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Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes vs the Bengals: Whodunnit Better?

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As always with these late-night articles, let’s get right to the point: both Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes played really, really well against the Bengals. Which is good, good, GOOD news (we’re doing lots of repetition tonight, as watching the Chiefs take the Bengals to the woodshed got me pretty fired up).

We got to see Mahomes run with the first team, which was fun. We got to see Alex throw deep, which was fun. We got to see Mahomes almost throw a pick, which was not fun. We got to see Alex fire a rocket into the end zone, which was fun. We got to see Mahomes make one of the better plays of the preseason, which was fun.

As you all know, I review quarterback film. Kind of a lot (as in literally every Alex Smith snap the last two years, for starters). It’s a bit different reviewing film in the preseason, as all-22 isn’t available. As such, I can’t really gauge “missed shots downfield” or some of my usual in-depth stats. But I CAN gauge a few things: accurate/inaccurate throws, plays where the QB made multiple reads, bad decisions, and franchise throws.

Of course, this isn’t a science, and even those limited stats aren’t always a sure thing without seeing the whole field. But we do what we can, and ya’ll demanded a QB review (a Twitter vote was heavily in favor of a Smith/Mahomes review), so let’s do this. But first, here’s Alex Smith hitting Travis Kelce in stride 30+ yards down the field.

Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

All right, we’ll start off with the numbers. Then, let’s talk about the quarterbacks. However, we’re going to need to do that in sections: in the first section, we’ll talk about how each guy looked overall on film. Then, in the second section, we’ll talk about what each guy does better than the other guy. Because after all... you HAVE to compare them, right?

What I want you to remember throughout this article is this: the starting quarterback and the QBOTF played extremely well against a tough defensive opponent. And that, my friends, is good news.

Seriously, both quarterbacks played at a high level against the Bengals. In fact, there’s really not a ton to say other than that. I guess one could nitpick at the fact that Mahomes had more “multiple read snaps” than Smith, but the fact is that was mostly a reflection of more opportunities (not all, but mostly. We’ll get to that). And obviously, Alex didn’t have a “bad decision” stat, as he didn’t come close to throwing anything resembling a pick. Mahomes, in the meantime, almost threw his first NFL pick.

No excuse here for the rookie. He could’ve tucked and run, could’ve scanned the field, could’ve thrown it more quickly to Sherman (who was open for a second). Instead, he hesitated, and it nearly cost the team big time. The only thing that saved him was that it was a LB and not a CB, and the fact that even off-balance his velocity was enough to get the ball there before the LB could recover (velocity does save some bad decisions, but that doesn’t make them any better from a decision making standpoint).

Based on the numbers alone, a slight edge goes to Smith. On the flip side, for the sake of fairness, Smith COULD have a “bad decision” marked against him if I wanted to be picky. During the first drive for the Chiefs, Smith threw the ball well short of the goal line to Albert Wilson on 3rd and goal. He did this despite absolutely no pressure from the defense, and Wilson was (predictably) swarmed and tackled short of the end zone.

Smith could’ve held the ball much longer (he had a great pocket), but instead went with a zero risk throw that the coverage was trying to get him to make. Frankly, that’s the type of throw (or “non-throw” if you think of it from the perspective that he didn’t try and find something in the end zone) that can cost points. I don’t like that version of Alex. However, I just can’t bring myself to put it on the same level as a near-pick like the one Mahomes had, so it goes down as worth chastising, but not a marked “bad decision.” You follow?

Anyways, let’s talk about what the fellas showed on tape.

Alex and Patrick: Two QB’s slinging the rock

Alex continued a very, very strong offseason by running the offense with plenty of efficiency (like we’re used to) and making quick, smart, accurate throws (also like we’re used to). He looked really comfortable calling out coverages and potential protection issues, and was clearly in command of the offense.

In addition to this, Alex also made a few throws that we’re NOT used to seeing all the time, like the beauty to Kelce at the beginning of the article, or this touchdown throw to Demetrius Harris.

Like I said in the tweet, this is what you want to see from Alex. Despite good coverage by the defender, Alex was willing to fire the ball into a small window. Additionally, Alex put the ball out in front of Harris, allowing him to run to it and away from the defender. You know, throwing him open. That’s something Alex didn’t do enough of last year, and it was great to see happen. Also, there’s some pretty serious heat on that ball. Good for Alex, trusting his arm and his receiver. I like it.

Overall, what we saw from Alex was essentially a full quarter and a half of “good Alex,” without any real issues of happy feet. He had one throw sail on him (an unfortunate one as it would’ve been a decent gain in the red zone and perhaps led to a TD rather than a FG on the first drive), but was pretty close to perfect outside of that play and the too-quick throw to Wilson.

I won’t delve into it too much here, as we’ve seen Alex play well before. But it needs to be noted that he’s thrown the ball with great accuracy down the field in the preseason (with a limited sample size, to be sure. But still worth noting). He’s also looking more decisive and aggressive generally speaking, and his ability to direct the offense has never been more clear. In short, he looked great.

Mahomes, despite that rocky first throw, settled down quickly (he definitely seemed to have some jitters his first few snaps with the 1st string) and also operated the offense with efficiency. He got the throws out on time and accurately, and the zip he puts on short throws (without putting too much sauce on them) is good to see. He also helped convert multiple third downs and plays under pressure, and demonstrated repeatedly the ability to go through his progressions post-snap.

Here, Mahomes rolls right and, on the move, calmly goes through his first two reads. When they are covered, he moves on towards the middle of the field and sees Harris open. He then pulls the trigger immediately, makes an accurate throw on the move with a defender SCREAMING towards him, and is rewarded with 6 points. Nice execution of a nicely drawn-up play.

Patrick also demonstrated his “almost no one in the NFL can do this” arm talent on a few plays, one of which went largely unnoticed because of the result.

Throws like this are why I believe re-watching the game is so important to figure out individual performances. I glossed right over this play as an incomplete pass, figuring maybe Mahomes was off target or out of sync with his receiver.

When re-watching it, though, I realized this was easily the best throw I’d seen Mahomes make in a game to that point. 30 yards down the field on an ABSOLUTE ROPE, put up in the air for the receiver to snag and with way too much heat for the corner to get his head turned around and defend adequately. Seriously, the throw is amazing (we’ll see another angle in a second).

Unfortunately, a pair of things prevented the completion. First, the defender was all over DeMarcus Robinson as he went up for the ball, clearly interfering (no flag). Second, Robinson let the ball go right through his hands. I’m not blaming him, as he was getting mauled, but still, check this out.

That’s a franchise quarterback throw by Mahomes. Just incredible velocity and ball placement on what appears to me to be a back shoulder look. I love the fact that he seemed to see the CB was turned around and fired it in there. Aaron Rodgers has said that when he sees the back of a CB’s helmet he knows he can fire it in there before the defender can adjust, and that’s what happens here despite very good coverage.

But alas, a pair of things outside his control (a PI and a drop, albeit a REALLY tough drop) prevented him from collecting a well-deserved completion and 20+ yards on the stat sheet.

(Side note... plays like this are why I can’t just look at a stats sheet, especially from an individual game, and feel like I really know what happened with a quarterback)

Mahomes also demonstrated his improvisational skills repeatedly, using his legs as well as his arm to make things happen. One thing I enjoyed was seeing him not just scramble, but using trickery and the threat of passing as a way to make scrambling more successful.

Last week, Mahomes faked out San Francisco’s defense with his eyes into drifting away from Kemp before finding him in the end zone. here, he uses his eyes to keep the linebacker from committing to a scramble, which buys him just enough time to reach the edge. Mahomes really does have good instincts for how to get things down and move the chains.

So... who did what better? Smith vs. Mahomes

This will just be easier if I go one list at a time. Worth noting before we start... “accuracy” isn’t going to be on either guy’s list. Because both of them have been really accurate. Which is, again, just sublime.

Alex, from the limited sample size we have, is superior with regards to:

  1. Running the offense presnap, calling out protections and changing plays at the line of scrimmage after reading the defense.
  2. Maintaining proper footwork during his dropback and in the pocket when it’s clean. This isn’t even close.
  3. Quick decision making. While Smith isn’t exactly known for snap decisions, on plays where the read isn’t a single read, he seems more decisive than Mahomes, quicker to commit to a decision.
  4. Bad decisions. Granted, it was Smith who almost threw a pick last week, not Mahomes. But that wasn’t due to a bad decision. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen Alex make a decision that “uh oh” since becoming a Chief, at least with regards to risking a pick.

Generally speaking, I’d say Alex was overall superior between the two of them. He absolutely looked more polished and, well, like a vet who knows the system and knows exactly what needs to be done.

Mahomes (again, with a limited sample size) seems better in the following areas:

  1. Velocity and arm talent. Mahomes can put zip on the ball that Alex just can’t, regardless of what happens leading up to the release.
  2. Feel in the pocket. Though Mahomes has some really iffy footwork, he looks more natural navigating where to go and “feeling” where defenders are (and aren’t in and around the pocket.
  3. Improvisation and saving a busted play.

That third one isn’t really a knock on Smith. Mahomes looks better than a LOT of quarterbacks in the area of “saving” plays. The play that captured everyone’s attention highlights this trait.

I can say without exaggerating that very, very few quarterbacks in the NFL can make that play. And that’s where Mahomes’s primary advantage comes forth: he can make plays that other quarterbacks simply cannot. His arm talent and feel for avoiding rushers makes him absolutely terrifying when pressured. And that is one of the scariest things a defense can face. With most QB’s the answer is simple: pressure and you win. Not so with a guy like Mahomes.

Bottom line is simple: both Alex AND Patrick are looking really, really solid moving forward. And regardless of where you land regarding either of those players, that makes it a good time to be a Chiefs fan.