The Kansas City Chiefs’ Playoff Hopes Ride On Alex Smith


In large part, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Oakland Raiders on Sunday because Alex Smith and the passing attack started clicking. Smith finished the day 18-of-30 for 297 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

While the Chiefs’ streak of games without a wideout catching a TD is still intact, the offense did finally throw the ball down the field with some success. Kansas City had multiple 20-plus-yard passes, and the receiving corps was actually productive, bringing in eight receptions for 159 yards. That’s just one yard shy of averaging 20 yards per completion (to the wide receivers).

While Jamaal Charles is undoubtably the Chiefs’ best offensive player, and people (myself included) often give head coach Andy Reid a hard time for not using him enough, I believe that KC’s only real chance to make the playoffs is to match Sunday’s passing-game productivity.

There are a lot of Chiefs fans out there who will disagree with me. Most of these fans believe that Smith simply isn’t good enough, so focusing on the passing game is a lost cause. They would prefer to try and win games the way that KC did against Seattle this season, when Jamaal Charles rushed for 159 yards and two TDs, and Smith only attempted 16 passes throughout the afternoon.

Dec 14, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) hands off to running back Jamaal Charles (25) during the first half against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

While I understand the logic of getting the ball in your best player’s hands, I simply don’t believe you can win consistently with that plan of attack in today’s NFL. KC has a very good defense, but the group isn’t on the level that Seattle was last year, where they can dominate the game week in and week out. The Chiefs are going to give up some points against good offenses, and they simply have to be able to move the ball down the field and put points on the board.

Now, I’m not saying to ignore Jamaal Charles and take him out of the game plan. That would be absurd. What I am saying is that in order to open things up for Charles, you have to have some balance. I don’t think countless screen passes and checkdowns/dump-off count as balance either. A team must be able to throw the ball more than ten yards down the field in order to open up the defense and prevent it from crowding the line of scrimmage.

If the Chiefs want to make a late push to get into the playoffs, I don’t believe they can do it by hiding Smith and trying to minimize his contributions. We’ve seen QBs like Eli Manning and Joe Flacco get hot late in the season and ride that streak to a Super Bowl win. I’m not saying that Smith has a run like that in him, but I do believe that a hot Smith running a productive passing game (even if not prolific) is the only real chance that KC has.

Dec 14, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) throws the ball during the first half against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Take a look at Smith’s numbers in KC’s wins versus its losses this season, and it becomes all the more clear:

Wins: 70.1% completions, 7.8 YPA, 11 TDs, 0 INTs
Losses: 59.5% completions, 6.3 YPA, 7 TDs, 6 INTs

For a moment, consider that Charles is averaging 30 rushing yards more per game in KC’s wins than in its losses. Now which of these seems more likely? That those extra 30 yards are opening up the passing game or vice versa? Clearly, judging by the title of this post, you know where I stand.

On Sunday, the passing attack featured its best combination of targets to date (this season). The combination of Dwayne Bowe, Travis Kelce, Jason Avant, Albert Wilson, De’Anthony Thomas, Knile Davis, Anthony Fasano and Charles seems like a group that is capable of being successful. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t ever going to rival the assortment of freakishly talented targets that Peyton Manning has in Denver, but there is just enough talent there to run an efficient passing game that, if all goes well, can ease the burden on Charles and the ground game.

I don’t know if Alex Smith and the KC passing attack will rise to this challenge. There are still major concerns along the offensive line (although benching Mike McGlynn helps), the receiving corps (as a whole) is still limited, and Smith himself will sometimes misfire (even when he has the nerve to pull the trigger).

I guess that even though I’m all for putting an emphasis on the passing game, I’m also acknowledging that it may not work.

…but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Aug 24, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) calls a play against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

This coming Sunday, the Chiefs travel to take on the 9-5 Pittsburgh Steelers, with a playoff berth very much on the line for both teams. The Steelers feature an offense with both Ben Roethlisberger (315 passing yards per game, 67 completion percentage, 29 touchdowns) and Le’Veon Bell (second in the league in rushing yards). Pittsburgh is averaging 35 points per game at home this season. Bottom line: The Chiefs will have to score some points to win this “must win” game, and they won’t be able to do so with Charles alone.

The good news is that the Steelers defense is currently giving up the fourth-most yards per attempt to opposing QBs (8.0) and have allowed the most passing plays of 40-plus yards (15). In other words, big plays in the passing game should be there for the taking.

Kansas City believes that Smith is the right man to lead its offense and have made a commitment to him. As the Chiefs into the final two games of their season, with the playoffs on the line, its time for both them and Smith to prove that they made the right call. If Kansas City is going to make the playoffs. it is going to have to be because of him and not in spite of him.

Smith was up to the challenge on Sunday.

Here’s hoping that he’s got a couple more good games left in him.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!