The year before last, I wrote about Alex Smith 2.0. At the time, Alex was playing quite well and seemed to be testing down the field a bit (a BIT) more often, and the basic idea was that Alex had finally come around from being a decent QB with some very real weaknesses to a guy you could count on to be a good QB (whatever that means).
Of course, it all blew up in my face in 2016, as Alex took a bit of a step backward with regards to pocket presence and missed shots despite having inferior talent around him. I began to give up on ever seen more from Alex, the Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes, and we were all moving on from the idea of Alex improving at this point in his career.
I’m not sure what to say right now.
Easily Alex's best play of '17. 1st read covered, pocket gone, Alex ignores the easy 5 yard scramble and drops a dime on the run 30+ yards. pic.twitter.com/2Ruq3bLA67— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 4, 2017
In Week 1 against the Patriots (which I wrote about here), Alex shredded a poor Patriots defense with superb blocking to help him out. In Week 2 against the Eagles, Alex played well under much tougher circumstances (that review is here), including some clutch plays down the stretch. Then against the Chargers, Alex seemingly came back to earth (see here) after the first few drives, playing a very average Alex Smith game in which he made no serious mistakes but didn’t make many plays at all.
So I came into Week 4 expecting to see more of what we saw in Week 3 as opposed to the first few weeks of the season. Turns out, I’m not a smart man.
If you’ve never read one of these reviews, click the link to the Patriots review, as it explains the methodology and terminology we use here. The rest of you, let’s jump right into the numbers of a game that I’d argue was Alex’s most impressive so far.
(Yes, I just noticed Excel added the date — June 38th, which isn’t even a date, Excel)
(Note: as always, the accurate/inaccurate numbers don’t match the depth of target numbers. That’s because on a few throws you can tell the target but you can’t gauge whether it was accurate due to a batted pass or other extraneous interference)
All right, there’s a lot to unpack here. But first and foremost, I need to admit that I was wrong.
See, I watched this game in person. And while doing so, I was convinced that in the first half Alex was at fault for 4-5 plays in which there was pressure, in that he didn’t get the ball out quickly enough. With the benefit of all-22 re-watching that allows me to check multiple angles and slow the film down, I realize that I should never, ever, ever try to analyze a game live. Just awful.
Alex only had two happy feet snaps that I charted. He did have a single sack that was, in my opinion, on him rather than the line. However, three of the times Washington brought him down it was on a flush, a play where pressure came so quickly Alex didn’t have a prayer of running the play as it was drawn up.
And yes, the Redskins were coming after Alex all night and getting QUICK pressure right from the start of the game.
First play vs WAS was the definition of a "flush" play. Design took him right into rusher. Really dislike the Kelce/Conley blocking design. pic.twitter.com/j503qxHv6a— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 5, 2017
Despite that, Alex had relatively few happy feet snaps when even compared to his average last season, and he only had one miss down the field (happy feet and missed shots are always and forever linked). Additionally, Alex maintained his usual accuracy despite being harassed and hassled by a very aggressive pass rush, all while managing to go through multiple reads on 20 plays despite the pressure he was facing.
What really stands out to me is the number of “plays made” snaps by Alex, where he had to make something happen despite other aspects of the offense failing. He had 11 combined plays made and franchise throws (though there’s an overlap on one of those plays at least), and did a great job making stuff happen in the fact of issues elsewhere on offense.
Drops were an enormous issue that Alex had to overcome this game as well. On multiple plays the Chiefs had a first down and let it slip through their fingertips or bounce of their bodies.
Drops were a real problem early. Alex makes a nice (though not perfect) throw under heavy pressure here, Harris can't finish. pic.twitter.com/7waDNQWfuZ— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 5, 2017
When your quarterback makes a throw like that while getting his legs hit, you need to catch it. All too often on Monday, Chiefs’ receivers weren’t answering the call (though it got a lot better as the game went along).
In addition to drops, the Redskins handled the Chiefs’ read option looks better than any other team they faced this year. So in other words, this was a night where Alex’s help from WR’s was inconsistent, his blocking was poor, and Andy Reid wasn’t winning on every snap like he sometimes does with his scheme.
That sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?
Love the Kelce TD. Alex holds the S w/ his eyes and makes the throw even though the coverage is there. Trusts Kelce to win, which he should. pic.twitter.com/GFf3NiBxl1— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 4, 2017
Well, not so much.
Alex made multiple great throws against the Redskins despite not always facing ideal circumstances.
Alex's first deep shot to Travis Kelce was an absolute dime. Over the head of good coverage, in there quick enough to beat the safety. pic.twitter.com/Jg2hXy5ivq— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 4, 2017
And it wasn’t just on big plays, either. Alex consistently made the right read or used subtle nuances in his game to make things happen for the Chiefs.
Missed this live. Alex uses a subtle fake to get the LB (50) to jump Kelce's route, which is short of the sticks, so he can go to Wilson. pic.twitter.com/8ofrXlu3dH— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 4, 2017
Alex also used his legs to pick up crucial yardage at multiple points in the game. His willingness to cut loose and run more this year (after becoming gunshy last year) has been a huge development, and it is complementary to his newfound desire to (more often than in the past at least) keep his eyes up to find a player down the field.
When defenses don’t know whether to expect a run or a pass from Alex, you get the kind of play we saw in the first gif of this article, Alex’s HUGE play getting the ball down the field on the run to Wilson. As I say in the tweet, I think that’s Alex’s best play of the year. He drifts away from the rush without panicking, uses the run to suck the defense to him, then places the ball perfectly to throw Wilson into open space.
Alex has made longer throws, and Alex has made throws into tighter windows. But that throw on the run with defenders coming towards him 30-plus yards down the field in that situation? That’s some ice cold stuff.
If you look at Alex’s depth of targets, you’ll also notice that Alex went 11-plus yards past the line of scrimmage 12 times against the Redskins. He connected on three throws of 20 or more yards. That’s CRUCIAL to the Chiefs’ success on offense. They need an Alex who is utilizing the entire field if they want to be more than a meh offense (well, at least during the times Kareem Hunt isn’t going full cyborg).
In short, Alex was playing in the worst circumstances he’s had so far this year, and he played really good football the vast majority of the game despite that. And of course, he needed to summon some heroics late and MAKE a play rather than just taking advantage of Andy Reid winning against the defense. He was more aggressive and attacking towards the defense. And he did all this without forcing throws or raising his level of error. That’s wildly impressive in my opinion.
Even the silly mistakes (normally a killer for the Chiefs) weren’t hurting them Monday, as Alex just made stuff happen.
Horrible snap, instant pressure, Alex somehow turns it into 37 yards. I love it when Alex makes LB/S angles look stupid on scrambles. pic.twitter.com/e3whVEoczV— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 4, 2017
A lot of people are quite high on Alex right now, in large part because fans LOVE game-winning drives and bombs on the run. However, I think the fact that Alex upped his playmaking status in the offense without upping the number of risks he took was more impressive than any one or two plays.
We’re a quarter of the way through the season, and Alex has had three good games and one extremely average game. Any of his games against the Pats, Eagles or Redskins would’ve ranked up there in the top two or three games he played last year, and both the Pats and Redskins games might’ve been at the very top of the list.
Base stats are a poor way to gauge a QB, but Alex’s improved play have come through in the box score. Alex is on pace to throw for 776 more yards than he did in ‘16, along with 17 more touchdowns and 222 more yards on the ground. He’s throwing for the highest yards per attempt of his time in KC by nearly a yard and a half, and is completing 76 percent of his passes (that last one is crazy).
More importantly, he’s hitting on as many shots 20-plus yards down the field as he’s missing, he’s not getting happy feet as often, and he’s missing fewer shots down the field.
Look, I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’m done trying to predict the NFL. But Alex Smith is playing the best ball of his career so far this season despite a tough schedule, and I hope like crazy he keeps it up. Wouldn’t that just be a fantastic twist to the Alex Smith in Kansas City story? I love a good twist, especially when it’s raining touchdowns at Arrowhead.
The Chiefs play the Texans on Sunday. Last season, Alex played probably his worst game of the year against the Texans. He’s got a lot more to prove to a lot of fans, and he’s going to keep getting his shots to do so. I personally hope he tosses 5 TDs and we all can spend one more week wondering when (or if?) this ride is going to end.