Haters are going to hate. As the 2013 season has progressed, critics and detractors of the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs have cried foul because of what they refer to as the team’s “easy” schedule (case in point, more recent wins against the Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills). CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco went so far as to call the Chiefs “The worst 9-0 team I’ve ever seen.”
What is everyone griping about? Defensively, the Chiefs have one of, if not the NFL’s best defense in terms of scoring: surrendering just 12.3 points per game, and not allowing more than 17 points per game this season. No defense has racked up more quarterback sacks (36), or taken the ball away more (23 times). Also consider that the Chiefs are currently No. 8 in overall defense and third in pass defense, and you’re looking at arguably the very best defensive squad in the league.
The Chiefs are doing something right, certainly, but they are looking to improve their chances as they prepare to face their division rivals, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, on November 17 at Sports Authority Field in the Mile-High City, not to mention other upcoming face-offs against the Indianapolis Colts and the San Diego Chargers.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is already an impressive — and oddly underestimated — quarterback with a formidable 28-5-1 record as a starter since 2011. Why he’s not taken more seriously than he is, at least among the NFL intelligentsia, remains a mystery.
Some things he and the Chiefs’ offensive squad might consider focusing on as they face increasingly challenging opponents moving forward:
Make more from-the-gut decisions while under pressure
Smith is certainly a cerebral quarterback, perhaps even an overthinker. But in the NFL, plays need to be executed purely on instinct at times, which is a habit that can be practiced, developed and exploited. It’s one that contributes to making a great quarterback even greater. At one point in the game against the Texans last month, Smith cost the Chiefs a touchdown making a late decision to throw to Sean McGrath in Houston’s end zone, trying to scramble for the corner. When Smith realized that two Texans defenders were closing in on him to prevent the play, he threw off to McGrath. Although McGrath made the catch, he was already out of room and unable to get both feet in bounds. Good NFL defenses will force botched plays like that, and the latter half of this season will be more exacting, requiring better gut decisions from Smith. Make more from-the-gut decisions while under pressure.
Focus more on open receivers
Smith’s accuracy was a huge dealmaker before this season began, but he’s been off his 2012 70-percent mark in recent weeks. He’s reliably spot on for short/intermediate passes, but his higher completion percentages have suffered of late, with more consistent throws to receivers’ backs or otherwise thrown short. Potential trouble for the Chiefs comes not only from Smith’s inaccuracy, but also because of missed opportunities. The next three opponents Kansas City will face — Denver, San Diego and Washington Redskins — average 42.9, 24, and 25.4 points per game, respectively, and for each of those games, every scoring opportunity should be nabbed. Focus more on open receivers.
Take more risks while moving downfield
Dwayne Bowe has the third highest yard-per-catch average on the Chiefs squad. Smith and Bowe have been having a good run over the last three games, with Bowe making 13 catches over the course of that stretch, including a season-best seven catches in the game against the Bills. The Chiefs could use more from that duo as their November games approach. If at any point Smith wants to utilize fewer long throws to avoid a turn over, he should rely more heavily on Bowe.
Dexter McCluster, Jamaal Charles and Donnie Avery are also very reliable resources, assuming they have enough room to spread out and do their thing to put some distance behind them and the ball. Take more risks while moving downfield.
If Smith and the Chiefs offense can get on top of these things, Kansas City should be able to increase their scoring average from here on out, and it will serve them well as they approach more formidable opponents and duke it out for the AFC Championship.