One big reason to watch out for Alex Smith, Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs won against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday to put the team at 6-5 and are now riding a five-game win streak, as long as any in the league outside of the undefeated Carolina Panthers.
The Chiefs now occupy the fifth seed and one of the AFC Wild Card spots, and only a Denver upset last night against the Patriots prevented the Chiefs from putting real pressure on the Broncos within the division.
What was so remarkable about the win against Buffalo, however, was the way in which they played on offense. Alex Smith is a notoriously conservative quarterback, almost pathologically so. Coming into this week 61.6 percent of Alex Smith’s third-down targets this season have been short of the markers. Only three other QBs were over 50 percent, and none were within 10 percent of Smith.
But against the Bills we saw him actually attack down the field. Coming into this game Smith had thrown the ball deep (20-plus air yards) on just 8 percent of his passing attempts. Against the Bills he went deep five times (16.6 percent of his attempts) and completed four of them.
Just 33.6 percent of Smith’s attempts heading into this game had traveled 10-plus yards from the line of scrimmage, and only a third of his attempts against Buffalo did, but the difference was the targets he had deep down the field.
For the season Smith has an average depth of target of just 6.1 yards down field, which is the lowest mark in the NFL and getting on for half (11.5) that of the league leader, Carson Palmer. Against Buffalo, however, his average depth was 9.7 yards, a massive departure from his baseline and a jump that would put him 11th in the NFL over the season.
It was enough of a jump to move his entire average for the season by 0.3 yards per attempt from just 30 passes.
Smith wasn’t just more aggressive with the football; he was also more efficient in doing so. This season he has completed 50 percent of his deep attempts, but against Buffalo that figure was 80 percent. On passes over 10 yards in the air he has completed only 53 percent for the season, but was at 60 percent against the Bills.
Nobody has ever wanted Smith to be transformed into Palmer – a player whose deep ball is key to his success – but this game proves that he at least has the ability to use it as part of the weaponry at his disposal. The Kansas City Chiefs are flying at the moment, riding an impressive win streak with a defense that has been doing much of the heavy lifting.
For too much of his NFL career, Smith has been seen as a hard cap on the fortunes of the team he leads, the kind of player who doesn’t just manage the game, but outright refuses to take aggressive shots that could open up the defense and make his own life easier. This game proved that he is at least capable of it, as if the previous decade of his play had been some epic rope-a-dope misdirection all leading up to a game of deep-throwing glory.
If the Chiefs can convince him that he is actually better off playing this way, then who knows how good the Chiefs can become this season.