One big reason to watch out for Alex Smith, Chiefs

Kansas City is one of the NFL's hottest teams -- and QB Alex Smith appears to be developing a downfield passing element to his game.

| 11 months ago
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Al

    He always had it. He just didn’t throw it deep very often.

  • larry mckinney

    As dirtbag Woody Hayes once said, “only three things can happen when you pass the ball, and two of them aren’t good.”

    Smith is showing the lie behind Hayes’ logic by eliminating the interception as he’s none since week 4. Chiefs are rolling,

    • crosseyedlemon

      That proverb has been attributed to many coaches besides Woody Hayes and the logic holds up as anyone who watched Seattle self destruct at the end of the Super Bowl last year can plainly see.

  • shayaan

    maclin is the best receiver and deep threat he has ever played with, and it’s not close. he did have some chemistry with vernon davis, but despite his great speed he was a one trick pony and nowhere near as dynamic a route runner as maclin. combine that with harbaugh’s run-heavy approach and it’s no surprise smith rarely aired it out, even in his best years in SF.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Coach Andy Reid is showing folks why he has survived in the NFL so long. A lot of people wrote the Chiefs off when Charles was injured but they have shown true character in rebounding from that adversity.

  • Tim Edell

    It amazes me when watching Smith play just how reluctant he is to pass the ball down the field. Even when he has chances for a big play he would rather take the “sure” 5-6 yard pass rather than risk throwing the ball down the field.

    • crosseyedlemon

      I think that is probably just a reflection of coach Andy Reid having the traditional “old school” philosophy which dictates that you don’t beat yourself taking risks – you make the other team beat you taking risks.

  • Donald Reid

    Queefs have to come to The Town on Sunday and that cloud nine is about to get real dark ! I smell int’s !

    • The Real Donald Reid

      I think what you are smelling is the stench of decay rising from Oakland’s dying chances at a winning season.

      • Donald Reid

        Nah, that’s the smell of all those oakie a$$ fat Sister loving Queef fans that show up to the games ! Can’t wait for Sunday !

        • Brandon

          we are a totally different team than last year. Chiefs didnt have Maclin or DJ and they were coming off a short week where they just the super bowl champs at home.

    • SCC

      Queefs gees creative degenerate. Hey are the toilet working in that dump of a stadium yet? I mean gees what a dump alameda is. But hey instead of covering the entire upper deck section with tarp for the what 25,000 fans that will attend San Quentin will let their season ticket holders out after they complete their wood workings.

      • Donald Reid

        That’s a good one, I’m just remembering last year, their first win. Pouring Rain and Alex Smith couldn’t get it done and this year he won’t either !

    • Les Fender

      What you’re smellin’ is The Black Hole. The Raiders don’t have the secondary for INT’s against #11.

    • Brandon

      u guys maybe would be a threat if u had Justin Tuck and Aldon Smith. Must admit tho im looking forward to that Peters VS Cooper show down that well be witnessing for years to come. Raiders have improved alot but still stuggle agaisnt bad teams. Just feel lucky that we are facing major injuries. should be a good one tho.

      • Donald Reid

        Only thing about that is, since Aldon Smith was suspended Autry and Edwards JR have stepped it up and Mack is back where he should be. Smith won’t have that kind of time. That’s why they play the game !

        • Brandon

          You guys are a team that’s growing. Tuck, Edwards, Smith and Mack could form to be a force. Your guys have struggled here lately. You have two players stepping up but our entire team has stepped up. I do expect this game is going to be alot more competitive then the Broncos. Our turnover ratio is CRAZY tho we rarely turn it over(haven’t since week 6). Our Oline is banged up tho so Mack should have a good game. Houston won’t play either.i expect Peters will be looking to take back any interceptions to the house just for the fact that he’s born in Oakland so I imagine hell be in the zone.

    • Butch Davis

      I bet you dont feel very smart right now

      • Donald Reid

        Yeah, Carr was trying way to hard and gave up the game. Hats off to the Queefs, but we’ve been known to win in Arrowhead ! We’ve been known to kill playoffs hopes in Arrowhead as well !

  • Keith Alberson

    I’m not going too get on the band wagon, when it comes too Smith. He’s still not accurate, and still hesitates. Saying that, i totally agree with you. This last game he looked like a different Alex Smith, although he totally missed Chris Conley, on the slant, and he has to make that throw!!!! Maybe that game will break his shell, and can build on that exposure to throwing deep. With all his other intangibles, if he continues this trend, and pray Houston is healthy, the chiefs will be the team no one want to play in the playoffs. They have the team that can beat any opponent if Alex Smith continues to trust his game and open up the field.

  • AlexanderG

    Respect earned! KC does not quit on the diamond, the pitch or the gridiron!

  • Malachi

    the chiefs will end up 11-5 after starting 1-5, truly remarkable. they should dismantle the afc south winner 4 seed in the wild card round too. they’re scary good right now. hope my broncos don’t have to see them again

  • cyberry

    The main reason is the O-Line is starting to come together.. Eric Fisher has made that jump (he came to camp a lot stronger) to a solid pass protector, he still has some work to do with the running game. But major strides of improvement along with Jeff Allen who came back from injury. Both have shown they are/should to be the foundation of the future Chiefs line.. Also, after losing Rodney Hudson to free-Agency, the Chiefs shocked everyone by taking Mitch Morse from Mizzou in the 2nd Rd..considered to most to be a MAJOR reach. Morse won the starting Center position and has looked back, he became the highest rated rookie lineman and actually one of the Top Center’s in the 2015 season.. The confidence Alex Smith has in the pocket is very noticeable. Three different RB’s have rushed for 100 yards..

  • FAX

    LOL. Faider fan talking about odors. Now I’ve heard everything.

    Idea: Try taking a bath. Oh, and they have this stuff called “deodorant” at the store. You put it on under your arms and it keeps the flies away. It costs money, though, so you may have to rob a liquor store first or wear your shoplifting pants.