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The good Alex Smith is back

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I wasn’t sure how well Alex had played against the Dolphins. For one reason or another, I recalled a couple of dangerous throws and a few inaccurate ones more than a lot of other plays made, which made me question whether the overall stat line (300+ yards, 64 percent completion percentage, 1 TD, no INTs) wasn’t slightly inflated.

Turns out, I was wrong and Alex, in my opinion, played his best game since Houston way back in Week 5. While he didn’t compile quite the same gaudy stats he did against the Jets, he “made” more plays on his own and was less a conduit through which the offense ran. Because of that, I chalk this up as a more impressive performance. Additionally, Alex should have had no fewer than another 75 yards and two touchdowns, but was robbed by a bad drop and a worse call.

If there’s any play that exemplifies what the Miami game was like for Alex, it’s this one.

This play exemplifies the things that I really do love about Alex Smith. The all-22 angle shows that no one is open (in part due to a hold by Miami), and in the meantime the pocket collapses rather violently around him.

He just won’t. Go. Down. Shakes the first rusher, then shakes the other, then takes off. There’s a free defender screaming towards him, and Alex (in my favorite part of the play) dekes him into leaving his feet. Alex then dives for the first down.

Of course, a penalty was called by Miami, so it all ended up being meaningless. Which, again, represents a lot of what happened in this game for Alex. Some of his best plays went without him getting any statistical credit, but if you think it doesn’t matter to the rest of the team seeing their quarterback go full Kareem Hunt for a snap, you’re crazy.

Anyways, let’s talk Alex’s film. As I’ve talked about previously, it feels bizarre that this could be one of the last times I review the film of a guy I’ve watched drop back over 2,500 times. I’ve spent at least a hundred hours of my life reviewing Alex’s film, and probably another hundred writing about it. My sincerest hope is the remaining games he has as a Chief (I’m on the record that Mahomes is the guy in 2018 regardless of what happens in the playoffs) are as good as Miami.

If you’re not familiar with the process I use or the meaning of the terms here, click here and you can get a quick look. For the rest of you, let’s talk numbers and film.

At a certain point, these numbers without context can start to blend together, but there are a couple of things that really stood out against Miami to me.

First, the fact that I didn’t track a single “happy feet” snap by Alex is highly unusual. The only times he bailed were when there was legit pressure OR when there wasn’t anyone open and using his feet made the most sense. Generally speaking, even in his best games Alex usually has 2-3 happy feet snaps, so the fact that he stayed calm in the pocket (despite facing some pressure here and there) was really nice to see. That also kept the “missed shot” number down quite a ways.

Alex also made multiple plays on his own when things broke down, which is always great to see from him. While his inaccurate throws were a bit up, he was still generally throwing the ball well, whether it was shallow routes or down the field. He also did a very good job going through reads after the snap, more so than normal in my opinion.

One thing Alex did very well against the Dolphins (and what appeared to be planned by Reid/Nagy) was use his legs and the THREAT of his legs to create opportunities. As has often been the case lately, RPO’s (run/pass option plays) were a big part of the game plan, and those often rely on the threat Alex poses as a runner.

Alex executed RPO’s very well throughout the day, almost always making the correct read (harder than it sounds) and putting stress on the Dolphins’ defense to play perfect or risk getting burned.

In addition to that, Alex was throwing the ball down the field quite well (though not perfectly). Once again, Tyreek Hill was one of the foundation pieces of the offense, as they called his number down the field multiple times to stretch the defense.

I’ve heard some people complain about the above throw, as Alex COULD have put it in front of Hill a bit more and perhaps led him to a touchdown. However, at a certain point such complaints are foolish on throws 40-plus yards down the field. A throw can be less than perfect and still be a very good throw. What I loved about Alex’s performance against the Dolphins is that he was consistently willing to take shots, despite being failed several times on what would have been huge gains.

Alex had a pair of pretty much perfect throws dropped at two different points in the game, which is obviously a huge letdown for the offense (Tyreek Hill’s reaction to Wilson dropping that pass, as well as Wilson’s reaction after the gif, is pretty priceless). In the past, I think Alex may have retreated into a bit of a conservative shell after several big plays didn’t pay off, but he didn’t do that Sunday. Instead, he kept pushing the ball down the field, even in situations where he was under pressure and couldn’t deliver a perfect pass to a wide open receiver.

This throw to Hill, even though it’s a dangerous throw, is one of my favorite of the afternoon for Alex.

In this play, Hill was covered by a corner with good speed and wasn’t getting his usual ridiculous separation. By the time Alex was starting to look his way he had a half step, but that was it. In the meantime, Alex can see that he’s about to take a shot by a stunting defensive lineman (one of LDT’s few missteps on the day).

Throwing the ball here is DANGEROUS, in part because the velocity/location of the ball is absolutely going to be affected by the lineman laying a hit. However, Alex chucks it up there anyways. I love that. Now, it’s not something I want Alex to do constantly, and MANY quarterbacks do this far too often. However, Alex’s issue historically hasn’t been recklessness with the ball, it’s been in not trusting his WR’s to make a play.

Alex trusts Hill to win on what amounts to a 50/50 ball. As I’ve recently written about Hill, a shot down the field to him isn’t really a 50/50 shot due to his ball tracking and body control. It’s more like a 75/25 shot. Those are odds to take some of the time, and Alex does here to a great payoff. I absolutely love seeing Alex recognize that Hill is a unique player, one who can “win” in those contested situations. Awesome stuff.

Alex also trusted Hill to make a really tough catch in the end zone (you’ve seen it a million times by now) even when his body was taking him the wrong direction to come down with the ball. Hill rewarded that trust with an incredible catch, but it was called off by a ref who ... well, yeah, no need to get started there.

If you look at the plays Alex was robbed of touchdowns (Wilson’s drop and Hill’s touchdown), his stat line really SHOULD have been 27/39 for 362 yards and three touchdowns. Now THAT’S the kind of line that gets noticed. Unfortunately, as is always the case, some stats are beyond the control of a quarterback.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve commented that while Alex has bounced back from his truly atrocious stretch in the middle of the season, his play (while solid) hadn’t returned to the level of what we saw earlier this season against New England, Philadelphia, Washington, and Houston. Even against the Chargers last week, Alex was very efficient with a couple of nice throws, but no more. That’s a guy you CAN make a playoff run with, but it may not be likely.

However, that changed Sunday against the Dolphins. Alex was back to making plays on his own when the offense as a whole failed, throwing the ball down the field with confidence and accuracy, and was moving around in the pocket like he was early in the year. He was a big part of the offense moving the ball at ease against Miami.

Sunday’s game would have been the best game of the year for Alex last season, and it wouldn’t have been particularly close in my opinion. He was back to being a playmaker for the offense rather than just a cog. I have no idea what that bodes for the playoffs, but crap if I haven’t gotten my hopes up just a little.

As I’ve said before, I think this is Alex’s final hurrah with the Chiefs. I hope it’s the kind that gets talked about for decades.