Managing Alex Smith And Other Offensive Expectations


We’re just one week into the NFL preseason and I’m already certain of at least one thing Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs offense will be in 2013 — polarizing. Where Smith is concerned, he posted a completion rate of 87.5% and a passer rating of 102 on Friday night in New Orleans. His performance wasn’t well received by everyone in Chiefs Kingdom. Not even a highly efficient game was capable of shielding Smith from criticism.

Many of Smith’s detractors were dismissive of the 14-play, 80-yard drive he led Kansas City on in their first offensive series. That drive ended in a touchdown, but Smith’s contributions were reduced to checkdowns and other high-percentage throws.  Fans should be cautiously optimistic about scoring on the opening possession of a new regime. It’s a positive sign, but it’s also the first live action situation for both the Chiefs and Saints.

It’s tough to know what you can truly take away from early preseason success. Some skepticism about Alex Smith and the West Coast offense, even after Friday night’s game, is warranted. Such is life in an NFL town starved for quality quarterback play and improvement upon the 32-ranked scoring offense of a year ago. I’m okay with the skeptics, I just think there are a few things they should try to keep in mind:

1. Alex Smith isn’t the league’s best quarterback.

I hate to make a liar out of offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, but I think it’s time you knew the truth. I discount double-checked the game tape, and Alex Smith is no Aaron Rodgers. He’s also no Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Drew Brees. I’m sure you’re shocked, but try to compose yourself long enough to finish the article.

Smith has an average NFL arm at best. Thing is, Alex Smith wasn’t brought to Kansas City to sling the ball downfield 40 yards at a time. At least not with any regularity. Reid chose Alex Smith because he’s a smart quarterback who is well suited to his offensive philosophy. If you’re expecting to see him make the Joe Flacco throw from the Divisional Round of the playoffs consistently, you’re going to be disappointed. There’s more to a quality NFL quarterback than a live arm. Precision, good decision-making, the ability to quickly read and assess defensive coverage, and accuracy are all more important keys to long-term success at the position.

2.This isn’t the Air Coryell system. 

The Chiefs aren’t going to have the quick-strike offense that defined the Dick Vermeil era in Kansas City. Reid’s WCO system is going to plod along at times. Alex Smith is going to take what defenses give him. The offense will attempt to stretch a defense vertically every now and again, but it’s just as likely that Smith rolls right and hits Anthony Fasano on a simple 11-yard flat. Judging Reid’s offensive system by a Don Coryell standard is a mistake. We should judge the offensive system on its ability to extend drives and put points on the board.

That’s what was so bizarre about the criticism I heard over the first team offense’s lone possession. Alex Smith didn’t target any pass catcher deeper than 10 yards, but the drive ended in 6 points. It’s tough to argue with positive results. This fan base was forced to watch the league’s worst offense languish through 17 weeks of the 2012 season.

I believe this football team will have offensive success this season. I’m even comfortable with the idea that they’ll get chunks of yards through the air. Fans may want to curb their deep ball enthusiasm though because that won’t be a featured part of this offense.

3. There are several NFL teams running some version of the West Coast offense successfully.

Here are a list of teams who’ve recently had success with WCO schemes:

  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Green Bay Packers
  • Houston Texans
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Seattle Seahawks
  • Washington Redskins

Some of those teams are stricter adherents of the philosophy than others, but all of them incorporate elements of the offensive system. More importantly, Andy Reid has been a disciple of the system since working with Mike Holmgren in Green Bay. When he eventually got a head coaching gig in Philadelphia, he took the offense with him. The Eagles had a Top 10 offense eight times under Andy Reid. Philadelphia went to four straight NFC Championship games between 2001 and 2004. During that stretch they fielded the 9th, 4th, 11th, and 8th-ranked scoring offenses in the NFL.

It’s also important to note that Reid (like the aforementioned teams) will incorporate other elements into his offense here in Kansas City. The hirings of Chris Ault and Brad Childress open the door to contributions from the Pistol and Spread formations. On paper, the new-look Chiefs offense figures to be more dynamic than what we’ve recently seen from Andy Reid-coached teams.

All of that said, Friday night’s opening offensive series could be an aberration. The San Francisco 49ers may descend upon Arrowhead Stadium and bring Kansas City back down to earth. They certainly have a better defensive group than New Orleans. We’ll get clearer signs of where this offense is later this week.

In the meantime, revisit/revise your expectations, get clear on how this offensive system works, and cut Alex Smith some slack.

Until next time, Addicts!