We’ve been discussing Alex Smith a lot for the past week, and we promise this won’t turn into some kind of Alex Smith hate blog, but there is a good reason why Smith has been at the forefront of Chiefs coverage heading into the bye.
Smith holds the key to the Chiefs season moreso than the defense or Jamaal Charles. Smith’s play has been less than spectacular, which, as Tom Fontana pointed out yesterday, has led to the Chiefs winning in spite of him as opposed to because of him. Sure, he’s better than Matt Cassel, but this doesn’t mean he is the reason why the Chiefs are winning.
This isn’t to say he needs to change his style of play or become something more than a game manager. No, this is to say he needs to be a better game manager than what he has been.
Pro Football Focus agrees with this idea, naming him the Chiefs weakest link by their grading system (-6.6).
As the poor results under Matt Cassel showed us, Smith’s achievements are still notable, but it means when the schedule toughens up (as it will over the next month), Smith’s flaws are likely to be exposed. Smith is our fifth lowest-ranked pure passer and it’s easy to see why, with a style that is more reliant on dumping the ball off than making plays downfield. It’s telling that his yards-in-the-air percentage of 44.9 is the lowest in the league, meaning the Chiefs have the highest percentage of yards after the catch of any team in the league.
Again: This isn’t an Alex Smith hate rant.
This about the need for Smith to play better if the Chiefs are going to win the AFC West. Smith is going to have to make plays downfield in a smart and safe way – some may say in a “game managing” type way. Completing only 14.3% of his throws more than 15 yards downfield is awful (41st out of 42 quarterbacks) and has to be improved upon. If Nick Foles can complete 25% of his passes 15 yards or more downfield (7th in the NFL) without throwing an interception then it is possible for Smith to make plays in the passing game without hurting the Chiefs.
Smith is capable of leading the Chiefs to an AFC West title, but his current play is not good enough. PFF’s numbers only reinforce the idea that he has to be better in the second half.