I feel like I’ve had to say this too much lately ... let’s get this over with.
If you don’t know what this article is about, read this to understand the terms and methodology used here. Long story short, I’m here to break down Alex Smith’s film against the Giants, and I don’t want it to take a second longer than necessary. Because frankly, this has gotten depressing.
Watching Alex Smith, over the last two games, devolve into the worst version of himself after playing at SUCH a high level over the first five weeks of the season (and bouncing back after a tough Steelers game to play well against the Raiders and Broncos) has been... well, yeah, we’ll stick with “depressing.”
One thing before we delve in too deeply here... no, the Giants did NOT exclusively play cover 2 defense and that is not all that’s going on with Alex Smith. The Giants DID play a variety of zones that were often disguised as basic cover 2 looks then turned into something a bit more exotic (though nothing crazy, really, and the basic look was often there with various zones mixed in). So please note that Alex’s struggles went way beyond “he can’t diagnose/beat cover 2.”
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at some numbers and talk about tape. Then let’s leave this game in the trash heap where it belongs.
Look, we’ve been down this road before. There’s not a whole lot to say (though I’ll say it anyways) other than this: Alex had more missed shots than I’m comfortable with by a wide margin, had some CRUCIAL happy feet snaps that likely cost the team points, had a potential pick in addition to the two picks he actually threw, was more inaccurate than he normally is, and only made two “franchise QB” throws.
Other than that, he was OK.
Look, I don’t know how to sugarcoat this. I LIKE Alex Smith. I think he’s done a decent job overall as a QB, and this year was utterly brilliant the first five weeks. But now I’m seeing stuff like this.
Rough snap for Smith. Runs from nonexistent pressure on 3 man rush. Had he kept his eyes down the field he would've seen DAT smoke his safety (slot left). RB ended up open down the R sideline as well. pic.twitter.com/IhgD0bby06— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 22, 2017
Most times when I call a snap a “happy feet” snap I get some argument from people. With this one, there’s really nothing to say. Alex gets jittery when Fisher directs the rusher behind him (which is a very common thing for tackles to do), stops looking down the field, dances for a moment, then runs right into a sack.
That would be bad enough on its own. But it’s made even worse by the fact that multiple receivers came open here. De’Anthony Thomas destroyed his safety at the line (Alex should really see that matchup presnap and anticipate quick separation, and he DID look that way while DAT ran free) immediately, and later (while Alex absolutely could’ve still been scanning the field) Kareem Hunt beat his man out of the backfield to come wide open down the sideline.
That’s just awful. There’s no other word for it. And it’s not the only time it happened.
Chiefs last drive in regulation ended in a FG. Alex gets happy feet and misses West come open down the field (bottom of screen). Travis gets separation on top as well. pic.twitter.com/xtC2txhuyM— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 22, 2017
Here’s another play where Alex seemed to panic despite the pressure being non-existent. Because of that, he misses West out of the backfield in a position to potentially score with even a mediocre throw (the two zone defenders had stopped moving and the only defender nearby was focused on Kelce, not Alex). That drive ended in a FG, forcing overtime. That’s great, but the game could have easily been ended here.
This marks the second game in a row that Alex appeared panicky against the rush, and hesitant even when the rush isn’t there to pull the trigger.
This isn't going well so far. Ball needs to come out when Alex gets to the top of his drop here, and Kelce is open (especially for him). Alex hesitates, so pressure forces him to what's essentially a throwaway to West. pic.twitter.com/pYXEOzYdq6— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 21, 2017
This play ends up as a short completed pass on the stats sheet, but it’s a horrible snap. It’s a good example of the difference between what the box score says and what actually happened. Travis Kelce comes open here and Alex SHOULD see him based on his head movement. But instead of throwing the ball to the sideline he hesitates, which gives the pressure time to get home. Alex is forced to run, and there’s nowhere to go except West, who has no chance whatsoever of getting to the first down marker (note: this was third down).
Again, plays like this are why looking JUST at completion percentage, or yards, paints a very incomplete picture of a quarterback. Sometimes, a short completed pass is a really, really bad play.
A really weird thing that Alex struggled with Sunday was accuracy. Normally he’s on point in that aspect of his game. Against the Giants, though...
I love the idea here... get the defense going the wrong way with play action, maybe loosen them up vs the run. Kelce is wide open. The throw just... dies. And before you say "wind," as a QB you gotta make the throw accounting for that. pic.twitter.com/mylcGyF5k4— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 21, 2017
I understand people had concerns about the wind, but the idea that it completely grounded the ball like that when other passes DIDN’T do the same is ... well, it’s a little out there in my opinion. Alex just wasn’t throwing the ball well. That was evident in some of the spirals (or lack thereof) he was chucking throughout the game, as well as an uncharacteristic pick (that was so poorly thrown I can’t tell which receiver he was really targeting). It just wasn’t Alex’s day.
Another issue Alex had was, on plays where there was decent protection (note I only charted three “flush” plays where Alex had no chance), Alex immediately threw the ball short despite ample time to scan the field. This happened multiple times throughout the game and several times in the red zone. If you want a good example, go to the first drive of the second quarter, which ended in a pair of red zone throws that were out immediately despite good protection and receivers who had no chance of going anywhere against the Giants’ zone.
Was the protection perfect all day? Of course not. There were a few plays that were torpedoed by instant pressure (good play calls by Andy, by the way)
Andy dialed up a nice zone-buster route off camera for Kelce deep here, and he gets open... but it doesn't matter because Fisher whiffs immediately and the route doesn't get the 2.5 seconds it needed. pic.twitter.com/iGefIy9Ted— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 21, 2017
So please note, I’m not saying the line was perfect. HOWEVER, the majority of the day Alex had more than enough time and enough of a pocket to make better plays than he made. This wasn’t a situation where no one was getting open (a receiver or Andy Reid issue) or Alex was constantly harassed all day (an OL issue). Alex just played badly, despite pretty mediocre play from the Giants on defense.
At a certain, point, I’ve had to ask myself what I, and what others, are really asking out of Alex Smith as the season moves along. What I’ve found over the last few weeks, when Alex has struggled, is that there appears to be some real (in my opinion) misunderstanding as to what circumstances constitute “too difficult” for a quarterback to play well among Chiefs fans. The following play is a good example.
This is a good "pocket presence" snap to examine. Though there's immediate (offsides) pressure, the pocket integrity actually holds if Alex just steps up and stays calm. Instead he pulls the ball down and tries to bolt. pic.twitter.com/KfTR1hAAQr— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 21, 2017
I used that play as an example of a time when a QB does face some duress but SHOULD be able to hang in the pocket and make a play. Many people on Twitter told me that they felt that wasn’t enough of a pocket for a QB to work with, or that Alex shouldn’t be expected to stay in the pocket when a rusher gets behind him that quickly.
I strongly disagree. Alex has several yards on all sides of him, with linemen in between him and potential rushers. Additionally, Alex sees West pick up the offsides rusher AND sees Schwartz in pursuit of said rusher. What a QB HAS to do in that situation, for at least a second or two, is trust his blockers, step up, and try to find an open receiver. Alex could have stepped up to the 37-yard-line and had plenty of room to comfortably survey and throw. He could also have stepped up for just a second, then used the redirection of rushers (caused by him stepping up) to break out right and continue to scan the field.
Instead, Alex tucks the ball and runs straight into a sack.
That play, while not an EASY play to make, is one that you could see made dozens (more likely a hundred) times by NFL quarterbacks every single week. That is the type of pocket a good quarterback must navigate. And it’s the type of pocket Alex Smith WAS navigating earlier this season.
That feels like a distant memory at this point. Three of Alex’s last five performances have been quite poor. His other two performances (Oakland and Denver) were good, though they weren’t at the level we saw against Philadelphia, New England, Washington and Houston.
In short, I’m concerned. Especially given that Alex’s two poorest performances of the season have now occurred back-to-back, against one “OK” and one horrible defense, and have been very similar on film.
We’ll see what happens against Buffalo. My sincere hope is that Alex comes out and goes to town on them like The Punisher with a sledgehammer. If he struggles again... well. let’s cross that bridge when we come to it, but it’ll be time to have a talk.