In the Super Wild Card Weekend game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Alex Smith is going to need to do more than what he did against the Eagles. It's simple and a reason as to why Ron Rivera is considering rotating Taylor Heinicke in at quarterback.
What specifically does Smith need to improve on? One of the biggest adjustments is that he simply needs to be quicker when getting the ball out.
A look at the game against Philadelphia demonstrates why.
On Washington's opening possession, Smith and the offense put together a 15-play, 91-yard scoring drive. It was the first time the team registered points to begin a contest on offense and it was about as smooth as the unit has looked in 16 games.
Yet, for a majority of the rest of the matchup, Washington's offense never regained that form. It was stagnant and three-and-outs became common. What changed?
A major factor was that the Philadelphia defense began sending more pressure toward Smith. That forced the quarterback to break out of the pocket, hold the ball, and extend the play. It didn't go well and it felt like when things broke down, the play was over before it even started.
Smith used to have the mobility to make that kind of defense suffer, but his past leg injury and current calf ailment rightfully limit that. Therefore, the key to his game is getting the ball out within the first couple of seconds once he drops back. According to NFL Next Gen stats, Smith's average time-to-throw is 2.63 seconds. That's toward the top half of the league for quarterbacks that registered enough passes.
NBC Sports' Chris Collinsworth noted on Sunday night's broadcast that when Smith was getting the ball out of his hands through quick passes, screens and other work near the line of scrimmage in around 2 seconds, Washington's offense was cruising like it did on the initial drive. When the plays took longer to develop or became improvised, not so much.
Smith needed to get the ball off rapidly for the offense to work, and that's going to be the same against the Buccaneers. With a talented pass rush that ranks fourth in the NFL with 48 sacks, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles Bowles likely will try to test Smith just like the Eagles did in Week 17 by turning up the pressure.
If Smith is forced to evade defenders and go off-script, his restrictions could limit the success of those plays. The faster the ball is in the hands of the playmakers, the better off Washington is. In a game where Tampa Bay could put up some points, that's as crucial as ever.
Football is a game of inches, but for Smith, it could come down to seconds on Saturday.