Don't Kill The Mellinger

Alex Smith was bad in the Chiefs’ loss to Arizona, and here’s why

Chiefs QB Alex Smith
Chiefs QB Alex Smith

So much of the talk from the Chiefs losing in Arizona on Sunday is about the officials. Two close and important calls went against the Chiefs, and even if that’s not the reason the Chiefs lost, it’s a lot easier to talk about than the real problems.

If you’ve read this blog or my columns^, you know that I’m positive about Alex Smith. If you put all Chiefs fans on a spectrum, my opinion about Smith is probably higher than 60 or 70 percent of them. We don’t need to go over the reasons here.

^ Thank you!

But Smith was bad against Arizona, probably his worst game of the season (though he was terrible against the Titans, and also bad against the 49ers and Raiders).

I thought with the focus on the officials, and now whether Jamaal Charles will play on Sunday^ it would be worth a minute to look at a few key plays where the Chiefs needed Smith to be better.

^ Here’s a hint: he will.

As always, all the disclaimers about making judgments off what we see and without full knowledge of assignments apply here.

In chronological order…

▪ First and 10, 12:52 left in the third. Chiefs lead 14-9, ball at the Arizona 45. The play action fake sucks the linebacker up a bit, which gives Kelce some extra room on a cross route over the middle. Smith looks like he wants to throw to Albert Wilson on an out route across the field, but it’s well-covered. He starts to run to his right when Ryan Harris is pushed back in the pocket, but even then, Kelce is open. As we’ll see, he made a tougher play in a similar situation later.

▪ Third and 20, 5:37 left in the third. Chiefs lead 14-9, ball at the Arizona 29. This is confusion. After the game, Smith admitted he just didn’t see Cardinals linebacker Alex Okafor until it was too late. This is a good design by Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who will probably be a head coach soon. Okafor is a good athlete with very good hands, and he makes a terrific play on the ball with perfect timing. But from Smith’s perspective, this is just an inexcusable mistake on a few levels. His whole game is built around avoiding mistakes like this, in not being surprised by a stunting linebacker. And he’s throwing short on third-and-forever, with the team already in field goal range, so this is essentially a pass that can only end badly.

What’s worse at the moment Smith threw the ball, it appeared that Bowe may have been open, downfield.

▪ First and 10, 14:22 left in the fourth. Chiefs trail 17-14, ball on their own 28. Watch Travis Kelce break open at the top of the screen, when both defenders let him go, ostensibly expecting safety help. The protection isn’t great, and Smith steps up into the pocket perhaps a split-second before he could have thrown. But this is a case where Smith may have bailed on the play too soon. If he anticipated the coverage breakdown, the pass is there. Even if he didn’t, after stepping up, he could’ve thrown to Kelce instead of shifting to his right. These are split-second decisions, and there is a lot going on that makes this far more difficult than it looks on the computer, but that’s why quarterbacks are paid a lot of money.

▪ First and 10, 6:22 left in the fourth. Chiefs trail 17-14, ball at the Arizona 47. This is just a bad throw. The play is set up nice, three receivers to Smith’s left creating confusion and a little hesitation from the Cardinals’ defense. Dwayne Bowe runs a good, patient route, pausing for a moment as if he’s blocking for De’Anthony Thomas on a screen and then running a fade down the left sideline. The space is there, but Smith overthrows it out of bounds.

There were good moments, too, of course. Quickly, here are four:

▪ This is that toughness that Andy Reid is always talking about, staying in the pocket after Zach Fulton is beat by Tommy Kelly, who (cleanly) clobbers Smith. The ball gets out, though, and it’s a 26-yard gain.

▪ Nothing’s open downfield, so Smith breaks through the line — pretty decent protection — and scrambles for 21 yards. Something out of nothing.

▪ More good things with his legs. The Chiefs did a good job early of moving the pocket, and here Smith rolls to his right, and doesn’t give up on the play when his initial reads are smothered. He may have had Anthony Fasano about five or 10 yards down field (and a conversion on third down), but he also has Jason Avant in single coverage deeper down the field. Smith trusts his receiver to make a play or at least keep it from being picked off. It’s the Chiefs’ longest pass play of the year.

▪ This is Smith’s best play of the day, and one of his best plays of the year. He feels the rush, and drifts to his right for more time, waiting for the exact right moment to throw (on the run) through a tight window against two defenders in coverage, putting the ball precisely where only his guy can get it.

Smith had a bad game in Arizona — and we haven’t even talked about the two-minute drill, which was screwed up a few different ways — but this is the kind of play that makes me stay positive on him overall.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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