Is this the year Alex Smith finally shrugs off his short-passing tendencies and takes shots down the field?
The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback has long been allergic to distributing the football to his receivers and has been the worst in the league at connecting on deep passes for years now.
Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders—one of the best stat men in the business—has documented Smith’s struggles for years. He came up with two alarming stats that clearly illustrate the quarterback’s struggles: Smith was sacked more on 3rd down than any other passer in the league between 2011-14 (13.4 percent), and was also the worst at throwing beyond the first-down marker on 3rd downs—by a tremendous margin.
The best QBs tend to throw beyond the sticks on 3rd down.
Alex Smith is playing his own sport. pic.twitter.com/jOFjFGjoqY
— Scott Kacsmar (@ScottKacsmar) August 7, 2015
The Chiefs are well aware of Smith’s apprehensive nature when it comes to pushing the ball down the field and have taken great pains to encourage his development in this area for the 2015 season. Since June, we’ve been hearing about how he’s going to take more shots deep this year, and the arrival of free-agent receiver Jeremy Maclin has been a big part of these discussions.
Maclin has recently stated he’s pleased with the way he and Smith have connected thus far in camp.
“I think me and Alex are off to a great start,” Maclin said (h/t ESPN). “I think our comfort level with each other is pretty high. It kind of feels like this is not our first rodeo. I think we’ve hooked up a lot in practice on timing, on plays where he is just kind of throwing the ball and trusting me to make the play and stuff like that. I think we want to continue to get better, but I think we’re off to a great, great start.”
Transitioning to a mindset where Smith is comfortable throwing deep won’t be easy. On this note, offensive coordinator Doug Pederson addressed what he is trying to do to facilitate the change.
“You do want to be aggressive,” Pederson said (h/t ESPN). “You’ve got to stay on the edge of aggression. When the throw is there, you make it. That’s part of what we teach…We’ve got to sort of retrain, rethink just a little bit. But going from that first year to where we are now with (Smith), now he sees that kind of stuff. It’s just a matter of cutting loose.”
Unfortunately, cutting loose isn’t something Smith has ever felt comfortable doing during games in his NFL career. Of course, leave it to Dave Rappoccio (@DrawPlayDave) to put this all into perspective for us with an outstanding flowchart.
In the end, despite what we’re hearing from the Chiefs, it’s hard to believe Smith is going to suddenly develop into a gunslinger after spending his first nine years as the most gun-shy quarterback in the NFL. More than likely, once defenders start crashing the pocket, Smith will be more inclined to throw the ball away or take a sack, as he has done so often in the past.
He’s never had a strong NFL arm and doesn’t trust himself to fit the ball into tight windows. This old dog isn’t going to suddenly develop a cannon, and he isn’t likely to master the new trick Kansas City is trying to teach.