The Chiefs are 9-0, largely on the strength of their defense and the running game with Jamaal Charles. But unless they get better play out of the quarterback position, they’ll have trouble beating any of the AFC’s premiere teams.
Andy Reid has done a great job of putting Alex Smith in the best possible position to succeed. The Chiefs have run the ball on 42.8 percent of plays, good for 10th in the league. Anyone who saw Reid’s play-calling in Philadelphia knows he has to be cringing at running the ball this much. At the same time, Reid clearly knows that this offense has to be built around its best player, Jamaal Charles.
Additionally, Reid has put Smith in a position to succeed through his use of personnel distribution and alignment. Often times, Reid will motion a running back from the backfield to the perimeter. Or, he’ll align a tight end on the outside with Dwayne Bowe and Dexter McCluster lined up inside. These unconventional personnel alignments do a few things. Most importantly they help define the coverage for Alex Smith, making his life easier. This isn’t a technique unique to the Chiefs offense. In today’s NFL, it’s used all over the league. However, it’s been used often in Kansas City this season.
If a tight end is aligned on the outside and the defense decides to match up with a corner, Smith knows it has to be some form of zone coverage because (with few exceptions) a corner wouldn’t line up on a tight end in man. Most likely, there will be a mismatch somewhere, either with the tight end on a less physical cornerback, or with the receivers inside matched up on slower linebackers. If a linebacker kicks out to cover the tight end, or a corner comes inside to match up on a receiver, Smith can tell that it’s man coverage. This allows him to pick the best matchup.
Even with the help, Alex Smith has been unremarkable. He’s failed to throw a TD pass in 5 of 9 games this season. He’s averaging a meager 6.09 yards per pass attempt. There’s a reason he has the label of “Game Manager.”
Smith is hesitant to pull the trigger way too often. He fails to anticipate downfield throws. Most of the time, he doesn’t give his routes and the concept of the play a chance to develop. He almost looks like his only objective is to get rid of the ball quickly instead of getting it to the right place. This leads to tons of missed opportunities.
Smith often fails to get to his 2nd or 3rd read, a constant theme written about on this website. There’s a reason for this, however. The best quarterbacks can consistently get to their 2nd, 3rd and even 4th reads comfortably. The middle-of-the-road and bad quarterbacks cannot.
Smith has plenty of other problems. His footwork breaks down with bodies around him. He’s uncomfortable throwing with pressure nearby. He doesn’t see the field well, missing blitzes and failing to anticipate throws. He also stays on receivers too long, which is one major reason for his inability to get through his progressions with consistency.
Only one of the teams the Chiefs have beaten this season currently has a winning record. A great defense and solid running game are good enough to go 9-0 with that type of schedule, but the Chiefs will ultimately only go as far as Alex Smith is capable of taking them. If he can’t start making more big time throws, Kansas City will struggle to keep up with the AFC’s other elite teams.