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Alex Smith defeats his 23-point curse

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As a Chief, Alex Smith was 1-11 in games where the Chiefs opponent scored more than 23 points (the league average). If you include the postseason, Smith is 1-13. Over his entire career he's 4-39-1 when the opponent scores 23 or more. This was all before last Sunday though.

Plenty of folks have attacked Alex Smith for winning 9.1 percent of games in these 23-point scenarios. For comparison, roughly 23 percent of games last year were won by teams who had given up 23 or more points.

So here are the Alex Smith narratives that you've heard time and time again: Alex Smith can't put a team on his back and win a game, Alex Smith can't win in a shootout, He needs a great defense to win.

If one were to look up the definition of 'narrative' they would find the following: a spoken or written account of connected events; a story. A narrative is a story, and Alex Smith's story is still being written. Any story worth reading has twists and turns, and what if Alex's story is headed for one such turn.

I want to talk about why Alex Smith has failed winning games when his opponent scores 23 or more points while playing for Kansas City, how he was able to beat his curse against San Diego, and why his game against the Chargers could be the sign of a turn for the better.

Why Has Smith Lost so Many of these Games?

I went through each of Smith's 11 losses from 2013 to 2015 with the Chiefs where the Chiefs defense gave up more than 23 points. Using game information from Pro Football Reference I tracked what caused the Chiefs to lose in those games and I came up with this:

In one game, the Chiefs were blown out and had no realistic chance of coming back. In four games the Chiefs final drive failed to seal the deal. In two games the opponent's final drive was successful and didn't give the Chiefs a chance for a final drive. In five games the Chiefs continuously squandered second half possessions by not driving the ball and scoring.

Note: This doesn't add up to 11 because in one game the Chiefs both squandered opportunity AND failed on their final drive. I'll be glad to discuss how I came to these categories in the comments if there are any questions.

Alex Smith's biggest problems in the past have been creating scoring drives in the second half, and failing on the final drive of the game. Often times the final drive requires a quick scoring drive, and this is an area where Smith has struggled.

What Happened Against the Chargers?

In the second half and overtime, the Chiefs scored four touchdowns and one field goal. They scored five times on seven drives. This is the opposite of squandering opportunities. Alex Smith led the Chiefs to a drive to tie the game in the fourth quarter, and a drive in overtime to win the game.

The Chiefs did not squander second half opportunities against the Chargers, and they were successful on their final drive not once, but twice.

Another major factor for the Chiefs comeback: quick scoring drives. Here are the Chiefs second half scoring drives:

  • Tyreek Hill TD - 3:09, 75 yards in seven plays.
  • Jeremy Maclin TD - 1:57, 56 yards in seven plays.
  • Cairo Santos FG - 3:37, 52 yards in 12 plays.
  • Spencer Ware TD - 0:38, 42 yards in 4 plays.

We have four scoring drives, all of which took fewer than four minutes - with two of them taking fewer than two minutes. These drives weren't happening in the first three years in Kansas City. Quick drives are often a function of big plays. Alex Smith wasn't taking the safe road in this game.

Alex Smith's decision making

There are two plays that show Alex Smith and the Chiefs may have turned a new leaf. The first was the deep ball to Maclin to set up the game tying drive (the one where he took the big hit):

How many times in the past has the game been on the line with the Chiefs OL facing a three man rush and somehow Smith ends up taking a sack? The new OL (Mitch Schwartz being a particularly nice addition) gives Smith a chance to roll out and let the play develop. Another reason this play is so promising is that Smith had two available check downs but didn't take them.

The second play came in overtime:

If I was basing my decisions off Smith's play in the past I would predict him to hesitate and end up throwing this ball away 99 out of 100 times. Instead he decides to make the pass to Ware without hesitation. This is the type of risk Chiefs fans have been begging Alex Smith to take since he has come to Kansas City. Adding to the intrigue is that the play was on a first down.

Alex Smith made the decisions throughout the second half to push the ball down the field, and what we all saw was something consistently different. We didn't see one drive of awesome play, we saw nearly an entire second half of it.

The Chiefs came back because Alex Smith put the team on his back and played at a high level for roughly two quarters while picking up chunk plays left and right.

Was this a Fluke?

I think this is probably the question everyone is asking themselves right now. I don't think it was a fluke. Here's why:

The Chiefs have improved their offensive line and they have improved their wide receiver corps. Smith has had a full season to work with Maclin and their chemistry should be better than it was a year ago. That back shoulder touchdown pass is hard evidence of that.

The Chiefs have also promoted Brad Childress and Matt Nagy to the offensive coordinator position. Talk to Eagles fans and they will tell you during the Andy Reid era the Eagles offense was best when Brad Childress was the offensive coordinator. Childress was given a lot of credit for Donovan McNabb's success with the Eagles.

Lastly, and most importantly, Alex Smith didn't just bring the Chiefs down the field once. He led the Chiefs on quick scoring drives over and over again.

Alex Smith won't be winning every game where his opponent scores more than 23 points, but I think he is capable of winning closer to 23 percent of them.

People Change, Things Change

Remember the Alex Smith narratives?

Alex Smith can't put a team on his back and win a game, Alex Smith can't win in a shootout, He needs a great defense.

Over time, people can change and things can change. Am I saying Alex Smith will play every game like his second half against the Chargers? Absolutely not. What I am saying is the 2016 season looks promising for Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense based on this game. If one week is any indicator for the future, the Alex Smith story could be taking a twist.

A year from now the title of the story could be: Alex Smith, the comeback king. OK, maybe not but we can dream.