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.