KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Alex Smith does not play the quarterback position in the manner of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. Smith has never been that type of quarterback and never will be.
Smith’s profile at the University of Utah and in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and now wearing the red and gold of the Chiefs is exactly as it seems.
He takes care of the football, plays smart, doesn’t take too many risks, generally throws the ball accurately and is not afraid to use his legs to make plays. His strengths as a pro quarterback would be ranked in this order of importance: 1. Intelligence, 2. legs and 3. his arm.
At his best, Smith performs like he has in the current five-game winning streak. He’s completed 66 percent of his passes (95 of 144), for an average gain of 7.7 yards per attempt, with six touchdown throws and no interceptions. More important is the statistic all starting quarterbacks are judged by: five victories in five games.
After Smith threw for 255 yards with two touchdown passes against Buffalo last Sunday, Andy Reid has nothing but praise for his quarterback.
“I thought he did a great job; it was one of his better games all the way around,” said Reid. “He made a couple checks in there that were beautiful and put us in good positions.”
The questions always come to Smith after a successful performance, and the inquiries always include the words “game manager” and “unable to throw downfield.” He’s handled these media observations so many times over the years that it’s almost possible to see the emotional/mental shield drop over him as he answers.
“Honestly, I could care less what people are saying about me,” Smith said. “I’ve been through that too many times to think twice about it at this point. You go out there and try to make the best decisions; I’m trying to execute the offense and spread the ball around, and take the best matchups. There are so many things that go into that, the situation, the play call, all of those things. You go and try and make the best decision.”
Reid is quick to defend Smith, and can’t imagine where his K.C. team would be without him leading the offense.
“We’re lucky to have him here,” Reid said. “He’s a heck of a player, great person, great leader and he does whatever we need. He gets it done.”
Being tagged as a “game manager” is not a derogatory description of Smith’s talents. His offensive production is going to have a great effect on the team’s fortunes, whether he gambles on the long ball or stays with more conservative, less risky and shorter passes.
“It is absolutely one of the toughest jobs a quarterback can have,” former NFL quarterback-now broadcaster Phil Simms told the Buffalo News last week. In the last years of his NFL career, Simms moved into a game-manager role. “Here’s what I mean: a team that wants its quarterback to manage a game is mainly going to run the football. When you’re a running team that automatically tells you as a quarterback that there are going to be a lot of third-down situations that you’re going to be asked to convert.
“Even when you’re running the offense well, you will get third-and-3 and third-and-4 quite a bit. What’s so hard about that? In the NFL, those are obvious passing situations. That means you have to be very precise to make the completions to keep a drive going. You have to be a highly accurate passer to play that style, because there’s just no room for error.”
Smith and the Chiefs offense has been carrying their share of the weight in the five-game win streak with few errors. They have produced yards (363.6 per game) and points (32 per game) and Smith has protected the football. He’s now thrown 283 consecutive passes without an interception, a Chiefs record and now the third longest streak in NFL history.
“A lot of turnovers happen when you’re forcing things and he stays very disciplined with that,” Reid said of Smith. “The stat is a huge stat, that whole plus-minus thing when it comes to turnovers.”
The Chiefs are plus-12 in the turnover ratio after 11 games, the second best number in the league behind New England’s plus-16. Smith has thrown three interceptions, but none since the third game of the season and his interception percentage is the lowest in the league at 0.8 percent. His low interception total goes along with the fact he’s not fumbled away the ball this season, even though he’s used his legs 55 times for 303 yards and been sacked 34 times.
“I think a lot of those in the pocket fumbles and things like that have been when guys are thinking different things,” Smith said. “You think the offensive line is doing one thing and they’re doing something else. A lot of it comes from communication, everybody being on the same page. And then I think just practicing good fundamentals. Try to be good – everybody that’s carrying the football doing it the right way.”
In 42 games as the Chiefs starting quarterback, Smith has turned the ball over 21 times (16 interceptions, five fumbles lost.) Four of the fumbles came on sacks where the ball was stripped away.
“As interceptions go, that was something he’s always been very good at,” Reid said. “He’s probably thrown the ball a little bit more here than he did (in San Francisco), so it was important that he maintained that. That’s how he’s wired. He understands it. He gets it. We always harp on the quarterbacks about ball security in the pocket, make sure you protect the ball in the pocket, so you don’t get strip-fumbles there.”
His three giveaways are the lowest total in the league for a full-time starter at quarterback. It breaks down this way:
- 5-A. Rodgers, T. Taylor.
- 6-T. Brady, B. Hoyer, C. Kaepernick.
- 8-A. Dalton.
- 9-T. Bridgewater, D. Carr, J. Cutler, B. Roethlisberger, R. Wilson.
- 10-J. McCown, P. Rivers.
- 11-S. Bradford, N. Foles, E. Manning, C. Newton, C. Palmer, J. Winston.
- 12-D. Brees, R. Fitzpatrick, M. Mariota.
- 13-K. Cousins, A. Luck, M. Stafford.
- 14-J. Flacco, R. Tannehill.
- 15-B. Bortles, Dallas QBs, M. Ryan.
- 17-P. Manning.
“As a quarterback you touch the football every play and you have such a big impact on the game depending on how disciplined you are,” said Smith. “Part of throwing the ball is making good decisions and being accurate. You have to be good with ball handling and when you are going to go down (on a sack or run.)”
Alex Smith has been good in the 2015 season with his ball handling, ball security on the run and his decisions when throwing the ball. It may not be the sexiest way to play quarterback, but it’s very effective and has given the Chiefs the chance to make something out of nothing in the 2015 season.