Alex Smith: How The Offensive Line Affects The Chiefs Quarterback

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Oct 13, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) hands off to running back Jamaal Charles (25) during the first half of the game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

While the correlation between pass protection and Alex Smith’s success cannot be denied, I was curious about the effect of the run blocking as well. After all, between Jamaal Charles in KC and Frank Gore in SF, Smith has been tied to successful running games in both cities. Could the effectiveness of the run game have as much (or more) of an effect on Smith’s game as his pass protection? I decided to do the same exercise but with run-blocking grades.

In 42 career NFL starts where his team has had a positive PFF run-blocking grade, Smith is 29-13 as a starter. That’s a .69 winning percentage (down about 10 percent from his positive pass-blocking games). In those 42 starts, Smith had the following numbers:

64.4% completions, 7.3 YPA, 61 TDs, 15 INTs

In the 25 career starts where Smith’s team had a negative run-blocking grade, he is 13-12. That’s a winning percentage of .52 (nearly the same exact percentage as the negative pass-blocking games). In those 25 starts, Smith has the following numbers:

61.6% completions, 6.7 YPA, 32 TDs, 18 INTs

The overall difference is pretty similar to the pass-blocking results. Once again, Smith is a good QB with quality run blocking and a .500 QB when the run-blocking struggles. The winning percentage isn’t quite as elite as it was for the good pass-blocking games, but it is still solid.

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The bottom line is that Alex Smith clearly needs a reliable offensive line to be a good QB. Without one, he becomes a .500 QB. Again, the Chiefs didn’t have a dependable O-line this season, and Smith looked average overall, finishing 8-7. If they want to improve, it has to start in the trenches.

If these stats interest you, I have included a chart below. In it, I break down Smith’s numbers by games with positive pass-blocking grades and negative pass-blocking grades; positive run-blocking grades and negative-run blocking grades; and games with both positive pass and run blocking, as well as vice versa. That way, you can see how offensive lines have affected his performance.

Then, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided I wanted a point of comparison. I wanted to see if all QBs were equally affected by O-line play. After some consideration, I decided to take a look at Joe Flacco over the past four seasons.

I chose Flacco for several reasons. First, over the past four seasons, he has had a similar number of starts as Smith has over the past five. Second, the Ravens’ winning percentage over that span is similar to that of Smith’s teams (when he starts), so the quality of competition is equitable. Third, Flacco was also seen as a QB that needed a good running game and defense to help him win, but then he got hot in the playoffs and actually won a Super Bowl during said stretch. So how would his numbers compare to Smith’s over this time span? In the chart, you will find his numbers below Smith’s. I wish I had the time to do every major QB in the NFL, but unfortunately that’s not the case.

So as you can see, Alex Smith’s overall performance is affected more by his offensive line play. While Flacco’s numbers are better when he has good offensive line play, he (or more accurately, his team) has shown the ability to win more consistently despite poor OL play. You can call that a compliment to Flacco or a knock on Smith, but the bottom line is that Smith clearly needs his front five to produce at an above-average level.

We can spend the entire offseason debating if Alex Smith is the right QB for the Kansas City Chiefs, but I don’t think Andy Reid and John Dorsey are planning to make a change any time soon. So instead of talking about the QB position/production, the focus really needs to be on improving the offensive line, because the past five seasons have proven that Smith can win a lot of games with a solid group up front. Unfortunately, though, without a good offensive line, it looks like staying around .500 is all that should be expected.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!