efficient, just like Alex Smith is at his best.
Of course, we all saw that Smith was doing things the way many have been begging for since he arrived in Kansas City. For starters, he opened up the game with a pair of 20-plus yard passes, both of which were complete and (in my opinion) totally changed the way the Falcons viewed the game defensively. When you walk in expecting checkdowns and the first two plays are deep balls, that tends to suck the air out of a defense as they think, “oh crap, we game planned wrong.”
But more impressive than that, at least to me, was the way Smith seemed to work his reads a lot of the night. I saw him pass up open shallow receivers for intermediate shots multiple times throughout the game, including this first down toss to (who else?) Kelce.
VERY NEXT PLAY Smith passes up open short read for the much tougher intermediate read, sticks it on the run where it won't get Kelce killed. pic.twitter.com/GWu467A2mS— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) December 6, 2016
One of Smith’s biggest weaknesses is a tendency to go to shallow reads when there’s a deep read open (which is why people use words like hyper conservative to describe him, or other such terms). Against Atlanta, he was doing a good job scanning the entire field and finding guys who were roaming intermediate and deep zones. The kind of throws like the one above (which, again, was ridiculously well placed to keep Kelce’s head on his shoulders) keep defenses honest. It’s so important to make those throws, and just as important to hit on them. When Smith is doing both the offense looks significantly better.
I’ve mentioned ball placement a couple of times now, and for good reason. Smith was consistently putting the ball exactly where it needed to be (with the exception of three inaccurate passes, two of which MAY have been miscommunications with his receivers). We’ve talked about this before but it’s worth repeating: ball placement is often the difference between a five yard gain and a fifteen yard gain. It’s also often the difference between a completed pass and a receiver getting his head torn off by a safety. Smith’s accuracy has been shaky at times this year. However, against Atlanta he looked every bit as accurate as he did against the Raiders in Oakland (his other “best” game of the year).
The thing that really struck me about Smith on Sunday, though, was pocket presence. He looked much more confident stepping up in the pocket and keeping his eyes down the field.
Play right after Conley drop. Smith was en fuego, man. Scans field, calmly steps up in pocket to avoid pressure, delivers a strike to Wilson pic.twitter.com/48m6dh5wKZ— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) December 6, 2016
Smith has a tendency, at times, to get caught up in the pass rush and lower his eyes or run around aimlessly. Against Atlanta, he was much cleaner in this regard, sliding forward or side-to-side while staying ready to throw.
I have no idea why Smith would suddenly look more comfortable under pressure, honestly. Maybe having survived (and even thrived at the end) against Denver’s murderous pass rush has given him new life. Maybe having the offense more centered around Travis Kelce gives him more confidence in what he’s doing. Maybe all those hours using sleep hypnosis repeating “slide, don’t run” over and over have finally paid off. Whatever it is, that’s DEFINITELY a development to watch against Oakland and Khalil Mack.
Alex wasn’t perfect against Atlanta (he missed Spencer Ware on what would have been a touchdown late in the game after moving away from pressure, and you could tell he was U-P-S-E-T with himself afterward), but he threw accurately, tested the defense deep, spread the ball around, and moved well in the pocket. Overall, he looked like what everyone was hoping they would see going into the game. Even most of the Chiefs fans I know who dislike Smith’s game enjoyed what he did Sunday.
As I said in my article discussing the win, the Chiefs need to avoid little mistakes on offense that kill drives (penalties, drops, miscommunications), because it hindered their point output on a day they moved the ball VERY well. But it’s tough not to get excited watching Smith and the offense trade punches with Atlanta while the defense got right (despite the absence of Jeremy Maclin, who in theory will add a whole new dimension once he’s back from injury. If Smith plays like that every week, the Chiefs are absolutely primed to make a playoff run.