K.C. Chiefs: The Alex Smith Enigma

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“How do I love thee…” I’ll start that list right after telling you what you’re doing wrong.

From the time Andy Reid got his man, Kansas City Chiefs fans haven’t known whether or not to laugh or cry. This is not a Matt Cassel story in which a general manager dictates to his head coach that, “this guy is our guy and he will remain behind center until I’m gone.”

No, this story is the story of an unwanted kid who never measured up to his first pick in the draft status then relinquished his starters crown to a pauper with eye popping arms and stats. So, the unwanted kid was banished to the roster of the worst team in the league but to a coach who wholly embraced him with wider than open arms.

To some, coach Andy Reid has become the Alex Smith apologist. To others, he’s simply his biggest fan and someone who’s looked forward to working with him since he was the first pick in the draft.

So, what’s the problem?

Well, if you ask any Alex Smith supporter they can tell you what the problem is not. Alex wins games. Over the past three seasons Smith’s record is 28-5-1 before last weekends game. Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated spells out the nature of those wins.

In those 34 games, he’s been held without a touchdown pass 13 times, including five times this season. He’s thrown three touchdown passes in a game three times through that three-season stretch; precisely once per season.

Smith himself admits to not caring about stats that make him look good instead opting for wins. In 2012 Smith was asked about his ability to win games even though his passing numbers were “pedestrian” and he responded,

I could absolutely care less on yards per game. I think that is a totally overblown stat because if you’re losing games in the second half, guess what, you’re like the Carolina Panthers and you’re going no-huddle the entire second half. Yeah, Cam Newton threw for a lot of 300-yard games. That’s great. You’re not winning, though.

At least Alex Smith seems to know who he is. He’s a winner who also appears comfortable with or unconcerned about, his own ranking among quarterbacks.

So, this problem… if you want to call it that… is not with Alex himself or with his relationship with his coach. The problem lies in the perception different fans have of him.

So, let’s take some recent fan perceptions and break them down.

From Sunday’s Live Thread during the games,

“Way overthrown” – Heilios

The past few games Alex Smith seems to throwing the ball low or at the feet of many of his receivers. True or false? I think there’s no question he’s struggling to make some throws that were there earlier this year. Another throw Smith is missing on is the “soft-touch lob” over the linebacker to the RB slipping into the flat. Getting the ball over the head of linemen and LBs is partly anticipation — measuring the ability of the LB — partly planning. Smith doesn’t seem to have the “soft-touch lob” in his arsenal right now but needs to add… or work on it.

Accuracy wise, Alex Smith is sitting at 58.1 and in 26th place in the league. The Chiefs should also beware that Philip Rivers leads the league in this category at 70.9 and the Chargers are the only team to break 70. Smith leaves completions on the field. Completions the Chiefs are going to need to make a big run in the second half of this season.

“Not for nothing guys, but Smith has thrown more TD passes than Manning tonight. I’m just sayin…” – Jason Seibel

Is Alex Smith throwing enough TDs? Well, the correct answer to that question always has to be no and it doesn’t matter how many TDs you’ve thrown. Peyton Manning averages 3 TDs per game. Drew Brees is not far behind. No other QB in the league right now averages more than 2 passing TDs per game. 18 teams in the league average 1 to 1 ½ TDs per game and the Chiefs are one of those teams.

Is TDs per game an important stat to consider when evaluating a QBs value? Matt Cassel had only 6 TDs in 9 games for the Chiefs last year but is that what was really the problem? Not by a long shot. Cassel also had 12 INTs in those 9 games and 66.7 rating. The answer to any comparison to Matt Cassel is that Alex Smith doers some many other things well that Cassel comes away looking buffoonish.

 

“I’m as down as anyone on Smiff, but Bowe had a shot at catching that and for all the money he gets paid he has gotta make those catches. But alas, seldom does he ever. I say trade him next off season if possible.” – 44WinMag

The question is “fit.” Does Alex Smith fit this offense? 100% yes. Does he fit with the other personnel around him. In the case of Dwayne Bowe, perhaps not.

Bowe has obviously struggled this year. Think back on his career and you realize he’s succeeded at a high enough rate that year after next he could have been considered the Chiefs all-time leading receiver… and with who, or whom… was it that was throwing him the ball? Mr. Buffoon, who was alluded to earlier, for one and you can include Tyler Palko, Kyle Orton, Tyler Thigpen, Quinn Gray, Damon Huard, and Brodie Croyle. A distinguished list beyond compare. Sadly not in a good way. Yet, Bowe has produced.

Which leaves a gaping question about why hasn’t Bowe been his old self this season?

Part of the answer to that could be fit. In Andy Reid’s offense, he requires his WRs to run impeccable routes in which they sit down in the defensive backfields zone gaps, make a catch and advance the ball. The only receiver who seems to have the speed to carry that off this year is newcomer Donnie Avery.

Is that Alex Smith’s fault? Not nearly but the responsibility does lie on Andy Reid’s shoulders to make Smith look better: ie succeed at the highest rate possible.

Also, opposing teams have been merciless about doubling Bowe and daring Smith to beat them by throwing to some other receiver. In that way, Alex Smith as has had limited success.

 

“Smith needs to make a quicker decision. Difference between Elite and Good is the ability to make quick decisions.” – Dave

At this moment, 3rd string QB Tyler Bray has the quickest release on the team. A quick release doesn’t mean better decision making. Making quick decisions doesn’t always mean making better decisions. Keeping from getting sacked can be the result of making good and quick decisions. Smith is in the upper third of the league when it comes to making positive pocket decisions that take advantage of his escapability.

Defenses have to respect Smith’s ability to run out of the pocket but it’s not his running ability fans are worried about. Fans want Smith the throw the ball down field.

 

Throwing the ball downfield to stretch the field and score on explosive plays.

Andy Reid spoke this week about practicing “explosive plays” and throwing the ball downfield. He made it clear the Chiefs are “not trying to not have explosive plays.” Gee, I’m glad he cleared that one up but it doesn’t show the team is moving towards that end. Smith has the ability to connect downfield and needs to do so more.

Christopher Hansen from Bleacher Report writes about how the Chiefs Andy Reid could get more out of Alex Smith including going downfield more often,

What is maddening about this approach is that Smith has demonstrated the ability to throw vertically with accuracy.

If Alex Smith and Dwayne Bowe don’t begin to connect during the last 6 games of the year, the Chiefs may indeed decide to move Bowe in a trade during the off-season but the Chiefs would likely be left holding the bag on any deal involving Bowe because of his diminished output this season.

The coaching staff needs to do a better job with Alex Smith.

Somewhere between the practice field and game day there appears to be a disconnect on the part of the coaching staff. Early in the season the play calling… as well as the types of things that Smith was being asked to do… were working. Of course, what anyone wants to see out of their team is consistency. Especially the kind that allows their teams to march downfield on a regular basis… or when they absolutely have to… and get a score whether it be a TD or FG.

For me, it’s this regular ability to score, or in this case, not score, that is disconcerting.

Hansen from Bleacher Report disagrees with me,

The offense has been consistent and the team has been winning games, so it’s hard for coaches to really see the necessity of making extreme changes. The Chiefs should implore Smith to trust Bowe and call more plays that ask him to take chances, but only if necessary.

Perhaps what needs to happen to gain the consistency that I don’t see, but Hansen does, is the very thing he is suggesting, getting “Smith to trust Bowe.”

I never actually foresaw a problem between Smith and Bowe. When Bowe announced before the year began, “once the season starts it’ll be bombs over Baghdad” I believed the Chiefs were purposely leaving the “Smith to Bowe” playbook on the shelf until the regular season would begin.

Looking back I could possibly understand Bowe’s excitement considering his comparing Smith to Cassel. However, now, I don’t know what’s wrong there unless Bowe has been experiencing a whole lot more of those off field smokey-car joyrides than we knew about prior to last week.

I don’t in any way want to make Dwayne Bowe the scapegoat for Alex Smith but I clearly was expecting more from that tandem than they have produced this year and Bowe seems like a very different person this season than in years past. His “mellow demeanor” has been something I’ve chalked up to a love affair with Andy Reid personally as well as his pass oriented system. What receiver wouldn’t like it, right? Now, Bowe’s mellow yellow demeanor has me wondering more about… other possible causes.

In the end, I was not just expecting more out of Bowe, I was envisioning so much more from Alex Smith.

During the past several years I have courted several QBs on paper to walk the hallowed halls where Lenny, Joe and Trent once paced. One of those QBs was Nick Foles. Foles was ultimately taken in the 2012 draft by the man now coaching the Chiefs. Foles can now been seen making “all the throws” in Philly and the reason I’m bringing him up is that Foles seems to be doing many of the things Reid would like to have Smith do. But he isn’t doing them for some reason.

Alex Smith doesn’t want to fail. I’m beginning to suspect his drive to “not fail” outweighs his “need to succeed.”

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. ~ Michael Jordan

Brett Favre threw more than 16 or more interceptions (averaging one each game of the season) in a season 12 times in his career. Favre also has thrown more touchdowns than any other QB in the history of the NFL, 508 while throwing more INTs than anyone else, 336. Yes, Favre only went to two Super Bowls and only won one of them but he is also considered one of the best QBs ever.

If the Chiefs are to realize their potential, this season and in seasons to come, Alex Smith needs to embrace taking more chances, Favre-ishly. Will there be losses involved in taking the path far flung?

Sure, but I don’t think many Chiefs fans can see that forest through these trees, especially with deforestation being what it is. And can you blame them?

This is not just about Alex. It’s about the coaches and Bowe as well. The San Diego game is a great time to make time. I hope the changes they make are in time.

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