Hey Alex, Can We Talk?

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The NFL has reached its tenth week and your Kansas City Chiefs are still undefeated. Kansas City is perfect through nine games. They’ll stay that way for at least 12 more days. In case you’ve been in hiding, the Chiefs’ next game is with the Broncos at Sports Authority Field on November 17th. This week, they’re sharing a bye with the Browns, Patriots, and Jets. Sunday’s 23-13 road win over the Buffalo Bills was a fitting end to the first half of their regular season schedule.

Defensively, the Chiefs have the league’s best defense in terms of scoring. They’re surrendering just 12.3 points per game. No opposing team has posted more than 17 points all season long. No defense has sacked the quarterback as often as Kansas City (36 times). No defense has taken the ball away more than Kansas City (23 times). Couple that with being 8th in total defense and 3rd in pass defense and you’ve got the best defensive unit in the NFL. What could I possibly have to complain about this week? I’m glad you asked.

I told myself I’d reserve judgment of quarterback Alex Smith until the midway point of the season. It’d be dishonest of me to suggest I’ve been fully committed to that mission. I’ll concede that I’ve chided the nine-year veteran along the way. Today, I’m rolling my sleeves up and refusing to pull punches. It’s time for the unadulterated truth about Alex Smith!

Truth is, he’s actually a good quarterback that plays a style of football conducive to winning lots of games. Smith is 28-5-1 as a starting quarterback since 2011. It’s tough to argue with that kind of success. I’m prepared to plead my case anyway. When Kansas City’s season resumes, they’ll face much tougher opponents the second half of the season. Navigating the back half of that schedule is going to require a bit from more from KC’s transplanted signal caller.

Here are the areas where Alex Smith can improve:

1. Hit open receivers. 

Accuracy was touted as one of Alex Smith’s biggest selling points in the offseason. We were told, time and again, that his 70% completion rate in 2012 was a sure sign that he’d turned the corner in the NFL. I was one such person making that case. For the past several weeks, he simply hasn’t been as sharp. Smith is typically on the money on short and intermediate routes, but lately he’s had trouble with high-percentage throws. Balls that should be placed out in front of receivers have routinely been thrown to the back shoulder or completely underthrown.

There’s been no bigger issue than the points the Chiefs have failed to score due to Smith missing open receivers down the field. I can immediately recall about five plays that would’ve resulted in touchdowns had the ball been put in the right spot. The Chiefs’ next three opponents have scoring averages of 42.9, 24, and 25.4 points per game. Leaving points on the field is a good way to lose pole position in the AFC playoff race.

Kansas City has at least three offensive weapons who can score from anywhere on the field (Charles, McCluster, and Avery). They can only do that if Smith hits them in stride. Yards after the catch are vital in Reid’s WCO system. The Chiefs’ offense needs Smith to return to early season form.

2. Make quicker decisions in the pocket.

Each NFL season, there are typically three or four offensive opportunities missed that stay with me throughout the season. It can be tough for impassioned members of Chiefs Kingdom to forget those miscues. That’s what a 20-year playoff drought will do to you. Do you see what you did to this fanbase, Carl/Scott? Your failings turned Chiefs fans into unforgiving, grudge-holding brooders. You’ll have to pardon the tangeant, I had a moment. Where was I? Ah yes, Alex Smith’s “Greatest Misses”…

Does anyone recall the goalline play where Alex Smith made a late decision to throw to Sean McGrath in the back of the Texans’ end zone? I must’ve argued about that play for four days following the game. Despite the victory, I recognized that play as emblematic of Smith’s tendency to overthink things. Being an intelligent quarterback is a good thing in the NFL, but there are times when you have to make plays purely on instinct.

The typical pocket in the NFL closes in less than five seconds. The average linebacker or defensiveback can cover 10-15 yards in half as much time. You rarely have the opportunity to assess multiple options on a given play. Smith cost the Chiefs a touchdown because he tried to scramble for the corner of the end zone. When he realized the two defenders closing in on him would prevent that from happening, he threw to McGrath, but he was already out of room and unable to get two feet in bounds (despite making the catch). Good defenses shrink options quickly for quarterbacks in this league. The back half of this schedule demands quicker decisions from Alex Smith.

3. Take more chances down the field.

Big offensive chunks keep defenses honest in the NFL. The last several weeks, I’ve noticed that defensivebacks seem to be sitting on underneath routes. The quick slants that were so effective a month ago, aren’t yielding as many big plays. Defensive coordinators are cheating up because they no respect for the Chiefs’ ability to throw the ball deep.

Smith seems to have gotten much more comfortable with Dwayne Bowe over the past three games. Over that stretch, he has 13 catches (the highest three-game total of the season). Bowe had a season-high 7 catches on Sunday in Orchard Park. Kansas City will need even more from the Smith-Bowe connection as November wears on. Bowe has the 3rd-highest yard per catch average on the team. His ability to high-point the ball and use his body to seal off defenders makes him the safest downfield option available. If Smith truly wants to minimize the possibility of turning the ball over with deep throws, he should make Bowe his #1 option when he does go vertical.

Donnie Avery’s proven his value to this offense as well. How many times has he beaten a defender deep down the sideline? How many times has he taken a short slant up the field to convert a 3rd-and-long play? His breakaway speed helps the Chiefs’ offense stretch the field, but he’s a different kind of receiver. Bowe’s 3 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Avery. He doesn’t need a perfectly thrown ball because he’s a physical receiver who can fight for position and break tackles.

Avery just isn’t going to break many tackles. He’s most effective when he has space to operate. If you put a ball out in front of Avery, he’s as dangerous as most anyone on the offensive side of the ball. If you throw into a tight window to Avery, you risk a red zone fumble (like the one in the game with Oakland). I think the same is true of Dexter McCluster and Jamaal Charles. Give them a little room and they’ll have a chance to take it the distance.

If Alex Smith can shore these three things up, I think the offense will have a good chance to increase their scoring average the rest of the way. Before anyone gets started, I’m not laying all of Kansas City’s offensive woes at Alex Smith’s feet. He’s been a big part of the turnaround thus far. The Chiefs just need him to be a bit more than the guy who doesn’t turn the ball over. I’m not sure that simply avoiding negative plays is enough if the Chiefs want to stay atop the AFC.

Am I overreacting with these criticisms of Alex Smith or have you felt the same way about him? Are there other areas where he needs to improve to help this team make noise down the stretch? Use the comment section below to weigh in. As always, we appreciate your readership and support!

Until next time, Addicts!

 

 

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