- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 11, 2020

To find the last time that Alex Smith threw for as many yards as he did in Sunday’s 23-20 loss to the New York Giants, you have to go all the way back to 2017. That’s not only before the 36-year-old shattered his leg — but Smith had yet to be traded even to Washington.

Smith’s 325 yards against the Giants were his most since the three-time Pro Bowler played for the Kansas City Chiefs. His total yardage was greater than any of his 10 starts under Jay Gruden in 2018. That year, Smith topped 300 yards just once.

The difference in play may not be a coincidence.

As Smith prepares for his first start in two years for Sunday’s game in Detroit, he’ll do so with offensive coordinator Scott Turner in his ear. This year is the duo’s first working together, but Smith is well-versed in the Air Coryell scheme that Turner’s father Norv ran when they were with the San Francisco 49ers early in Smith’s career. Smith also ran a variation of the system with Jim Holster and Mike Martz.

By contrast, Smith was still adjusting to Gruden’s West Coast-based scheme before he got hurt.

“I think Alex is really comfortable,” Turner said. “We hit a couple of plays down the field once he got in there, starting really with his third drive. When you hit chunk plays, those yards seem to add up. … Alex has a good comfort level in the offense.”

There are other factors that contributed to Smith’s big day. Washington had been trailing early, which leads to more passing plays. Smith said the yardage was a credit to his teammates, and indeed the weapons around the quarterback — Terry McLaurin and Cam Sims — appear to be better than they were in 2018 (Jamison Crowder, Paul Richardson). Washington had two 100-yard receivers over the weekend for the first time since 2016.

“All those things I think play into that,” said Smith, who filled in for an injured Kyle Allen.

But there were plenty of times Smith was asked to throw the ball under Gruden — and the results weren’t there. In Gruden’s offense, Smith was mostly a game manager. He resorted to short throws, averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt — his worst since his first year in Kansas City (2013). In exactly half of his starts, Smith failed to even top 200 yards.

The conservative approach worked — Washington had a 6-3 record prior to Smith’s injury — but the team had one of the least-threatening offenses in the league.

With Turner, Smith looked more comfortable in knowing where to throw the ball. He still made a series of quick throws, but his decisiveness led to big gains. In fact, there’s an argument to be made he might have been too aggressive — given his two costly interceptions late sealed the loss.

But it was largely a performance Washington needed to see after a disastrous first outing from Smith in last month’s defeat to the Los Angeles Rams. Smith threw checkdown after checkdown and struggled mightily with pressure from the Rams’ front in a rain-filled afternoon.

Turner and Smith agree that the Giants’ was an example of the quarterback’s rust coming off.

“He was able to get through his progressions, look down the field and obviously make those plays,” Turner said.

This week, Smith will get a full week of practice reps as the starter. The quarterback said that he becomes “more intense” in knowing that he’ll be under center, adding that he has to make sure that he’s being efficient with his time. In theory, that should help Smith take another leap when Washington faces the Lions.

Coach Ron Rivera, though, said he wonders how much better Smith can be.

“He played pretty doggone well,” Rivera said.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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