To some who watch the NFL, Alex Smith has become known as "Captain Checkdown," due to his propensity for throwing passes underneath and not always looking to air it out.
Ron Rivera isn't one of those folks, though.
"That's the first time I've heard the nickname," Rivera said on Tuesday when a reporter brought it up during a question about the quarterback.
Now, one can't really blame Rivera for not being aware of that designation, because the Smith that he's seen in Washington lately has acted much more like "Lieutenant Long Ball" than "Captain Checkdown."
(Was that corny? Yeah? Sorry.)
In the team's win over the Bengals on Sunday, Smith found Terry McLaurin for a 42-yard completion that set up the first touchdown of the game. The week before that, he was chucking from beginning to end on his way to a career-high 390-yard output in Detroit. And the week before that, he came in for Kyle Allen and racked up 325 yards in relief.
While Smith still does do plenty in terms of short stuff — JD McKissic's fantasy owners are among those who understand that — he does appear to be more comfortable challenging opponents in 2020 than he did at any point in 2018. According to him, a lot of that stems from who's on the other end of his attempts this season.
"A credit to our guys that I feel really good about," Smith said Tuesday. "We've got a great group of guys downfield that are going to go and compete and are really good with the ball in the air. "
McLaurin, who was also responsible for the second half of a 68-yard touchdown from Smith, is surely at the top of the signal caller's mind when he drops a quote like that. Yet Smith has also found some chemistry with Cam Sims, who's delivered recently in the intermediate to deep range, and he tried to hit Isaiah Wright down the sideline against Cincinnati, too.
On Monday, Rivera touched on how Smith's intelligence and experience can make a difference in all aspects of the offense, including on something as simple as this basic first down conversion. On Tuesday, Rivera explained that it's vital on the shot plays as well.
"I do think coming to the line, being a veteran guy with some savviness and kind of looking things over and being able to say, 'Hey, OK, this is my opportunity, I've got the right matchup over here,'" Rivera said. "It really is about getting to the line of scrimmage and looking for the matchup."
At this stage of Smith's career, it's unlikely he'll be able to convince those who refer to him as "Captain Checkdown" to drop the nickname. There's no way he cares, though — at all — and nor should he.
Rivera certainly doesn't put any stock into it, either, judging by the fact that he's just now learning about it. All he knows is that he trusts Smith to make the right read, whether that read is a two-yard swing pass or a high, lofted one up the seam.