You might remember last week, in the exit interview, when Alex Smith talked about watching every play from this past season to learn and better prepare for 2015.
It was a strange year for Smith. In some ways, he was better. He completed a higher percentage, threw fewer interceptions and, despite the storyline, threw for more yards per attempt when compared to last year. He did all of this despite a largely wretched offensive line — looking at you, guards — and an NFL Europe group of receivers.
But Smith also seemed to completely eliminate even the possibility of throwing downfield at times, continued his annoying habit of occasionally missing a big play, and had three horrendous games in losses that might have put the Chiefs in the playoffs.
As a bonus, he became something like The New Billy Butler — the local athlete of whom everyone has a strong opinion and no interest in listening to the other side.
It’s interesting that his Total Quarterback Rating — and, yes, we’ve all just sort of decided to pretend we know what this is — in 2013 and 2014 is exactly the same.
Anyway, in part of that exit interview Smith talked about expecting to see “missed opportunities” in the video autopsy of his season. That’s true for any quarterback, of course, but especially important for someone like Smith.
So, over the last week or so, I watched every one of Smith’s dropbacks this season to see if I could find some plays he’ll pick out as missed opportunities. It was interesting on a lot of levels. You get a better feel for trends and tendencies and that kind of thing when you’re able to inhale the whole season in a (relatively) short period of time like that.
Some of the things that stuck out:
The biggest thing, and this will surprise nobody, is the offensive line. I know we talked about this at length during the season, but holy crap there were a lot of plays that just had no chance of even getting started because someone on the line got beat immediately.
Smith got most of the blame for the lack of downfield passing, and that’s fine, he’s the quarterback, but a lot of it is in the schemes and play-calling. Lots of snaps where downfield isn’t an option. Which is how it should be with this personnel.
There was a lot of talk about how the Chiefs needed to get the ball to Travis Kelce more. It’s interesting that some of the plays that most stuck out where spots where Kelce should’ve gotten the ball.
One of the most frustrating parts of watching Smith is his occasional bouts of inaccuracy. Pro Football Focus’ calculations — which take away drops and spikes and throw aways — had Smith’s accuracy percentage at 79.8, behind only Drew Brees, so he’s a remarkably accurate passer, lack of deep passes notwithstanding. But, and maybe it’s like this watching any quarterback for a full season, the missed passes sure did seem to come in important moments.
There are, despite what you may have heard, plenty of excellent passes in the video, too. Smith is a good quarterback and, more to the point of the local team, the best the Chiefs can do. But when you have a B student, you have to get some extra tutoring to ace the SAT. The Chiefs have to get better pieces around and, more importantly, in front of Smith.
Anyway, Smith obviously could’ve been better in 2014, and here are some examples. In addition to all the usual disclaimers about watching video without knowing assignments, for this blog post I concentrated on the Chiefs’ losses.
And away we go:
At home against the Titans, down 7-3 with 38 seconds left in the second quarter. First and 10 at the Chiefs’ 2.
The decision to go down field is a good one; the execution is horrendous.
At home against the Titans, down 17-3 with 6:41 left in the third quarter. First and 10 at the Chiefs’ 14. Another terribly thrown deep ball, and look at how open Travis Kelce is.
At Denver, down 7-3 with 11:54 left in the second quarter. Third and 4 on the Broncos’ 9. Watch Kelce pop open in the end zone, and Smith throw short to Knile Davis.
At Denver, down 21-10 with 7:32 left in the third quarter. Third and 3 on the Broncos’ 14. Watch Kelce, at the top of the screen, even more open this time.
At Oakland, down 14-0 with 7:27 left in the second. Third and 4 on the Raiders’ 5. Dwayne Bowe shakes loose and has a step on a linebacker. Smith throws short. Not pictured: the ensuing field goal.
At Oakland, tied at 17, 9:38 left in the fourth. Third and 3 on the Raiders’ 7. Smith rolls out to his right, Bowe is open, but Smith waits too long and throws it away. At the time, you can argue that the Chiefs just needed points, that taking the lead was too important to risk there. But a touchdown would’ve changed the game.
At Arizona, up 14-9, 5:37 left in the third. Third and 20 at the Cardinals’ 29. This is and for so many reasons, particularly that Smith is throwing short on third-and-forever with the Chiefs already in field-goal range. He just didn’t see the linebacker come underneath on the stunt, and Smith’s whole game is built around avoiding these kinds of mistakes. You probably don’t want to know that Bowe was open downfield, either.
At Arizona, down 17-14, 14:22 left in the fourth quarter. First and 10 at their own 28. Arizona’s defense — a very good one, it should be noted — makes a mistake here and lets Travis Kelce go unchecked. There’s pressure on Smith, so this isn’t an easy play, but it looks like he bailed on the play a bit soon, and could’ve kept his eyes down the field after initially breaking pressure and heaved it a wide open Kelce.
At Arizona, down 17-14, 6:22 left in the fourth. First and 10 at the Cardinals’ 47. Everything’s there. Good play call, good execution by the receivers, the play opens just as the Chiefs hope it would Just a crap throw by Smith.
Home against the Broncos, down 28-10 with 12:25 left in the fourth. First and 10 at the Broncos’ 28. Jason Avant open down the seam.
At Pittsburgh, tied at 3, 12:45 left in the second quarter. First and 10 at the Steelers’ 17. Kelce’s open.
At Pittsburgh, down 10-6, 33 seconds left in the second quarter. Third and 4 at the Steelers’ 15. This is the play where De’Anthony Thomas is just shy of the first down marker, and the Chiefs were then stuffed on fourth down. But watch Bowe, breaking open in the end zone, top of the screen.
At Pittsburgh, down 10-6 with 7:37 left in the third quarter. First and 10 at the Steelers’ 31. Albert Wilson open, across the middle and going deep.
Again, it wasn’t all bad for Smith. All things considered, I actually think he had a decent enough year. But the whole thing is about getting better, and these are some of the plays where Smith knows he can get better.
These are all taken from losses, and most of these plays are the kind that can help change a game. Win one more game, and we’d have been talking about a playoff team.