Alex Smith torched the Patriots Thursday night, and his final stat line was very un-Alex Smith-like: 28-for-35, 368 passing yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, a 148.6 passer rating. Head coach Andy Reid’s and offensive coordinator Matt Nagy’s creative play design and blend of West Coast and spread concepts were tailor-made for the kind of personnel the Chiefs now have, but especially Alex Smith.
The Chiefs attacked the Patriots with a variety of formations and options. There was lots of motion pre-snap. There was read-option. There was run-pass option. There were jet sweeps and fake jet sweeps. There was pistol. There was play-action. There were plenty of crossing routes. And there was, well, this:
Rookie running back Kareem Hunt did a little bit of everything. Dynamic wideout Tyreek Hill lined up pretty much everywhere, including the backfield. Smith—who threw for more than 300 yards for just the seventh time in his 13-year career—deftly controlled all of it. He completed passes to eight different receivers. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith was literally perfect on his bread-and-butter throws: He completed all 21 of his attempts on passes that traveled nine yards or less through the air. But he did more than that, too.
Check out how the Chiefs used different options from the same formation. Several times, this two-tight-end set was optioned into a shovel pass.
But out of that same look, the Chiefs also ran a toss read to Hunt that went for a touchdown:
If it looked like the Chiefs were running a college offense, that was the idea. “One of the things we did when Alex came here was we went back and kind of looked at some of the stuff he had done in college and was familiar with,” Reid told reporters afterward.
Smith had plenty of help—per PFF, the Chiefs totaled 206 yards after the catch—but the variety pack Kansas City threw at the Pats set Smith up to not only do what he does well, but to chuck it deep when he had to, too.
Smith is a notorious dinker and dunker. Cian Fahey’s Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue 2017 says 24.9 percent of Smith’s throws last year were at or behind the line of scrimmage, which led the league. By contrast, just 8.16 percent of Smith’s passes traveled more than 20 yards, the third-fewest total in the NFL, barely trailing only Sam Bradford’s 8.09 percent and Jared Goff’s 8.02 percent.* Last night, Smith went deep four times, or just 11.4 percent of his throws, but he completed three of them, and two went for touchdowns—which matched the total of deep-throw TDs Smith had for all of last season, per PFF. His 178 yards on deep passes tied a career high, and his two TDs of 75 yards or more was as many as he’s had in his previous 12 seasons as a pro.
The first long TD was a 75-yard bomb to Hill in which the nearest Pats defender seemed to be situated somewhere in Rhode Island. The Chiefs stacked two receivers on either side, with Hill in front of tight end Travis Kelce to the right of the formation. The Patriots blitzed a corner from opposite side, but the Hill ran an out-and-up route and headed deep, while Kelce ran a simple post route that got safety Devin McCourty to step forward and get turned around. As a result, cornerback Stephon Gilmore seemed to think he was supposed to have help, but it wasn’t there.
McCourty alluded to this after the game: “I gave up one where I could have definitely played better,” he said. “But we gotta watch it and see.”
The second long TD was Smith connecting with Hunt for 78 yards when the running back was mismatched against linebacker Cassius Marsh, who’s typically a pass rusher:
Take note of the play design: The Chiefs sent Hill in motion before having him serve as a checkdown decoy, drawing a safety in from the back of the formation. All Hunt had to do was beat Marsh and there would be no one behind him. All Smith had to do was get Hunt the ball.
When Smith faced no pressure—which was often—he was 22-for-26 for 304 yards, 3 TDs, and a 153.8 passer rating, according to PFF. That left Smith with the kind of time to make terrific plays like this:
The Patriots don’t get beaten down very often, but the only guy to put them in the trash can like this in the last four seasons has now done it twice. The Chiefs traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes II as their quarterback of the future. For one remarkable night, Alex Smith showed the world that future can wait.