We got a glimpse last Friday night of what Alex Smith can do as a QB. In today's blog, I breakdown Smith's strengths and weaknesses as a starting quarterback. I show how his accuracy, athleticism, and ability to take care of the football helps the Chiefs' offense be more productive this season. However, I will also highlight Smith's limitations as a passer, and how the Chiefs will not be a high scoring offense because of them.
On this play the 49ers line up in a two tight end set. The down and distance is 2nd and 6. Alex Smith is going to throw a beautiful pass to Mario Manningham, who is lined up as the outside receiver at the top of the screen.
As you can see, the throw is very accurate. It is also thrown where the receiver can catch the ball and get yards after the catch. It was a very good route by Manningham, and he did an excellent job by running his route in front of the 1st down marker. However, it is the throw that puts him in a position where he doesn't have to adjust to the ball and is able to pick up the 1st down.
Now let's take a look at the next play. On this next illustration, the 49ers line up in a 4 wide receiver set. Moss is lined up as the outside receiver at the top of the screen. The down and distance is 3rd & 8. Moss will run an arrow route. The design of the route is for Moss to begin to run inside and then reverse the route to the outside.
As you can see, Alex Smith lays out a beautiful throw, which Moss takes for a 47 yard touchdown. Moss runs a very crisp route, but the throw that Alex Smith makes allows for Moss to get yards after the catch.
Smith excels at making very accurate short to intermidate throws. In the offense that Reid has him in now with the Chiefs, there is no doubt it will be a huge asset to have a quarterback that can make throws where the receivers can get yards after the catch.
On this next play, Smith shows off his athleticism and ability to throw on the run. As you can see, he rolls to his right as Davis motions across the offensive line on a tight end screen.
Smith delivers a very accurate pass, which is perfectly thrown in stride. Davis then takes a 3 yard throw and turns it into a 9 yard gain. This play was possible thanks to the excellent ball placement by Alex Smith.
Accuracy from the quarterback position is something this team has lacked since Trent Green. There is no doubt in my mind Alex Smith will be very accurate as a passer. His completion percentage in this game alone was an outstanding 94.7 % and 70% for the season. The Chiefs now have a QB capable of running an NFL offense, and Smith will give his receivers a chance to get yards after the catch. However, I have a growing list of concerns about Smith's game, and why I don't think this will be a high octane offense similar to the one you've seen ran by Trent Green in the early to mid '00s.
On this play, the 49ers line up in a 3 wide set. Manningham gets a step on the cornerback, but the throw just isn't there. By NFL standards, this is open. The ball needs be thrown to the outside shoulder (what nfl scouts call dropping the ball in a bucket).
As you look at this next image, you see this is a very poorly thrown football which leads to an incompletion. This is one of the things I see routinely show up on film when watching Alex Smith. Smith just seems to lack the touch on throwing, what NFL coaches calls, 9 routes.
On this play, you'll see Crabtree gets a couple steps on the defensive back. He runs a 9 route. Once again, the ball needs to be thrown over his left shoulder.
Crabtree has the corner beat; however, look at where this ball ends up. As you can see, it's thrown to the outside a little too far.
The Chiefs won't be getting big plays in the passing game unless its yards after the catch or broken coverage by the defense. If it requires Smith to execute throwing 9 routes, you're not going to get the same accuracy he displays in throwing short to intermediate passes. Can you still win games with this limitation? Sure. But can you go deep in the playoffs with this style? I'm not so sure.
Let's take a look at the next image. In this image, the 49ers line up in a run formation. Smith is going to run a play-action fake.
Smith eventually rolls outs and takes a sack. The question is: was it because of good coverage or because of Smith's inability to make throws in tight windows?
In this next image, it wasn't a smart play for Smith to take the sack. Moss was open on the play. It just required Smith to make a stick throw, which means Smith needs to fit this ball into a tight window. I often see Smith's unwillingness to make these types of throws down the field.
As seen on this same play, Smith's head is turned toward Moss. Smith sees Moss open, but it is a tight window throw. Instead of making the throw, Smith pulls the ball down, scrambles to the left, and takes a sack.
Lets diagnose another play in which Smith refuses to take his shots when they are there. The 49ers come out in a 12 man personnel formation ( two tight ends set).
As you can see, Smith will once again take a sack. Was this really good coverage by the Cardinals secondary, or is this just another example of how Smith is unwilling to make throws that requires him to anticipate the route?
As you can see, Smith has good protection. Both tight ends run a corner route and are open. It just requires Smith to anticipate a deep throw versus throwing to a guy who is running wide open. Smith's eye level looks toward both tight ends. Instead of making a big boy throw, he hesitates, pulls the ball down, and takes a sack.
One thing that will endlessly frustrate Chiefs fans this season is the fact that Smith will not make these types of throws. I don't anticipate a lot of downfield throws just because the Chiefs have a guy like Donny Avery on the team. Smith isn't the type of quarterback that will take chances with the ball, and that's a good thing. It also explains his low interception number he's had over the last 2 years. However, it also is a huge weakness because he will miss big plays through the air because he lacks a willingness to make throws in tight windows. If the Chiefs are going to be a pass first offense, they're going to have a lot of 12 to 15 play drives. It's very tough to score a ton of points relying on long drives for 4 quarters.
I think Smith is the type of quarterback you can win with. Nevertheless, he isn't the type of quarterback that will engineer a high-powered pass offense. In this league, all the great quarterbacks generate big plays through the air. It's why the 49ers pass offense last yr avg 174 ypg (yards per game) when Smith was the starting quarterback, but spiked to 242ypg when Kaepernick took over. Kaepernick not only made big plays with his legs but was willing to make the deep stick throws that Alex Smith wouldn't.
I personally think the Chiefs can win games with Alex Smith as the starting quarterback, but the formula for success needs to be a similar blueprint to the one the 49ers implemented with him over the last 2 years: a strong run first offense, a defense that can take the ball away, and a strong return unit that can change field position. Hopefully, Reid also understands this as well. If so, I think the Chiefs will be in store for a winning season.
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