So in 2015, Alex Smith went through a stretch of several games where he played better than he’d played previously as a Chief. It wasn’t as good as what we’ve seen in 2017, but it was noticeable. I dubbed him Alex Smith 2.0, hoping that the upgraded version was here to stay. Unfortunately, Alex didn’t continue to take shots down the field or throw into tight windows, so the name sank back into the overfilled muck of failed narratives. It was quite sad.
And now it’s 2017, and Alex Smith is the frontrunner for MVP. I wrote about that here earlier in the week, and I stand by it. I also wrote about how Alex has drastically improved on his three biggest weaknesses this year: challenging down the field with accuracy, throwing into tight windows, and pocket presence. You can read that if you want, but here’s an easy summary:
Alex Smith 2.0 is reborn.
And it’s not just me. Al Michaels called him that during the Sunday Night Football broadcast, and it was arguably one of the top three best moments of my life (I know, I have five kids so that doesn’t seem right. Let’s move on rather than judge my life moment gauging, OK?).
The point is, Alex Smith 2.0 is finally, actually, a real thing that no one can deny. And against Houston, on a night when the guy who SHOULD be the frontrunner for rookie of the year (Kareem Hunt) was getting stymied early on by a tough front seven that was clearly keying on him, ol’ 2.0 went out and played his best game of the season.
Alex Smith 2.0 will see your LB turned around in coverage then throw his TE open between 3 defenders because that's what Alex Smith 2.0 does pic.twitter.com/vmXZZIUj2p— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 11, 2017
Yeah, yeah, I know, Alex’s stats weren’t quite as good as they were in Week 1 against the Patriots. But here’s the thing: stats lie all the time.
In fact, we’re going to do a little experiment today to demonstrate the issues with looking at things like total yards and touchdowns and INTs alone to determine how well a QB played in a given game. I also wanted to put Alex’s ridiculous performance against the Texans into perspective. So I went ahead and reviewed every snap of Deshaun Watson as well, charting his plays the same way I did Alex. I’m not going to talk much about his film other than as a comparison to Alex (because this is a Chiefs’ site, after all), but it’s worth comparing the numbers.
The public in general is drooling over Watson’s 5 touchdown, no INT, 261 yard game against the Chiefs. And hey, he made a few GREAT plays during said game (if you’ll recall, Watson was my 1a QB in the draft, just behind Patrick Mahomes). So it only makes sense to compare the in-depth numbers Alex put up to a QB who seemed to impress a lot of people. It’s also a good chance to test my system against base stats. Let’s have some fun shall we?
If you’re not familiar with my work, read this to have an understanding of the deep stats tracked during my all-22 review of the QB’s. Also, as a quick note, remember that the number of accurate/inaccurate throws may not match up with the number of depth of target throws, given that some plays (like batted passes) are impossible to gauge accuracy even when you can tell the intended target. Also, throwaways (as always) are not included, but plays that were called off due to a penalty are.
All right, enough talk. Here are some numbers
All right, that’s a lot of numbers to look at. I trust ya’ll to do it on your own time, but I do have a few comments for comparison’s sake, then we’ll move on to Alex’s tape. Keep in mind that none of this is meant to be a blasting of Watson, who I think is going to be a very good QB (and already has a lot of great strengths).
For starters, note the potential picks. Watson had more against the Chiefs than Alex has had ALL SEASON. That’s actually more a testament to Alex than anything else. I realized after charting yet another zero this week in the potential picks category that it had felt like a while since he’d thrown one of those. I checked my previous reviews and found that Alex has thrown only two potential picks through five games. That is absolutely, utterly, ridiculously remarkable, especially when you factor in how much more aggressive Alex has been throwing the ball to deep/intermediate zones and into tight windows. He’s gotten MORE aggressive but hasn’t become any more risky. Again, it’s remarkable.
Another thing to notice is the accuracy difference. Watson had nearly double the number of inaccurate throws, both early and late in the game. Watson really, really struggled for about three and a half quarters against Sutton’s defense, only really coming alive with some 50/50 deep shots (and one exceptional escape and deep throw) late in the game.
What I like about the system I’ve devised is that it goes beyond a few pop plays (like hail Mary’s with great catches by receivers) and lets you know how a QB performed throughout the entire game. And what we can see from Smith’s numbers is that he was good for 60 minutes. VERY good. VERY VERY good.
Let’s start with third down. Alex made play after play on third down, going 9/12 for 137 yards and a touchdown. He made plays with his arm, his legs, or even his arm and his legs.
Alex Smith 2.0 Reborn is fun to watch play football. Eyes up, tight window, rusher closing... everything we've been asking for. pic.twitter.com/HWVDfu6tEv— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 11, 2017
One thing Alex did throughout the night was use the threat of him scrambling in order to force the defense out of its zones and into pursuit, then found an open receiver using the new throwing lanes available. He also used his legs to buy time to find an open receiver rather than just a bailout scramble option. Twice on the first drive of the game alone Alex made a nice play to use his legs to help receivers get open on 3rd down.
Alex using the threat of his legs to set up throws the last few weeks has put defenses in an impossible position. pic.twitter.com/8uyr3V4tNU— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 9, 2017
Alex didn’t throw the ball down the field quite as accurately as he has in recent games, but he still stuck several attempts past 20 yards, including some massive plays to Kelce and a huge third down conversion to Tyreek Hill (where he got hit as he threw but managed to put the ball in a catchable spot, with Hill making a GREAT adjustment on the ball).
But what really stood out, throughout the game, was how decisively Alex was throwing the ball into right windows.
Alex's improved accuracy downfield has gotten attention, but his increased willingness to hit tight windows has been huge as well. pic.twitter.com/17swY9SbGA— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 11, 2017
Throughout the game, Alex didn’t show hesitation to put stress on defenders in one on one situations, which is something he hasn’t often done throughout his time in Kansas City. A common criticism of Alex with a lot of validity was that he didn’t throw receivers open, instead only releasing the football when a receiver had already created separation. That’s just not the case anymore, and it showed throughout a game where he needed to make play after play in order to help out a struggling (in the 1st half) run game.
A big question mark for the Chiefs was how Alex would play in a game where Kareem Hunt was bottled up. He answered in a big way, including in the fourth quarter when the Texans miraculously managed to pull within a single score with plenty of time to go.
You remember this moment, I guarantee it. Watson’s TD had put the Texans within striking distance. The crowd was going absolutely crazy, and all momentum had seemingly swung to the Texans’ favor. I personally was wondering how in the world the Chiefs hadn’t put them away yet and where it all went wrong. The Chiefs NEEDED a play, and Travis Kelce (their go-to guy) was out with a concussion. So what does Alex do?
Coldest throw of the night. 4th Q, Texans somehow pulled w/in 6... and Alex calmly hits a 10 yard out from opposite hash on 1st down. pic.twitter.com/j3lxvPB4ix— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 12, 2017
Well, Alex Smith 2.0 Reborn nonchalantly throws a 10-yard out from the opposite hash (one of THE most difficult throws in football to execute well) on a frozen rope to Ross Travis, who (being hit in stride) runs for another eight yards for a huge, crowd-killing 18-yard gain that took the Chiefs nearly to midfield.
You could FEEL the wind get sucked right back out of the crowd’s sails. It was glorious, and the start of a brutally efficient drive that ended in a Chiefs touchdown in under three minutes. One big defensive stop and Tyreek Hill punt return later, the game was absolutely over. And it started with Alex Smith 2.0 Reborn having ice water for blood.
Look, as I keep saying, I have no idea what’s going to happen next. But let me clear about something: Alex Smith has never, ever, ever played quarterback at this level for this amount of time. It’s not just the scheme. It’s not just Hunt. It’s not just the receiving weapons. Alex is doing all the things he used to do well (accuracy, pre-snap reads, scrambling, minimizing risk) better than ever, and he’s taken his weak points (downfield accuracy, throwing into tight windows and down the field, pocket presence) and turned them into, well, not weaknesses (Alex has the best QB rating in the NFL when throwing deep. That’s a true story). He’s been, legitimately, one of the best 2-3 QBs in the league.
I hope to write a bunch more articles just like this one. Say, oh, about 14 more or so.