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Football Outsiders: Key To Alex Smith’s Success In Washington Will Center On Curl Routes

NFL: New York Jets at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

This year I had the chance to ask Football Outsiders a few questions on behalf of Hogs Haven. Football Outsiders provides in depth stats that you can’t find anywhere else. There signature metric is DVOA which not only takes into account statistics but it measures efficiency and accounts for circumstance. They don’t just aim to through out numbers though their goal is to provide objective writing and analysis backed by their research to improve and change that way football is written about. Their work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, ESPN, SB Nation, CBS Sports, and Bleacher Report. You can check out all of their products, and the 2018 Almanac here.

Here is today’s question and answer:

Hogs Haven: Kirk Cousins is gone and Alex Smith is in DC what does the Redskins offense and Smith specifically have to do to replicate Smith’s career best year and succeed overall?

Football Outsiders: Smith got some press for throwing more deep passes in 2017, but that was somewhat overblown. In 2016, he finished next to last among qualifying quarterbacks with an average depth of target of 6.9 yards. In 2017, that average climbed to 8.0 yards, but was still just 27th. (Kirk Cousins ranked ninth in 2016 and 24th in 2017, so Smith’s style should be a bit of a shift for Washington fans.)

According to Sports Info Solutions’ charting, Smith’s most common throw last year was on curl routes -- he had twice as many throws on curls as on any other type of route. After that, most of his value came on go/fly, deep cross, and post routes -- he went 24-for-43 on those routes (56 percent completion rate) for 775 yards, six touchdowns, and only one interception. A 44th throw resulted in 20 yards on a DPI. That’s only about three of those passes per game, but he usually made them count.

His worst pattern, by far, was the out route, where he went 25-of-43 for 194 yards (just 4.5 yards per pass!) with no touchdowns. We tend to think that deep balls are a measure of arm strength, but really it’s those sideline routes -- where the ball has to travel a long ways and hit a tight window without giving the defense time to react -- where arm strength is most critical, and that’s where Smith was at his worst last year.

The TL;DR version of all this: Washington needs to hit on those curl routes that are a staple of Smith’s game; they need to take advantage of limited opportunities for big plays down the field, especially on throws down the middle; and they must avoid those sideline routes, where Smith’s weak arm can be exposed.

Thanks to Vincent Verhei who you can follow on twitter @FO_VVerhei ‏. I found the above numbers fascinating regarding Smith’s route success. While I don’t necessarily agree he has a ‘weak’ arm its obvious Alex is not a gunslinger nor a QB who can deliver 60 yard bombs. I do think its important for the offense to be adjusted to what he is comfortable with which includes those curls/comeback routes as well as the deep post. And if the above numbers are any indication I hope he stays away from delivering those out routes!

You can pick up a copy of Football Outsiders 2018 Almanac here