ASHBURN, Va. -- Sometimes there's an extra pat on the ball or indecision that proves costly. And a passing window that had opened briefly for Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith has closed. Other times it could be focusing a split second too long on one target. Or not waiting a split second for another route to open.
Smith has a long résumé that suggests what sort of quarterback he'll eventually become for Washington. For now, there are times when he and the offense look sharp and other times when they don't. Smith, who has six touchdown passes and two interceptions, ranks 23rd in total QBR at 49.4 and 18th in passer rating at 91.9.
Smith has been solid in wins over Arizona and Green Bay. He struggled (as did other facets of the offense) in losses to New Orleans and Indianapolis. And he mixed good moments with times of hesitation or indecision in a victory over Carolina.
"There are some things we've got to clean up," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of Smith. "Get his eyes in certain progressions a little bit quicker and maybe get off some a little bit quicker. Sometimes he hangs on too long, giving guys too much of a chance where he needs get off of them, get to the next guy. But ... I like where he's at. I like that he's buying in and he's learning."
After five years in Kansas City, Smith joined a Redskins offense whose key receivers have been in and out of practice since camp opened because of injuries. Tight end Jordan Reed, wide receivers Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder and Paul Richardson and running back Chris Thompson fall into that category.
Richardson's 16 catches are tops among Redskins receivers -- but tied for 61st in the NFL at that position. His 212 yards are tied for 65th. The Redskins have played only five games, but they rank last in the NFL in receiver targets at 75. They're 13 behind 31st-ranked Seattle.
“There's a lot of things in there; that'd be part of it. I think all those little situations, you know, where you're holding on just a fraction too long or you don't cut it loose," Smith said. "That's playing quarterback. I mean, there's always going to be pressure, every front, every week's usually pretty good. Timing and anticipation are critical."
Like any quarterback in a new system, he's also trying to find that timing against a new defensive look each week.
"There's a lot that goes into that and cutting that ball loose that fraction earlier," Smith said. "Conceptually, some things we do that I have a long history with that obviously come very easy and others that [I'm] still new at, still getting the feel for."
That was evident against Carolina on Sunday. At times he stayed too long with Reed, either preventing Smith from getting to another read or passing up a potential longer gain. It didn't help, either, that taking a little longer to throw often coincided with protection breakdowns.
Smith hesitated on the fourth-and-4 late in the second quarter as Reed broke to the outside -- and the linebacker in coverage slightly stumbled. Smith started to run and Reed turned upfield and the linebacker recovered, breaking up the pass.
The subsequent drive, which started at the Panthers' 33-yard line, turned out to be a frustrating one as there was an intentional grounding on first down, followed by a Smith run out of bounds and then an incompletion on third-and-16.
"We had somebody open [on first down] that the ball should have gone to, but he was trying to look off the safety a little bit too long and that's kind of what we are talking about," Gruden said. "Overall, he made some great plays in the game to help us win the football game, which is the most important thing."
Reed has a team-high 31 targets -- and that's even with him only having two in Week 5. Reed has been the Redskins' main passing target for several years. Plays such a one-handed grab versus Carolina get stuck in Smith's memory and lead him to stick with Reed.
"All those plays and the hundreds of other ones he's made in camp, in practice, yeah that gets banked, absolutely, in both of our [memories]," Smith said. "You just log all that stuff. Certainly when you have a guy like that who has proven he can make those kinds of plays, has that kind of trust, you turn those balls loose more often than not."
Because of the offensive changes, there was going to be a natural bumpy progression. But for the Redskins to contend in the NFC East all season, Smith and the Redskins' passing game must develop a trust.