FanPost

Alex Smith's Record-Setting Ball Protection - Contemporary and Historical Comparisons

Dating back to the start of last season, Alex Smith has thrown six interceptions. Much like his impressive comeback feats on the road last season, I had an itch that it might be some kind of record. His road comebacks were a record, as detailed in a post I made comparing The Phoenix to Joe Montana - a post which I will not link you to because I am above such shameless self-promotion.

Anyways, let's see if my "record sense" is still tingling correctly. On to the data...

Contemporary Comparisons

Let's start with Smith's contemporaries over the last couple of years and see how he compares to other starting quarterbacks.

Interception percentages under 2.0% for relevant quarterbacks (see: search criteria in link) in the last two years combined (not including playoffs):

1.03%, Alex Smith (6 ints in 582 att.)

1.45%, Aaron Rodgers (10 ints in 691 att.)

1.63%, Tom Brady (13 ints in 796 att.)

1.80%, Matt Schaub (8 ints in 444 att.)

1.96%, Matt Ryan (15 ints in 765 att.)

Including playoffs (added the playoff interceptions and attempts myself as per each player's career game logs):

0.92%, Alex Smith (6 in 650 att.)

1.49%, Aaron Rodgers (11 in 737 att.)

1.80%, Matt Schaub (8 in 444 att.)

1.86%, Matt Ryan (15 in 806 att.)

1.87%, Tom Brady (17 in 907 att.)

AleX leads all starting quarterbacks over the past season and a half-ish, whether the playoffs are included or not. But how 'bout over the last three years? 2010 - 2012 (not including playoffs):

1.32%, Tom Brady (17 in 1288 att.)

1.73%, Alex Smith (16 in 924 att.)

1.79%, Matt Ryan (24 in 1336 att.)

1.80%, Aaron Rodgers (21 in 1166 att.)

1.89%, Ben Roethlisberger (20 in 1059 att.)

1.96%, Matt Schaub (20 in 1018 att.)

Even after adding Alex Smith's lacklustre 2010 campaign in which he threw nine of his ten picks in his first five games, he is still second. Tom Brady is first through the last three seasons thanks to his spectacular, record-setting four interception performance in 2010 (though he did throw his fifth pick that season in the playoffs).

And with the two included post-seasons for all quarterbacks:

1.52%, Tom Brady (22 in 1444 att.)

1.61%, Alex Smith (16 in 992 att.)

1.78%, Aaron Rodgers (24 in 1344 att.)

1.85%, Matt Ryan (26 in 1406 att.)

1.96%, Matt Schaub (20 in 1018 att.)

Notice that Roethlisberger dropped off the list as his INT% moved beyond 2.0.

Over the last three years then, with the playoffs included, only five quarterbacks have managed to keep an interception rate below 2.0%, and Alex Smith is one of them, despite his porous start to 2010 being included.

The greatest interception-free season of all time is held by the man at the top spot of this list, Tom Brady. As mentioned before, it was in 2010 that Brady threw only four interceptions in 492 attempts.

Smith's best percentage above is 0.92%, or 6 picks in 650 attempts. It's 158 more attempts than Brady, and only two more picks. Could Brady keep up? Well, as his historic run continued into the playoffs and then into 2011, the Patriots' passer managed 6 picks in 625 attempts - 25 less than Smith.

Historical Perspective

So is Brady's 6/625 the closest in NFL history that anyone has ever come to Alex's current 6/650 stat?

It is rare, after all, for a starting quarterback to post an INT% at or around 1.0%, let alone below it... let alone sustain it for over 600 attempts.

Each link in the list below takes you to the game logs of a player that has come close to the 6/600 mark. The relevant games are highlighted in blue, and you may have to scroll down a lot on some pages to find the games. For each quarterback, I tried to find the best run of games in which they threw the fewest interceptions.

Obviously, throwing one interception at any time requires another 99 attempts without one in order to keep up. By eye-balling the game logs of various quarterbacks here and here, who met certain criteria, it was easy to see where such a low interception rate quickly tailed off. For example, two interception games are killers, as are three picks in a span of four or five games, or even six, seven games.

The process was not completely thorough because the two lists of quarterbacks I drew from had to include one full season somewhere (even if that full season meant just 12 games played, followed by injury, benching, etc.).

In other words, it is possible I missed someone who threw 5 picks in Week 1 of 1994, and then threw 5 picks in Week 17 of 1995; but in between all that they threw three picks in each season, spanning six total interceptions from Week 2 of '94 to Week 16 of '95 with 600 or so attempts. Because each of their seasons individually had 8 picks, they did not pass the search criteria.

But, yah... that's... unlikely. So I feel comfortable with the results. The seven closest men in NFL history to Smith's 6/650 (click their names for the respective, highlighted game logs):

0.92%, Alex Smith + (6 / 650), 2011 - 2012, age: 27

0.96%, Tom Brady (6 / 625), 2010 - 2011, age: 33

1.04%, Jeff Garcia * (6 / 576), 2006 - 2007, age: 36

1.10%, Aaron Rodgers " (6 / 541), 2010 - 2011, age: 27

1.14%, Steve DeBerg (6 / 524), 1989 - 1991, age: 36

1.15%, Jason Campbell (6 / 522), 2007 - 2008, age: 26

1.21%, Jeff George (6 / 494), 1992 - 1994, age: 26

1.22%, Neil O'Donnell ^ (6 / 490), 1998 - 1999, age: 32


+ Alex Smith's game log page does not quite operate correctly with the highlighting because it cannot select contests from the current season. But, as mentioned before, his stats above involve all of 2011, including the playoffs, and these first few games of 2012.

* Jeff Garcia actually had a weird streak that extended through some missed games and spanned two different teams, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. Pretty impressive. Always did like Garcia, though.

" Aaron Rodgers' 1.10%, 6/541 mark includes the 2010 Super Bowl.

^ O'Donnell's run also included some missed games and passed through two teams, the Bengals and Titans.

Conclusion

As it turns out, my record-setting senses in regards to Alex Smith are batting 1,000 - at least, as far as my research goes. I like to think it's cuz of some kinda supernatural connection we have; but probably not.

What is really interesting, however, is the fact that while I am very sure based on the data wonking done above that Alex's 6/650 is historic and unique, it is not even the best number he has put up.

If we go ahead and grab six games from the end of the 2010 season - the game right after #11 endured those terrible "We Want Carr!" chants against the Eagles - Smith's 6/650 reaches even greater heights.

Yes, out of the ashes of that game - the height of the Singletary Era and of fan disdain for Smith - The Phoenix rose...

... and this year he has taken flight.

It was his last 300 yard performance before this Sunday; it was the last two 100 yard receivers San Francisco had in the same game (also Crabtree and Davis) before this Sunday; and it was when Alex turned a new leaf and stopped forcing himself to make plays or over-compensate for his team's weaknesses.

And this Sunday, he was undoubtedly apart of his team's strengths.

The Great Purge of 2010 (of Alex into AleX) happened before Jim Harbaugh's arrival, but he has certainly helped bolster its potency; and now, in Harbaugh's second year, Smith holds a kind of interception-free run that I am sure cannot be matched anywhere in the annals of NFL history:

0.87%, Alex Smith (7 interceptions in 802 attempts), 2010 - 2012, age: 26 - 28...

... and counting.

Most importantly, Alex threw 445 attempts in 2011 and 442 in 2006 - his only full seasons as a starter. This year he is on pace for about 440 attempts.

So for those who were saying his far-below-average interception rate in 2011 was unsustainable, and was a one-year fluky kind of thing, not only does that go against Harbaugh-philosophy in general, but it goes against the specifics above.

Smith has posted a 0.87% interception rate over the last 29 games. He's three games away from two full seasons worth of data and, conveniently, about 85 or so attempts away from two full seasons of data based on his attempts per full year average.

This isn't a fluke, and it hasn't gone away - it has lasted almost two full seasons already. Alex is a very smart player who is finally getting his head wrapped around an offensive system for the first time in his career.

I truly believe this is only the beginning of what Alex Smith has to offer.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.

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