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Alex Smith vs. the Chargers: Manage that game

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We’re back.

It’s been two weeks since I’ve written an “Alex Smith all-22” article. That’s after almost two years of writing an article after every game (the years prior I waited until the end of the season to write one giant article). Why the break? Well ... I’m not sure. It was partly because I was tired of fighting about Alex Smith (which happened regardless of what I wrote). It was partly subject fatigue, having written similar articles for weeks and weeks. And it was partly because life just got on top of me.

Anyways, brief summary of the last two weeks: Alex was quite good against the Jets but not quite as good as he was earlier in the season, then only average against the Raiders but not nearly as bad as he was against the Giants/Bills/Cowboys. Hey, that was easy!

Anyways, with only a few weeks left to go in the regular season, it’s time I get back on track. I’m guessing we are nearing the end of the Alex Smith era in Kansas City, whether he goes out in a blaze of glory or in more quiet fashion. So I’m using this time to appreciate what Alex has been for the Chiefs since arriving in 2013. Part of that involves doing what I’ve done for years: reviewing his snaps and charting in-depth stats. I’ve watched literally every single dropback by Alex on all-22 multiple times since he arrived, and in that time I’ve developed a certain fondness for the guy as a QB.

I’ll write more about Alex when everything is said and done, but for now I’ll just say this: Alex has been much better than many believe, and not as good as what many others say. His ability to avoid mistakes holds a great deal more value than meets the eye, and his consistently steady play was a big part of what allowed the Chiefs to right the ship as quickly as they did following the disaster that was 2012. He’s been part of some truly great Chiefs moments for me.

As things draw to a close, one thing I’m particularly grateful for is that we got to see an entirely new version of Alex Smith this season against New England, Washington, and Houston: a fire-breathing dragon who hurled the ball down the field with deadly accuracy and fired lasers into almost impossibly small windows on the run. It was really fun seeing him unlock something I didn’t think he could do, even if the time period was briefer than I would have liked.

Anyways, enough with premature nostalgia. Let’s talk about Alex against the Chargers. I’ll start with the obvious: this was a GREAT throw.

Alex’s sudden accuracy down the field in 2017 has been one of the most bizarre things I can remember happening as a fan, as well as one of the most enjoyable. Alex leads all quarterbacks in yards on throws 20+ yards in the air, and it’s not all that close. And it’s not because he’s been chucking it deep constantly, it’s because he’s been so accurate when he does it. Kudos on him for bringing a fresh aspect to his game this year.

All right, let’s get to the numbers. If you haven’t read one of these, this article will explain the in-depth stats I chart and my methodology. Anyways, let’s talk some numbers and Alex’s film against the Chargers.

(Note: as always, I include plays that are called off due to penalties. Also, there was one batted pass where I could not gauge accuracy, though I could see what receiver was targeted. So the numbers don’t “match.” Glad we could clear that up)

After re-watching the game on all-22, I had a fresh appreciation for just how efficiently Alex Smith can carry out a good gameplan. I know that perhaps sounds like lukewarm praise, but it is not. Asking a QB to go out there and make close to zero mistakes is a tall, tall order. And Alex can do that more often than the vast majority of other NFL quarterbacks, regardless of other flaws he possesses.

It’s worth noting that against the Chargers, Alex was almost freakishly accurate. To be fair, most of the throws he was asked to execute were shorter ones that weren’t as difficult, but making that many accurate throws during an NFL game is highly impressive almost regardless of the game plan. Nearly every pass Alex threw was on the money, and the few inaccurate throws he had were still catchable (though barely, like the Kareem Hunt touchdown that wasn’t called a touchdown).

Alex didn’t have much of an issue with happy feet or missed shots in this particular game. Part of that was due to good protection by the offensive line, but Alex himself did a legitimately good job of moving around the pocket when things did get a bit out of hand. He also did a nice job moving quickly through his reads, though it seemed like he was often asked to read half the field OR execute a run/pass option play, simplifying the game plan.

The Chiefs seemed to have planned for the Chargers’ brutal pass rush when formulating their game plan, as the offense revolved around a lot of quick reads and throws in order to keep Alex clean. It was a good strategy when paired with the success Kareem Hunt had on the ground, and obviously resulted in the Chiefs putting up some points. They would have put up more without a couple of key drops in the red zone, which were unfortunate.

Now to be fair to Demetrius Harris, he was absolutely interfered with on this play AND the following play featured one of Alex’s inaccurate throws, so this drive ending without a TD wasn’t entirely his fault. But it’s definitely frustrating when you see Alex make a throw that good into a tight window with nothing to show for it.

Overall, Alex had what prior to this year we considered a very good Alex Smith game. He made absolutely no critical mistakes, minimized even minor mistakes, made quick reads, threw the ball extremely accurately, made a couple of nice plays and throws, and overall was a helpful cog in the offense rather than a foundation of it. He did make a few key throws/reads/plays on 3rd down that go largely unnoticed but were absolutely a key aspect to leaving Arrowhead with a win.

Again, Alex didn’t hit the staggeringly high ceiling he showed earlier this season, and since we’ve seen THAT version of Alex the “high level game manager” version of him isn’t going to seem as impressive. But he was a valuable asset in the win against the Chargers, in perhaps the most typical “good Alex” game of the season. The one difference between this “good Alex” and the version we saw for years? That one bomb to Hill. There was a time we went entire half-seasons without seeing throws like that from Alex. They have now become a more common occurrence both in attempt and in sound execution.

If Alex plays at exactly that level (elite game manager with one or two good deep throws), the Chiefs have a shot at making some noise in the playoffs. My hope is that he continues to find his groove to start reaching the lofty heights he approached earlier in the season. Either way, we’re likely looking at the end of an era, and I’m going to appreciate Alex’s competency while I can.