I wanted to write an article on the lack of involvement of Chris Conley, and really anyone not named Hill, Kelce, Wilson or Hunt, in the passing game. I went to a few different stat sites to find evidence to support my claim and I was a little surprised by what I found. I also stumbled on a few stats that made me change the direction of this article from the receivers to the quarterback.
I think it goes without saying that Alex Smith has had a great start to the season. Smith is playing like a man that has a first round draft pick breathing down his neck, a man that knows he could be wearing a different logo on his helmet as early as next year. If he is considering this season as an audition year, he is doing a great job impressing the judges, which consists of about a third of the GM’s around the league. Just how good of a start is he having? Let’s look at a few stats from the past four years to get a baseline.
|Year||Yards||Attempts||Y/A||TD/INT||TD%||20 yards||40 yards|
Now the same stats through the first three games of the season, as well as a projection for the remainder of the year. Note: the projections are based on converting the first three games into a 16-game season.
|Year||Yards||Attempts||Y/A||TD/INT||TD%||20 yards||40 yards|
|First 3 Games||774||84||9.21||20/7||8.3||6(7.1%)||3(3.5%)|
Smith is on track to have his best year in passing yards, yards per attempt, passing TD’s, INTs thrown, touchdown percentage and passes of 40 yards or more since he joined the team. Let’s be honest, the interception number will probably be higher than none. Last year the low mark was Tom Brady with two (through 12 games due to suspension. Dak Prescott had four through sixteen games). Smith’s current touchdown percentage would be 1.2% better than last years top finisher, Matt Ryan’s7.1 (Arron Rodger came in second with 6.6%). Yards per attempt is achievable, but unlikely; Matt Ryan led this category as well with 9.3 yards per attempt. The next three for this stat would be Brady, Cousins and Prescott with 8.2, 8.1 and 8.0.
With that being said, the biggest numbers that jump off the page for me are the yards per attempt, touchdown percentage and completions of 40 yards or more. These three numbers represent Smith’s ability and desire to stretch the field vertically this season. Rather than the repeated screen passes, check downs and first read shallow routes, Smith is going through his progression, finding the open man past the line of scrimmage as well as past the first down marker, and most importantly he is testing the safeties deep. In doing so, he is opening the defense for the underneath throws when they are need as well as clearing the middle of the defense for Hunt and the running game. Keeping the defense honest is something Smith has not been touted for in the past, but this year it seems like that it just what he is doing through three games.
Obviously, Smith is but one eleventh of the offense at any given time and some of the credit has to go to the players around him. Tyreek Hill is called the Cheetah for a reason. He may even be faster than a bullet leaving a pistol, well almost. He can take the top off a defense and make most corners look like the last sloth picked for a track meet. The obvious answer to Hill’s speed is cheat a safety to his side, right? Depending on who you talk to, Travis Kelce is the best tight end in the league and will make a defense pay if you pay too much attention to Hill. Ok, so cheat a safety to Hill and double Kelce, problem solved? Smith’s third favorite target so far this year has been Albert Wilson. Wilson has benefited from the attention Hill and Kelce demand with 12 targets for 10 catches, 77 yards and a TD. Say what you will about Wilson, he looks to be making the most of his opportunities this year. I am honestly a little upset about the fact he has given me nothing to be mad at yet so far.
The top three receivers listed above account for 62% of Smith’s 84 pass attempts. The next 22% of targets went to Chris Conley and Kareem Hunt with 9 targets apiece. I honestly thought Conley’s involvement was much lower, but he has actually caught 6 of his 9 targets for 98 yards, 2 catches over 20 yards and 3 first downs. I’m hoping that over the rest of the season, with teams paying attention to Hill, Kelce, Wilson and Hunt, Conley will be a bigger part of the offense. The guy makes big catches in big moments of the game, has great field awareness and, while not a receiving trait, is a great blocker when the run comes to his side. He is everything you ask for in a receiver, and we don’t start getting more involved, he will look to showcase his skills elsewhere when his contract is up.
Matching Conley in targets is Kareem Hunt. Though he has made more out of his opportunities catching all 9 passes for 137 yards, 1 catch over 20 yards, 2 touchdowns and 6 first downs. Hunt needs to give himself a pat on the back, as well as a round of I-Pads for his lineman. He was expected to be depth before being plunged into the starting lineup two weeks before the season started as Ware headed to IR. An entire article could, and has, been written about the amazing start Hunt has had in both the ground and air game. The remaining 16% of Smith’s attempts have gone to, West (3), Harris (2) DAT (2) Robinson (2) and Sherman (1). It is worth noting that all 10 of those passes were caught for 65 yards and a touchdown. Overall I would like to see the ball spread around a little more, but that will probably come on its own over time as teams concentrate on Hill, Kelce, Wilson and Hunt more so than they are now.
Whether this year is an audition year for Smith or he ends up as the signal caller for the Chief’s for another year to come, whether his stats follow the exact course he has set so far or he takes a dip in any area, as long as he, and the supporting cast, stays healthy, Smith is on his way to his best statistical season as a Chief, and in his career. So, will Smith continue playing like a man on fire or is he bound to cool off? Can Smith keep throwing to only 4 guys and expect them to stay on pace? Is Wilson ready to show us, the fans, what the coaching staff as presumably seen in him over the past 3 years? What is the most impressive play so far for Smith? And, finally, will Smith wear an Arrowhead on his helmet next season?
The answers: yes, no, maybe, the bomb to Hunt and no.
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