Alex Smith remains concerned about Chiefs red zone offense

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 10: Quarterback Alex Smith
KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 10: Quarterback Alex Smith /

Alex Smith is confident in the Kansas City Chiefs offense right now, but he is a bit concerned about the team’s ability to score in the red zone.

For now, the attention of Chiefs Kingdom is largely focused on Week 17 and the looming debut of Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. The excitement is understandable given how long fans have wanted a homegrown quarterback, so to speak, one drafted and groomed to be the face of the franchise. For starting quarterback Alex Smith, however, there are bigger fish to fry as he looks ahead on the schedule.

Smith is committed to helping Mahomes this week as he can, but he and the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs players and staff are also concerned about the postseason, given that, win or lose, the results of Week 17 are completely meaningless. The goal is to stay healthy and then gear up for what will be  grueling run in January that will hopefully last longer than previous attempts with Smith at the helm.

One area that Smith says the team needs to improve on the red zone offense. When asked by reporters about his confidence level, he specifically pointed to kicker Harrison Butker winning this week’s AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award as a sign that something is not right with the offense in general.

"I think we have a good thing going … If there is an area that does jump out, certainly would love for Harrison (Butker) not to be the AFC (special teams player of the week), for him to not be kicking so many field goals. Certainly, points are good nonetheless. I think there are some areas to keep improving on"

Butker won the award for kicking five field goals in Week 16. It’s a great asset to have such a reliable kicker, especially one who was essentially brought in as a mystery prospect and a substitute for Cairo Santos. It’s to his credit (and Brett Veach’s) that the story has worked out so well. But as Smith said, there’s a reason why the team has to go to the kicker so often—the offense keeps stalling at the wrong time.

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A closer look at the numbers shows that Smith is dead-on. The Chiefs are only better than 3 other teams in the NFL when it comes to scoring touchdowns from the red zone: the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals. By scoring a touchdown on only 42.5 percent of their trips to the red zone, the Chiefs are No. 29 in the entire NFL, a stark contrast from the best in the NFL who reach the end zone at a 65 percent rate (the Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars).

This is not a new problem for the Chiefs. They were 26th last year in scoring touchdowns from the red zone. They lack a large physical receiver who can go up for the ball or another tight end who can create an obvious mismatch. It doesn’t help when Demetrius Harris drops one, but the problem is bigger than that.

What makes this even more depressing is that the Chiefs rank in the top half of the NFL (at No. 13 overall) in scoring attempts per game from the red zone. This means they are getting to the end zone at a decent enough clip (seriously, even just a tick higher and they would be tied for the top 5 teams, since it’s that close), but failing to convert on those attempts  Last year, they were tied for 9th, so again, this is not a one year issue.

Smith is wise to point this out as something to work on before the playoffs begin. The Chiefs are going to be playing in close games from here on out, and Matt Nagy and Andy Reid will have to figure out how to leverage offensive assets better so close to the end zone.