Coming into the season, there was a lot of talk about a quarterback controversy in Kansas City. The Chiefs traded up in the first round to take Patrick Mahomes at #10, and after years of being limited by Alex Smith there was excitement that after years of “small ball” the Chiefs would open up the offense and start dropping bombs on teams.
And then Week 1 happened. They went into Foxborough and dominated the defending champion New England Patriots. Alex Smith rained fire from the sky and Kareem Hunt burst onto the scene. They then handed Philadelphia their first (and only) loss before beating the Chargers, Redskins, and Texans. At 5-0 they were on top of the world. That’s not the case any more…
Since winning a wild shootout with the Texans in Week 5 the Chiefs have gone 1-4, losing to Pittsburgh, Oakland, Dallas, and most recently and disappointingly, to the Giants on Sunday.
The Chiefs went from scoring 33.8 points a game in their first five games to 19.6 in their next five. From a +241 yard differential to a -362 differential. Plenty has gone wrong for the Chiefs over their 1-4 slump, from the defense, to Andy Reid’s clock management problem rearing its head, but a lot of the focus has been put on Alex Smith under center.
Over the first five games Smith was electric, a clear MVP candidate who completed 76.6% of his passes for 1,391 yards and 11 touchdowns. He didn’t throw a single pick and had a rating of 125.8. It looked like Smith turned a corner and became an eater of worlds. He was throwing downfield with confidence, displaying world-class ball handling and demolishing good defenses.
The last five games have been a very different story though…
He’s completed 62.9% of his passes for 1,283 yards and seven touchdowns, but that has come with three interceptions, a rating drop to 91.2. Those numbers are still good, but the biggest issue is a drop from 8.8 yards per attempt to 7.3. Smith has been less successful in creating big plays, and that lack of big plays has gained the ire of fans.
Time for Mahomes?
A return to dink-and-dunk short passes is directly to blame for a losing streak and the calls for Patrick Mahomes to come in have grown. The incredibly disappointing loss to New York, who have been one of the worst teams in the league this year, was not a terrible display from Smith, it was underwhelming for sure, but the Giants knew what was coming for them.
Ball security has been a big part of Smith’s game for many years, and two interceptions against his name on the box score look bad, but it was far from all him. Jason Pierre-Paul blew up Travis Kelce on a shovel pass that then landed in the hands of Damon Harrison.
That play was incredibly successful for the Chiefs early in the season, but teams have a read on it now and Andy Reid hasn’t adapted it at all. Against a disruptive defensive line like the Giants that pass is always going to be risky. The second pick was a disappointing throw into traffic when he had a man open further down field, and it is certainly one that he would like back, but he still got the Chiefs into field goal range to tie the game late.
Not the only problem
As popular as the backup quarterback always is, Smith hasn’t been the only problem for the Chiefs. Kareem Hunt has come down to earth somewhat since his incredible start to the season. In the last five games his has two games with 100+ yards from scrimmage, compared to four during the winning streak (the fifth was a 99-yard day). As with the shovel pass, teams have a read on Hunt and understand how to contain the elusive back.
Injuries have also hampered the defense. The Chiefs lost Eric Berry in Week 1, but it took time for his absence to really be punished. The pass defense has started to fall apart, and Dee Ford’s injury problems haven’t helped. Overall, the Chiefs came into Week 11 as the #26 defense in DVOA, the run defense was ranked dead last. That is unlikely to change much once the numbers from Sunday are crunched.
Andy Reid put together a very impressive offense in the offseason, unfortunately he fired all his bullets in the first few weeks of the season. The shock and awe that took apart New England and Philadelphia is now on tape and there for every opponent to scout and plot against.
While Mahomes’ big arm and fast feet might open up more of the field, he’s not going to have a better grip of the playbook than the guy who has been taking #1 reps all year, he’s not going to have a better read on coverages than a 13-season veteran.
As exciting a prospect as Mahomes is, he’s just that, a prospect. And for as much of a slump as the Chiefs are in right now they are still two wins better off than anyone else in the AFC West. We saw what happened to the Bills when they changed quarterbacks on the hoof, there is no need for the Chiefs to do that too. Dance with the girl that brought you, and that is Alex Smith.
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