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Dublin: 9 °C Sunday 9 August, 2020

Analysis: How Alex Smith threw a 20-yard 'Hail Mary' touchdown

The Chiefs quarterback threw what looked like a check down, but the play was brilliantly designed.

Tyreek Hill somehow scored from here.
Tyreek Hill somehow scored from here.

EVERY MONDAY FOR the remainder of the season, we’ll break down a big play from the weekend’s NFL action. If there’s anything you’d like to see included, email

With just two seconds left in the second quarter — and the Kansas City Chiefs on their own 44-yard line down 11 points — Alex Smith was obviously going to attempt a ‘Hail Mary’ pass to end the half.

At least, you’d think so.

Instead, Smith took advantage of a) having one of the most explosive playmakers in football, Tyreek Hill and b) the go-to defence for Hail Marys, prevent.

And here’s how he threw a 20-yard pass that turned into a 56-yard touchdown:

1. Cowboys run their prevent defence

Source: NFL Gamepass

When you ‘know’ a Hail Mary is coming, the obvious thing to do is to crowd the end zone to make it as difficult as possible for the quarterback to cleanly find one of his receivers.

In this instance, the Cowboys drop seven players into coverage, rushing three, with just linebacker Damien Wilson (#57) watching the middle of the field (though he eventually runs towards the line for no reason in particular).

2. The Chiefs ran the play like it was a punt

Source: NFL Game Pass

Hill is one of the best punt returners in the league, with three punt return TDs in 24 games and averaging 14 yards per effort.

He was the only player going to get the ball on this play and Kansas City used the other players as blockers, like they would on a punt return.

3. Dallas gave up too much ground

Source: NFL Game Pass

As sensible as it was to protect the end zone, when Hill catches the ball on the Cowboys 44-yard line, there isn’t a Dallas player in shot — or within 20 yards.

This allows the Chiefs blockers to easily get in front of Hill, further enhancing their chances of turning a passing play into a punt return.

4. Indecision paralysis the Dallas defence

Source: NFL Game Pass

It could be the unexpectedly short pass, it could be the fact he just jogs rather than sprints when he gets the ball — allowing time for his blocks to develop — or it could be just that his name his Tyreek Hill; but what was an eight-on-four situation has now, somehow, turned into an advantage for the Chiefs.

Two of the defenders at least try to do something, the other four (circled) in picture are at a loss on the play.

5. The game slows down for Hill

Source: NFL Games Pass

After setting up the play, Hill only needs to make two moves. The first, sees him beat Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick (#32) for pace around the edge.

(And, you’ll notice that the play has taken so long to develop that Wilson (#57) who earlier headed towards the line, almost catches up with Hill.)

Source: NFL Game Pass

Once he finds the edge — and with all eight Dallas defenders in frame — all Hill has to do is skip pass the over-committed Anthony Hitchens (#59) for the remarkable score.

This touchdown was a combination of brilliant play-calling by Andy Reid, and the Cowboys defence being unable to get their heads around the fact a Hail Mary had not been thrown.

And it will go down as a 56-yard touchdown pass for Alex Smith despite him moving the ball just 20.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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