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Here's What Alex Smith Adds To Washington's Offense

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Alex Smith throw a pass during practice on Nov. 11, 2020. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

When offensive coordinator Scott Turner was asked after the Washington Football Team's 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams if Alex Smith resembled the player he once was before his leg injury, he admitted it was difficult to say, but he did not believe Smith's 37-yard performance was indicative of the progress the 16th-year quarterback has made.

"Obviously, it was a torrential downpour for most of the time that he was in," Turner said, "and there were other issues involved."

Aside from the rain that drenched FedExField, the offense allowed eight sacks and struggled to find rhythm as it sputtered to 108 total yards. It was a much different story against the New York Giants, as Smith completed 24-of-32 passes for 325 yards -- the most he's ever thrown for in a Washington uniform. He showed poise and took chances on explosive plays, and that could be what the offense needs as it approaches a stretch of winnable games.

"I think Alex is very comfortable," Turner said Wednesday. "In the second half, we mixed a couple of runs early, but really we were throwing the ball, and Alex was doing a great job finding completions and guys were getting some yards after the catch. ...Those [big plays] add up, and it was good, it got us back in the game. We weren't able to finish the deal, but I think Alex does have a good comfort level in the offense."

Washington's offense was starting to gain some momentum with about four minutes left in the first quarter, but it had struggled up to that point with just 55 yards on 10 plays. After Smith entered the game for an injured Allen, Washington finished the game with 402 total yards -- the most in a single game since Week 1 of the 2018 season.

Turner said the game plan didn't change much with Smith as the starter, even though he didn't get as many reps in practice. That's because Turner is confident in Smith's abilities, and because he and Allen are both "cerebral guys."

"The game plan that we had prepared all week, that was the game plan for them that obviously was geared a little bit more toward Kyle," Turner said. "But Alex is more than capable of doing all that stuff. ...As a number two, you're not getting a lot of reps through the week. You're getting a couple here and there, but it was Kyle. I called it as if he was ready to play because I know Alex is a pro and he was prepared even without the reps. For the most part, he executed."

It helps Smith has experience running the Air Coryell system with Turner's father, Norv Turner, when he took over as the San Francisco 49ers' offensive coordinator in 2006. Norv Turner helped the former Utah signal-caller throw for 2,890 yards with 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in his first full season as a starter.

That experience, despite not playing a snap in nearly two seasons, came through in the second half against the Giants. Washington opened the third quarter with three scoring drives as Smith completed 11 of his first 12 passes, the last of which was delivered to Terry McLaurin in a tight window that McLaurin turned into a 68-yard touchdown.

Smith did have three interceptions in the game, but head coach Ron Rivera doesn't put too much stock in them because Smith was trying to make plays in the final minutes.

"Let's really look at how he played," Rivera said. "To me, the common consensus is he played pretty well with the exception of the last two interceptions. Those were plays that he tried to force as opposed to trying to take what he would've gotten if they had been normal downs. Again, he played pretty doggone well."

What was more impressive was Smith's ability to extend plays vertically by throwing downfield more often. Smith threw for 10.2 yard per attempt -- much higher than the team's 6.8-yard average for the year -- and had three passes that resulted in gains of at least 30 yards.

"We hit a couple plays down the field once he got in there, really starting with his third drive. When you hit chunk plays, those yards seem to add up. In the second half, we mixed a couple runs early, but really we were throwing the ball."

Smith's ability to ignite Washington's offense with more explosive plays certainly helped the team come back from a 20-3 halftime lead, but Rivera could also tell Smith was still a little rusty. Having a full week of practice will help him and the coaches evaluate him before playing the Detroit Lions, who give up 243.9 yards per game through the air.

"It is always different coming off the bench as a backup just because your work is obviously limited to just mental reps," Smith said. "You get as much work in as you can, you try to study from the side, you try to take the reps back there from behind and prepare yourself. But it is different. I look forward to that. I look forward to getting those reps in with these guys."

After the Lions, Washington will play the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys, both of which have defenses that rank in the bottom 20 in terms of total yards, before playing the Pittsburgh Steelers. Washington hopes to still be in contention for the playoffs by then, and an experienced player like Smith, who can throw the ball downfield and get more production from the offense, gives them a chance of accomplishing that.

"We have the ball in a veteran guy's hands, a guy that I saw who was working out very, very hard and was trying to come back," Rivera said. "Everything that I had seen in terms of the reports that I was getting from the doctors were positive [indicated] that this is a guy who has a chance. Given who he is and the way he came back, it doesn't surprise me to a degree that he's got an opportunity and he earned an opportunity. We'll see how it goes."

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