Alex Smith's 2020 has consisted of a lot of box-checking during his return from that traumatic leg injury he infamously suffered two seasons ago.
Participate in an NFL training camp again? Check.
Get into an NFL game again? Check.
Take a sack, get back up and take the next snap? Check.
Throw a touchdown? Check.
Start another NFL game? Check.
Win after starting? Check.
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Smith has somehow shifted the conversation from Will he ever walk again? to What sort of future does he have in the league?, which is just unreal. Now, the attention isn't so much on his past; instead, people are wondering what he's got left.
And Monday's matchup with the Steelers will go a long way in answering that, as the QB has the chance to check off an additional box: Can he be successful against a devastating pass rush?
Heading into Week 13, no defense had registered more sacks than Pittsburgh. The unit will be without Bud Dupree on Monday and the rest of their year, which will surely affect them, yet they still have plenty of firepower when it comes to getting to opposing signal callers. Smith will be their next target.
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Earlier in Washington's campaign, the Rams got to Smith again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again when he came in to relieve an injured Kyle Allen. That's six agains. However, his struggles versus that vaunted front can somewhat be dismissed due to that afternoon's weather (bad) and the deficit the Burgundy and Gold faced when he entered the lineup (also bad).
Since that discouraging outing, Smith's looked sprier — not as quick or as able to scramble as his pre-injury life, but far more mobile than he first appeared — and his linemen have done a far better job of protecting him. But the Steelers represent a much more challenging test than the Giants, Lions, Bengals or Cowboys did.
Smith can largely offset the pressure he'll likely experience at Heinz Field by getting rid of the ball quickly, though there will also be occasions where things break down or a blitz is too heavy and he'll have to improvise. Pay attention to those moments.
In those situations, it's not like he's expected to rip off a 25-yard run; he just has to have enough burst to pull away and buy time or enough bounce to move around in the pocket and dodge sacks. If he can find a way to be effective when dealing with a serious rush, that'll further solidify his standing as an aging pro.
"I’m feeling better and feeling more comfortable,” Smith told reporters during a presser on Wednesday.
In Pittsburgh, there may not be much comfort to enjoy — and that means there could be another box to check.