Alex Smith can’t get no respect. Despite his success over the last 3 seasons (31-11-1 as a starter) with 2 different teams, he can’t seem to escape the “game manager” label.
The reasons for this label aren’t entirely unfounded, though. Alex Smith, by and large, has been a game manager, especially over the last 3 seasons. This isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. However, when the opposing team is scoring tons of points, playing it safe doesn’t usually get the job done.
At his worst, Alex Smith is too careful with the football. He’ll initially look for his primary receiver, and if he isn’t wide open, Smith will throw it to the flat instead of working through his progressions where big plays are there to be made. Sometimes, he’ll even take check-downs before downfield route combinations have had a chance to develop. Too often, he’ll hold onto the ball or throw it away if there’s even the slightest hint of danger near his receiver.
From a physical standpoint, Smith’s throwing base is inconsistent. Sometimes his feet will end up too close together, especially if he has to move in the pocket. This diminishes his accuracy and leaves him unready to deliver the ball late in plays.
So why is Smith a top 20 quarterback? Well, there is some value in making very few mistakes. Smith has thrown only 17 interceptions in his last 44 starts. He also has 62 TD passes to go with those 17 picks, which is a pretty good TD-INT ratio and suggests that Smith is actually something more than just a game manager.
Every once in a while throughout his career, Smith has shown the ability to thread the needle and complete passes into tight windows in key situations. Look no further than his game-winning TD pass to Vernon Davis in the 2011 NFC Divisional Playoff game against the Saints. But don’t forget about the NFC Championship the following week where Smith refused to pull the trigger on tough throws, leaving the offense in neutral for most of the game. These two performances represent a microcosm of his career.
The good news for the Chiefs is that Smith played out of his mind at the end of the 2013 season. Over his final 6 games he completed 66.5 percent of his passes for nearly 8 yards per attempt, 16 touchdowns, 3 interceptions and a 111.7 passer rating. This didn’t happen via a bunch of check-downs. Smith finally started pulling the trigger on downfield throws. He thrived in Andy Reid’s system, and if he can play the entire 2014 season like he did at the end of 2013, the Chiefs will legitimately challenge the Broncos for the AFC West title.