Here's five takeaways from Redskins quarterback Alex Smith's media session with reporters on Wednesday, September 19, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
1. He will always have a connection with Aaron Rodgers.
In 2005, Smith was drafted first-overall by the San Francisco 49ers, while Aaron Rodgers was drafted 23 picks later by the Green Bay Packers. Debates about how that draft should have gone have existed for as long as they’ve played in the league, but there’s no question Rodgers has become one of the greatest to play the game.
"You know, he's a decent player,” Smith said with a chuckle.
Both of them have put up consistently productive numbers throughout the bulk of their careers, playing with different styles and in different systems. In his 14th year, Rodgers is averaging a 103.9 quarterback rating and is likely to eclipse 40,000 passing yards for his career this season, should his knee stay healthy throughout the rest of the year.
Smith, meanwhile, had an explosive start to his 2017 season and passed for more than 4,000 yards for the first time in his career. After his first two games with the Redskins, throwing for 547 yards, he’s on pace to do that again.
“He and I [have] been around each other a lot of time now, always linked, pretty good buddies,” Smith said. “Certainly, kind of I think follow each other's career from afar. Usually get to connect in the offseason here or there a couple times with random things. Yeah, but other than that, it's like I said, we're obviously pretty far down the line at this point, still rolling and having fun with it [career]. Obviously, good to see him out there playing. He's a special player, fun to watch. I think as quarterbacks we always watch one another, analyze one another. Certainly, he's a unique guy the way he plays quarterback. I know he's fun to watch from a peer's perspective."
2. The chemistry with his wide receivers is always improving.
Against the Cardinals, Smith connected with his wide receivers just five times. Of his 33 completions against the Colts on Sunday, wide receivers accounted for only 10. In other words, it’s been a struggle to get his top targets out wide the ball.
Smith has opted for more check downs and shorter passes to running backs – Chris Thompson caught 13 passes on Sunday – as coverage has dictated where to throw the ball. The offense lacked cohesion on Sunday, and it appeared Smith and his receivers were out of sync. Still, the quarterback is happy with the chemistry between them.
“I think it's going really well,” Smith said. “I think it's hard looking at the numbers with these first two weeks just the defenses we played, the style that they've played necessarily hasn’t dictated a lot of balls going outside to those guys. I feel really good about it. Those guys all work extremely hard. They're all crazy talented. I think it's one of those things that you just kind of … it's a process that never ends. You're constantly working at that. You don't know when that opportunity is going to present itself. I think all those things, it comes in bunches.”
The Redskins added two new receivers this week in Breshad Perriman and Michael Floyd, unlikely to play Sunday with such an abbreviated transition, but with the potential to help down the road. Smith isn’t worried about performance just yet. He knows everyone in the room is dedicated and “all in,” and the only way to address issues is to keep taking reps on the field.
"From my perspective, it's just obviously kind of continue to talk to those guys about what I'm seeing, what they're seeing, constantly," Smith said. "Our communication both on the sideline, in the meeting rooms, and then on the field, seeing the same things, reacting to it in the same way. From my perspective, you just keep firing and you keep taking your shots when they're there and you don't think or dwell on the rest."
3. Third down situations really hurt the offense in the first half.
It wasn’t challenging for Smith to diagnose why the offense got off to such a sluggish start.
"I just thought third down situational football cost us in the first half. I think if we'd converted on a bunch of those third downs that we...I felt like we certainly could’ve and should’ve,” Smith said.
The Redskins converted 2-of-7 chances on third down in the first half, which prevented head coach Jay Gruden from finding a rhythm as a play caller, especially as the offense cornered itself into third-and-long situations.
The run game had little traction, too, totaling just 31 yards in the first half, as blocking assignments were scrambled or incorrectly executed.
“I think we were unable to convert, unable to get into a rhythm and then you have limited opportunities then,” Smith said. “You can't get to all that stuff. All of a sudden if you move the chains, all of a sudden you have a chance to get to some of that other stuff in your playbook, in your game plan. We were just unable to do that because we were poor on third downs I think especially that first half."
Check out these photos of the Redskins' preparing for their Week 3 game against the Green Bay Packers Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
4. This week is a good test to see how the Redskins respond to early adversity.
The Redskins felt extremely high following their opening week victory against the Cardinals. They felt the opposite after losing their home opener to the Colts.
Players have preached trying to stay medium this week – not letting any outcome sway them too much in one direction. That’s tough early in the season, as coaches and teammates determine what kind of team they have.
"I think any good team has got to be able to handle both and all the stuff in between,” Smith said. “I think it's the tale of the season is how you handle all these situations, emotions, stress, all the stuff that comes with this game. You have to be able to handle all that stuff. You have to be able to focus in, not let any of that stuff distract you, distract your preparation – where you attention needs to be – where your focus needs to be. Yeah, this will be our first shot coming obviously off a loss. You have to be able to redirect yourself no different. I mean you have to be able to focus in just the same."
5. The Packers offense doesn’t change the Redskins’ offensive game plan.
After two games, the Packers have scored 53 points, 11th best in the league, with a highly capable offense regardless of Aaron Rodgers’ mobility.
After two games, the Redskins have the best total defense, holding opponents to an average of 247 yards per game, nearly 100 yards better than their average from last year.
Two games is a small sample size, but it’s fair to say Smith trusts the defense to do its job and trusts himself to lead the offense.
“In the end of course we want to dominate regardless of the offense we are playing,” Smith said. “Of course we want to go out there and execute, move the chains. We would love to dominate both the scoreboard and the time of possession every game. It just comes through execution though, I think. I mean it doesn’t come through anything else and execution comes from focusing on your job – one play at a time – which is what we are always trying to do.
“I guess coming back to that, I don’t think any extra attention or focus on ‘hey we’ve got to possess the ball to keep their offense off the field,’ but the way to do that is just to play good offense and to go out and execute and do what we’ve got to do and just play. I still think the attention needs to be on that."