Alex Smith has never really been liked. Hardly been wanted by his teams fans at times. But in the last two and half seasons, all Alex Smith does is win games.
Smith is 28-6-1 in his last 35 starts. In the same span of games started, Tom Brady is 27-8, Peyton Manning 25-10 and Aaron Rodgers 25-10. Smith is a polar opposite of all of those guys. Those three are gunslingers, never afraid of making a mistake, though they make few. They also have a combined five Super Bowl rings.
And yet the Chiefs are winning in spite of the way Alex Smith is playing. Perhaps some of that is by design. The defense has been so good in the first half of the season, a mistake free quarterback is probably just what they needed. But as soon as the rest and relaxation of the bye week is over, you would have to think there will be games the Chiefs need to win because of Smith, rather than in spite of him.
Can he still do that? He certainly hasn’t proven that he can do that this year, he hasn’t had to. That’s the scary part for the Chiefs.
Smith is a game manager, a term that has an unnecessary negative connotation to it. The question now is, can he manage the game effectively if and when the Chiefs find themselves trailing in the fourth quarter? I’m not sure he can. Jim Harbaugh obviously didn’t think he was good enough for the 49ers Super Bowl run last year.
His performance in the playoffs against the Saints in 2011 is evidence that he is capable of putting his team on his shoulders and win a game himself. He completed 24 of 42 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns in that instant classic game against New Orleans, but he really hasn’t shown that ability since.
Smith never won the over the hearts of 49ers fans. He has a chance to earn that respect in Kansas City. But as the weeks pass and the Chiefs head into the bye week, his chances of being the most popular man in Kansas City are disappearing.
It’s hard to believe I am sitting here in October complaining about the quarterback of a team that has a 9-0 record. The Denver Broncos loom after the bye week, and the offense has been trending downward for a month now. And while Smith is 9-0 in a Chiefs uniform, he has failed to throw a touchdown pass in five of those victories.
Andy Reid and Smith have to come up with something better during the bye week. Denver is obviously a completely different challenge than the Chiefs have faced all season and the first legitimate NFL quarterback they’ve seen in a month and a half. The Broncos lead the NFL in passing, total offense and scoring while the Chiefs lead the league in punts.
The check down offense Smith and the Chiefs have employed to get to 9-0, has worked to this point. Starting next week, and even more importantly when the playoffs get here, they will need much more from not only Alex Smith, but the entire offense. Sunday’s game against the Bills was a pitiful performance offensively. Smith didn’t make any mistakes and he had several balls dropped. But he wasn’t great, averaging 4.28 yards per pass attempt. The receivers were terrible Sunday and have been generally awful all year. There’s a reason that Jamaal Charles is on pace to lead a team in receiving yards and rushing yards for the first time in the NFL since Marshall Faulk did it for the 1998 Colts.
Smith is averaging 6.1 yards per pass attempt this season, which is inexplicably above his career average. That is dead last in the NFL. No other quarterback that is currently his team’s starting quarterback has a number that dreadfully low.
He has to stretch the field at some point. The Chiefs will face a legitimate offense for the first time in in six week when they travel to Denver next week. The defense has started to show some cracks in the last two games, games that were against mediocre teams at best. Smith and the offense have to find the next gear, get the ball in the hands of someone in addition to Charles.
When Smith is undoubtedly called upon to make throws to keep a game close or come from behind, can he answer the bell? Does he still have the moxie he showed two years ago against the Saints? The Chiefs have gotten this far on the play of its defense, on the heavy workload that Charles has shouldered, and on the general ineptness of the opponents. To finish what they’ve started, Smith must make some winning throws. He doesn’t need to be a different player, just a better one. A more dynamic one. It’s something he’s done before and I don’t see why he can’t be that player again.