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Alex Smith: Smart And Accurate Or Captain Checkdown?

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On Friday night the Kansas City Chiefs new starting quarterback, Alex Smith, only played one series against the New Orleans Saints. He made the most of his limited playing time, leading the Chiefs to their only touchdown of the game. Smith’s final line was 7 for 8 and 68 yards. I came away from the game very impressed with Smith and very optimistic about the Andy Reid/Alex Smith combination for this coming season. I was not alone. A lot of fans and national analysts felt the same way.

However, not everyone was in agreement.

From the comment sections of our posts here at AA, to Twitter, and even some national “talking heads”, there are some that are voicing the opinion that Smith did not impress on Friday night. The universal complaint with this group is that Smith was afraid to throw the ball down field, wouldn’t throw to his wide receivers, and perpetuated his stereotype as “Captain Checkdown”.

My initial reaction to this criticism was one of disbelief. The guy took the ball right down the field, for crying out loud! However, I am well aware that I tend to have “homerish” tendencies. I have been accused of “drinking the Kool Aid” on more then one occasion. So I thought that I better go back and check the tape.

I’m going to start by apologizing for the “low tech” approach to this post. My loving wife hooked me up with NFL Rewind for this coming season for my birthday (plus Chiefs tickets, how lucky am I?). The plan is to use the “coach tape” feature to break down plays and show you all what is going on. However, it doesn’t include preseason games. So for today you get pictures I took of my paused TV with my cell phone. Not exactly cutting edge, but I think you’ll be able to see what you need to see.

Let’s get started.

Here are the nine passing plays that Alex Smith ran.

Play #1 – Shotgun formation – 3 WRs, 1 TE, JC in backfield

Situation – 1st and 10

Results – Screen pass to Charles for 6 yards

As you can see in the photo above the Saints dropped a lot of defenders back in pass coverage.  This is going to be a trend in these plays.  There are four defenders engaged with the offensive line and five defenders in view that are in coverage.  That leaves the two safeties dropped back out of view in coverage.  The result is a wide open middle of the field with Rodney Hudson running in the open as a lead blocker.  It appears to me to be a designed screen, not a check down, but even if it was it was the correct call.  Charles is wide open with a lead blocker set up.

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Topics: Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

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  • Jason Seibel

    Absolutely fanrastic tape analysis, Lyle. You are right on the money!

    • Jason Seibel

      Ruh ro Raggy! That should have been fantastic!

      • ladner morse

        I kinda like “funrastic.”

  • oldchiefsfan

    I have been hearing the talk this morning that AS has no arm, is afraid to throw to the WRs and is not capable of stretching the field.
    So let me get this straight….. The man leads us right down the field on short passes and Jamaal Charles running and we score on the 1st drive. I must be missing something here…. How is that a bad thing? How many times last year would we have cheered a drive that is now being picked apart? How many times would we have begged for a drive like that?

    The WRs will get involved. It was only the 1st pre-season game. In the meantime can we please just enjoy a QB who looked calm and who led this team on a long drive for a TD?
    Or am I just being a Homer?

    • GAChief

      Absolutely agree. How many times would we have taken a freaking field goal last year, and yet with his FIRST possession as a Chief, he leads the team to a touchdown. However, as Lyle says, the defenses will be much different when the real season begins. I do believe AS will be able to not only hit the receivers, but do so in stride for significant gains. That, coupled with his leadership and the same mistake-free decision making he continuously displays, will lead to a completely different feel to a positive offense. Although I am a homer, I actually believe the addition of AS and AR can, and will, work very well.

      Go Chiefs!

  • CHIEFFANINAZ

    Great job Lyle , I agree with you completely.I just love some of the negative comments about the Chiefs being predictable on offense after only one series by the starters.One guy even went as far to say ” just put a safety on JC and this offense would be shut down ” . Please just put a safety on JC and see what happens , are you kidding me. Also , if Alex Smith hits his receivers in stride ( which he’s already shown in the past that he can do) he doesn’t need to throw downfield ten times a game. Just let the Bowe , Baldwin , or Avery get a little seperation and his little “check down” throws will go for the same as a 40 yard bomb , it’s called YAC genius. GO CHIEFS

  • berttheclock

    Add my kudos to your fine analysis. Funny thing, considering the often “Draft Geno” from Micah, is there was criticism by Jets’ fans about too many check downs by GS and some even repeated the tale told by scouts about GS being reluctant to go long in college.
    However, the dumbest statements of all came from Warren Sapp on NFL Network, who, tried to make the case that the blending of Reid and AS was not going to work. He said Vick was a running QB, but, Reid had him pass 61 per cent of the time, whereas, AS is a game manager. Sapp even had Irvin agreeing with him. Some of these HOFers should just come on TV and have their personal game tapes of their splendid careers running, but, never ever try to run their mouths about trying to decipher the game of football.

    • Chris Tarrants

      Sapp drives me nuts, he insight is always so clogged with the typical effects of brain damage and they should seriously get him out of the booth, Cris Carter is the same way! They should be fired after the first time that they openly bash a player because fans tune in to hear about their team and this is what they get

      • jellyroll morton

        So they should just be fired… Because obviously theyre not fans of the Chiefs? Why is it that any1 who disparages the Chiefs automatically doesn’t know what their talking about despite having 2-3 decades of knowledge 1st hand being in the NFL between the 2 of them? It just blows my mind… LoL.

        • Chris Tarrants

          You didn’t read what I write apparently! They should be fired for negetive comments about any player. Any by definition means a player who plays football in the nfl no matter what team he happens to play for. Now that you gave graduatedthe 2nd grade let me go on further and say that I have heard several things come out of both of those talking heads about my chiefs players along with other players suck as Freeman, Romo,Tebow,Sanchez,Blackmon,Gronkowsjy and the list goes on and on. My point is that if you tune in to hear about you team but all you hear is how much they suck then I kind of makes you turn it off? I didn’t realize that ESPN was a patriots and Packets only network!

          • Chris Tarrants

            Hey that’s great his comment was deleted so now it looks like I’m arguing with myself lol

          • Michael Shaw

            Its ok as long as you don’t answer yourself!!!!!!!

          • Calchiefsfan

            What’s so strange about that? :)

    • Lyle Graversen

      I have to change the channel when Sapp gets going. I can’t stand the guy. It’s the same thing every time. He’ll state some general information that everybody knows, then he makes what he things is a bold statement while bugging out his eyes, and then laugh at his own comment. EVERY TIME!

      This would be a Warren Sapp take on the Vikings offense.

      “The Vikings have Adrian Peterson who is the best running backs in the league. So they are going to run the ball a lot because (gets all bug eyed) Christian Ponder is just not very good! (Laughs at how funny it was that he said Ponder wasn’t very good)”

      It makes me crazy.

    • micah stephenson

      Chase Daniels looks horrible. I’m still thinking having Geno on the team was a good ideal. If A.Smith gets hurt. He won’t win a game with our other QBs.

  • Larry Carr

    Who cares if people view Smith as a captain checkdown QB if its getting you 1st Downs. I view Tom Brady as a checkdown QB….b/c most of his passes are quick in and out routes/screen plays ect

  • berttheclock

    Geez, after suffering through too many years of “Captain Force the Pass” types, some are now complaining?

  • berttheclock

    I look forward to Dexter being used as the Eagles have used DeSean Jackson. Jackson, last week, was put out wide and ran a straight up field go pattern, where he blew past his coverage and Vick laid a 47 yard bomb on him for a quick strike TD.

    • Lyle Graversen

      That would be nice, but I don’t think Dex has the straight line speed of D. Jackson. Dex is more “shifty” and elusive in the open field. I think Dex is more of a “make you miss” kind of guy while DeSean is a “run right by you” player.

  • Jason Collins

    Thanks! Look at V Davis’s production and Gore’s rec total drop off in San Fran after he was benched for additional proof. He’s still an upgrade!

  • ArrowFan

    I love this post good job. It looks like all Smith did was take what the D gave him. I have no problem with that at all.

  • ladner morse

    I think the people who call him Mr. Checkdown based on the Chiefs first drive probably don’t know much about football. An important part of game planning is scheming the game or more appropriately put, sequencing the sets of plays throughout the game. That means:

    A. When we plan to do “this” and it is successful,
    B. Then they make their adjustments to stop us from doing “that,”
    C. Then we are ready to re-adjust what we’re doing automatically to once again be successful,
    D. Which causes them to make more adjustments to stop what we’re doing now.

    This kind of planning (scheming) is mostly done pre-game so coaches are never surprised when an opposing coach makes his adjustments.

    More importantly to the issue of whether or not Alex Smith was checking down in this game: fans only witnessed the Chiefs completing step “A” in this game scenario.

    This is exactly what the west coast system is set up to do: be successful early, suck the defense in, then beat them “wide” and “long.”

    That’s why you won’t hear players like Bowe or Baldwin complaining after their first preseason game because they know the plays that are going to feature them require a series of “set-up” plays. That’s all we saw on Friday: the set-up plays.

    After Bowe and Baldwin and Avery get involved, that’s also when Chiefs fans can expect to see a higher number straight forward running plays. Once the scheme gets to that point, the defense won’t be able to defend against anything the Chiefs are calling.

    To call Smith any kinds of names after one pre-season game series… it’s silly.

    • berttheclock

      I believe I once read that Bill Walsh entered the game with a set 25 plays to run. During the course of those, he and his staff would peruse the tapes and see what could be countered off of them.

    • Justin Jones

      that makes alot of sense. u have always heard coaches talking about running to open the pass of stretching the d to open the run. it is a game of strategy and we only saw the first move.

    • Lyle Graversen

      Ladner, we could have shut off the comments section for this post after this comment because you spot on nailed it. I couldn’t have said it any better and will probably quote it the next time somebody complains about Smith.

      • ladner morse

        Lyle, this was an excellent, excellent piece and I was only trying to augment what you were saying. I love it when you do game tape break down and think you’re the best at it. Thanks for the article. BTW… would you mind sending me email directions on how to make a post like this in WordPress where you have multiple pages with the arrows at the bottom of each page?

        • Lyle Graversen

          No problem man, I’ll shoot you something now. It’s easy.

    • Joe Myers

      Thumbs up !!

  • Daniel Mayfield

    Ok, take a long shot that can be be intercepted and make you look really bad or throw to a RB with a big blocker infront of him. Hhhmmm…..I think I’m gonna go to the the RB that is capable of splitting defenders, breaking through and gaining big yards. If he would have done that, Smith would have been completely different.

  • berttheclock

    That first drive consumed six minutes and 17 seconds. How many times last season would the defense of the Chiefs have loved to have been able to rest for six minutes and 17 seconds?

    • Lyle Graversen

      Great point!

    • Michael Shaw

      I would venture to guess about 64 quarters last year!!!

  • Daniel Mayfield

    On play #3 it wouldn’t hurt for him to go long but still, not a bad choice.

  • Chris Tarrants

    That defense isn’t to prototypical one that we will be facing but something tells me that our offense was showing only the bottom 6 vanilla plays that are on their list

    • Caleb Wylie

      Yes you are right, I think the same way, that first drive was played with most simple plays they had

      • Chris Tarrants

        Yep, just imagine in a real game where dex, Rico, and Bowe all run go routes DEEP, if one creates seperation it’s a td but if not then Fasano will be wide open in the middle with the db’s scrambling to get down field

  • Caleb Wylie

    I agree, but there was one play were Bowe run through the middle without coverage and he decided to throw the ball to the right side to Charles, thats the only play I think he could have done something else, but in general it was pretty good!

  • Daniel Mayfield

    #4, could have hit a short pass but give the man some credit! Maybe looking for a deep pass, then didn’t notice so meany D getting free and after him so he wanted to keep the ball safe. Hhhmmm…..3 things. 1, get sacked and fumble,

    • Chris Tarrants

      Or take off running and butt fumble?

      • Michael Shaw

        I am sorry, when did we get Sanchez on our team?!!!!!

    • Lyle Graversen

      Again, I have no problem with the play, but in the spirit of objectivity I have to concede that it was a play that critics could point to as AS11 playing it safe.

  • jellyroll morton

    Brilliant analysis… Hows this for a brilliant analysis? All opposing defenses have to do is take away the short pass and load the box. And your ASmith is done you meatballs.

    And while youre analyzing tape maybe should check the Giants game and see thats just exactly what they did. Just saying.

  • Patrick Allen

    Slide 2: There is also a man free and unblocked coming right at Smith. So while he has one on one coverage down field and is rolling away from the pressure, there is a dude in his face, meaning he doesn’t have time to wait for the downfield routes to open up.

    Slide 3: Yep. There is nobody remotely near Charles. also, Fisher is letting his man get a little too close for comfort.

    Slide 4: Smith could have gotten that ball out but he’d of had to do it quickly. Also, he should have thrown the ball away instead of running out a yard behind the los.

  • Patrick Allen

    On slide 6: I watched this over and over doing my own analysis. Baldwin is open, there is no doubt about that. Even if a Saints player was breaking to the ball, Alex can probably get the ball there first.

    BUT one thing I noticed is that Baldwin’s route was awkward. Heis only about 3 yards past the LOS and is actually curling back toward the LOS if you watch the tape. Well, drifting might be more accurate. He even appears to pull up a little bit before Smith delivers the ball.

    The design of the play is clear. Smith has two options. One option, Baldwin, is drawing the defenders away from Sherman’s side of the field. Though Baldwin is open, he has a ton of Saints behind him. Baldwin will have to turn the ball up field whereas Sherman is already running downhill and has one flatfooted defender in front of him. If that defender was flowing downhill toward Sherman, AS11 would probably have delivered to Baldwin. But since the defender is in man, he can’t, leaving room for Sherman.

    • Lyle Graversen

      I agree, I also felt like Baldwin gave up a split second early on play 7 when the ball went to Dexter. Like he knew Dex was the primary target on that play, so he didn’t have to finish since Dex was open. I’m worried about Baldwin making it at this point.

  • Patrick Allen

    Smith is hitting pen receivers and moving the chains. When teams try to come up and stop him from doing that, he is going to have favorable throws down the field. If he ignores those to throw at covered receivers underneath, then we can call him Captain Checkdown. But that didn’t happen on this drive.

    • jellyroll morton

      Look @ the Giants game dude… Captain Checkdown. The Giants did exactly that… Stuffed the box and took away the short pass. They basically dared him to beat them down the field and he couldn’t as he couldn’t make those throws. Youre only seeing what you want to see. And youll get more of the same when the season opens. Just saying.

      • Patrick Allen

        I am not talking about his offense in San Fran. He may have been Captain Checkdown then. I am basing my opinion off of what I see right now, in Andy Reid’s offense. So far, he is successful.

        • jellyroll morton

          Hell be running the same type of offense w/the Chiefs you meatball… ASmith is limited in what he can do as a QB.

          • Patrick Allen

            Is there any reason you are resorting to name-calling? I will happily debate you on Alex but I am not going to start insulting you.

          • jellyroll morton

            Calm down… Im only inferring that you have the intelligence of a meatball concerning FB. Stop being so sensitive… And what is there really to debate concerning ASmith? Just saying.

          • Patrick Allen

            “only inferring that you have the intelligence of a meatball concerning FB.” Which is insulting. If you said to that to me in a bar, I’d seriously consider punching you in the face. We have a great community here and we encourage debate and discourse but not name-calling, trolling or general internet douche behavior. People that do that get banned. So if you can manage to be civil, have at it. If not, we’ll have to remove you.

          • jellyroll morton

            No need to threaten me… I accept. I haven’t had a fight since moving here from New Orleans. I would love nothing more than to tell you to your face that you have the intelligence of a meatball. Where & when please… Ill leave now just for you. How about that?

          • Patrick Allen

            Clearly you aren’t able to communicate with other adults on the internet without acting like an ass. So you can communicate elsewhere.

          • berttheclock

            Patrick, “jellyroll Morton” is a fellow who used to live in Louisiana and is a huge Saints and LSU fan, however, for whatever reason he now lives in the Kansas City area. He loves to come on either college or pro football threads at the Star and attempt to turn the discussion into a Saints, LSU diatribe, while, denigrating anything within the Greater KC area. When confronted, he resorts to name calling, whether it be racist, sexist or ageist. He has used mostly movie monikers, but, lately, has switched to using names of the great jazz musicians. He is basically functionally illiterate on sports topics and I strongly suspect many other topics as well.

          • http://www.arrowheadaddict.com Patrick Allen

            Thanks for the background. He’s trolltastic and he’s also banned. Should he come back, he will be banned again.

          • Lyle Graversen

            You’re the man Paddy!

          • ladner morse

            I appreciate that Patrick. Thanks. Gotta draw the line somewhere.

        • Chris Tarrants

          Hey Patrick it looks like you have been arguing with yourself too lol

    • ArrowFan

      I guess all the D has to do is shut down the QB and then the O is forced to punt the ball. Kind of like we did to NO. How is that for a FB brake down:)

  • Daniel Mayfield

    #6, I would have went for Baldwin but there’s nothing wrong with his choice. Some ppl/fans can complain about so many things. Didn’t Sherman pick up 8 yards? Can’t tell but if he would have threw it Baldwin (which many ppl aren’t sure about how good he his), and there were defenders behind him, they could have easily hit him hard and made 6-8 instead of 7-8 game for Smith. Not a bad choice but not a great choice…..50-50 IMO.

    • jellyroll morton

      This is what raises my dander about the JoeMontana comparisons… He didn’t have the cojones to make that throw to Baldwin. You think ASmith makes that throw through that window to DwightClark like JMontana did? Hell no… No nuts.

  • Daniel Mayfield

    #7, I agree. Go for a WR. BUT, might have been a call by the OC for Dexter. The WRs could have blocked for him. Gotta remember, Reid had short-fast guy he had with the Eagles. So……who knows what the plays will be called.

    • Lyle Graversen

      My gut says he saw McCluster and Baldwin side by side and went to Dex over Baldwin because he trusts Dex to catch it more. Pure speculation, but you can only stone hand so many passes in practice before a QB takes notice.

  • Brandon

    The second play Appeared to be a designed play to me. The linebacker was completely unaccounted for on the bootleg and Smith hit the receiver who was rolling toward the same sideline. Either way, it happened so fast the decision to pull the trigger for a nice gain was impressive.

  • steve james

    One of the things I find so humorous about this is we are taking hours to break down the tape & his decisions. Seems you can’t come to a consensus on weather he made the right calls. I say he did. He had seconds not hours to make the calls & the result was a touchdown. That is all the validation of his choices I need! Go Chiefs!

  • chiefridgy

    Thanks for breaking down those plays for us Lyle. Smith took what the defense gave him and capitalized on it. Touchdown Kansas City!!! Go Chiefs!!!

    • Lyle Graversen

      Happy to do it!

  • Battlespeed

    Give me a QB who checks down – and does it properly. The problem is, we had a “checkdown QB” who didn’t do it well, and people simply don’t comprehend the vast difference between a QB who checks down smart and one who doesn’t.

    Great analysis, but as far as some people are concerned you might as well try to explain astrophysics to your cat.

    • Lyle Graversen

      Great comment Battlespeed, and I am complete agreement.

  • Justin Williams

    I like the fact he didn’t take chances when he was coming into the red zone. Although it’s preseason it still shows me that all those bone headed turnover last year are a thing of the past.

  • RepOurChiefs

    He moved the ball efficiently. ..not like they were check down passes on a 3rd and 13 and checked it down 5yards from scrimmage. Smh..some ppl just need to complain like if that guy brought home Halli Berry or Sandra Bullock. ..miserable momma gonna find something about her to complain about. Shup up and watch ppl! #youhaventseennothingyet

  • Michael Shaw

    Great analysis Lyle!!! I am confused, where are all the negative nancy’s your post referred to? I don’t really see one in here, well besides the guy Paddy nixed from the site permanently!!!!!

    • Lyle Graversen

      They’re definitely the vocal minority, but they’re out there. If you go to the postgame piece that Andrew put up right after the game there was a poster or two on there that felt that way and I’ve come across several on Twitter.

  • Margaret Healy

    You know who else was Captain Checkdown? Joe Montana. Sitting by the Bay still cheering for Alex. Shut the talking heads up!

    BTW, Kap did not lead the team down the field to a TD. Like the guy, but let’s be honest.

  • Larry Devore

    tok ‘em to the endzone. who cares if he dinks and dunks down the field.

  • Brody Hall

    led us down the field and made it look easy. Only ball that was not a caught was the one he threw away like a smart QB. who cares if he didnt hit a 30 yard strike… end result was a TD and that’s what count. If by chance Alex Smith reads this… DO EXACTLY WHAT YOU DID SIR! Anyone who wants to try to poke holes in it is dumb. In fact id rather take time off the clock like they did rather than score in two plays… but thats just me

  • Montez K.

    I was impressed by A. Smith because he had plenty of opportunity to do something STUPID, but instead chose the right decision. try to remember the last Chiefs game, preseason or not, where the Kansas City Chiefs marched right down the field and scored? Thought so. Alex Smith is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Chiefs, smart and sound decision maker. Even if he had some “gunslinger” in him, why would he display that in the preseason? No point, no possible gain. Get out there and build rapport with your teammates and build confidence, that’s what the preseason is for! Keep doing what you do best #11, GO CHIEFS!

  • mike trujillo

    Ok…. Niner fan here, I watched Alex for years and he has the talent to lead your team to the playoffs. Many narrow minded 49er fans tagged him Mr check down and said he had no arm. In his first five years under horrible system and Head Coaches he had no chance. Under coach Harbough system with great coaches he had plenty of options. The “safe” pass is what any smart QB will take when its wide open. AS is a smart QB and when the D starts to move up to prevent him from marching down the field he will pick apart the over the top 25-30 yard area in which he is very accurate… seen him do it a million times to V.Davis. Where he has he issue is the wheel route deep on the sideline. He misses on 7 out of 10 attempts. Hope to see KC playing my NINERS in the Super Bowl…. Kaep was the right choice…. Harbough knows talent….. Good luck AS and KC

  • mike trujillo

    Ok…. Niner fan here, I watched Alex for years and he has the talent to lead your team to the playoffs. Many narrow minded 49er fans tagged him Mr check down and said he had no arm. In his first five years under horrible system and Head Coaches he had no chance. Under coach Harbough system with great coaches he had plenty of options. The “safe” pass is what any smart QB will take when its wide open. AS is a smart QB and when the D starts to move up to prevent him from marching down the field he will pick apart the over the top 25-30 yard area in which he is very accurate… seen him do it a million times to V.Davis. Where he has he issue is the wheel route deep on the sideline. He misses on 7 out of 10 attempts. Hope to see KC playing my NINERS in the Super Bowl…. Kaep was the right choice…. Harbough knows talent….. Good luck AS and KC

  • Danny W

    PorkChop.
    I think the Saints defense is pretty soft. He found the safe choice on each play, does that mean he doesn’t have the ability to make the unsafe one? I don’t know. I was hoping you would show the screen in which he took a sack (ran out of bounce behind the line of scrimmage). He had two guys open down field. One of them was pro bowler Dwayne Bowe. How will he do against better defenses? Hopefully better than what he showed against the Saints. If not we may get locked down. Not trying to nit pick but we have to rise to the challenge or crumble under the weight of it. Come playoff time he has to make the right throws to beat the best defenses or we lose and were back toe square one. I don’t want a quarterback who can only make the safe throws.

  • jimfromkcj

    I think that anyone making any kind of judgement on one series of downs is either stupid or terribly ignorant of the game of football. I also remember Cassell showing a glimpse now and then that he was capable of playing good football. Consistentcy is what we need to look for. I believe we will get it from Alex. Some may remember when everybody was on the Geno bandwagon I was suggesting we get either Matt Moore or Alex for an interim QB until we could draft a franchise QB. So far I am pleased with the pick. I don’t expect a Super Bowl with Alex, but we may be headed in the right direction if we can have the fortitude to get the cap in line. That will mean we may have to get rid of some popular guys who are vastly overpaid.

  • Darrell Gullatt

    What do you think of his Captain Crackdown title after a year with the a Chiefs?

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