It was reunion weekend, as the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders faced a pair former quarterbacks. Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs welcomed the Raiders to Arrowhead, while the Niners faced off with Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals. Both players come in with teams that seemed to be much improved over recent years. Has a change of scenery benefited the former Bay Area signal callers?
Starting with the morning game, Smith seems to be in a similar situation to what he had in San Francisco. The Chiefs’ game plan is predicated on running the ball and having Smith make plays in the passing game, while taking care of the football. The Chiefs’ defense is extremely capable and takes pressure off of the offense by holding opposing offenses to a league leading 10.8 points per game.
Smith’s game against the Raiders was eerily similar to some of his performances in San Francisco. He went 14-31 for 128 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. It was the classic Smith who does nothing to help you win a game, but he does not do anything to lose you the game. Granted he pressured on nearly two-thirds of his drop backs, but he only completed three of those 20 passes. Smith’s inability to attack down the field or to take risks by trusting his receivers to be open, allowed the Raiders’ pass rushers to pin their ears back and come after Smith.
Niners’ fans are all too familiar to seeing Smith when he faces heavy pressure. He gets happy feet and becomes highly inaccurate. Smith also has a tendency to hold onto the ball a little longer than normal, because he is afraid to try and fit the ball into the smaller windows. This leads to more sacks or throwing the ball away.
One might be thinking I am taking too much away from one game, but his season has not been breathtaking by any stretch of the imagination. Smith is only averaging roughly 221 yards per game through the air, which would be Smith’s highest total in his career. There is a caveat to that stat, as the increase in yards can be directly attributed to the increase in his pass attempts in Andy Reid’s offense.
The one thing that seems to have changed in Smith’s game is his willingness to run with the ball. Smith already has a career high of 190 yards rushing through just six games. Smith is still extremely limited in what he can give in the passing game, but he is learning to trust his athleticism and take off when given the opportunity.
Palmer, on the other hand, looked to be the same inconsistent quarterback that he has been in his entire career. Palmer will frustrate fans with awful throws and even worse decisions, but then he will flash the talent he showed early in his career with a picture perfect ball. Then he will immediately follow it up with another bad decision.
Palmer is a statue in the pocket, which is only magnified behind a terrible pass blocking offensive line. Palmer’s penchant for forcing throws into coverage is only exacerbated by pressure, which leads to throws right into the arms of a waiting defender.
Against the Niners, two of Palmer’s first four possessions ended in an interception. He should have thrown at least two more inceptions, if not for poor ball skills from the Niners’ cornerbacks. In fact, his first touchdown pass nearly never happened, as he threw the ball right to the Niners’ Terrell Brown. Brown dropped the pass and then two plays later Palmer forced a throw into coverage to Larry Fitzgerald, who broke free following a terrible missed tackle from Donte Whitner.
Palmer’s season has been much of the same, as he has more interceptions than touchdown passes. Palmer is on pace for an absolutely horrid 29 interceptions, as he averages nearly two a game. He only has two games for which he has thrown less than two interceptions, but he has thrown at least one in every single game this season.
Palmer is the polar opposite of Smith, as he will take shots down the field and will force balls into tight windows. Palmer will makes outstanding plays that can win you ball games, but he also has the ability to make a crippling play that will you lose you one.
Despite the change in scenery, both quarterbacks appear to be playing at similar levels that they showed during their time in the Bay Area. The Niners and the Raiders cut ties with the veterans and handed the reins to young, athletic quarterbacks, which is looking more and more like the right decision with each passing week.
Neither player is showing any growth or progress, despite being in different schemes which seem better suited for their limited skill sets.