Damon Huard. Tyler Thigpen. Brady Quinn. These are just three names off the less-than-impressive list of quarterbacks that have started a game for the Kansas City Chiefs since 2007. There have been 10, in case you were wondering. So in March, when it became official that the Chiefs had traded two draft picks to acquire Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers, Chiefs fans were ecstatic and rightfully so.
Fans had just been forced to endure a season that saw Matt Cassel throw for 12 interceptions and only six touchdowns. The majority of his interceptions coming on downright awful throws. After much ire from disgruntled Chiefs fans, it was obvious that Kansas City would have to pursue alternative options.
But, instead of dipping into a shallow pool of quarterbacks in last April’s draft, Kansas City opted to go for Smith, who boasted a 70.1 percent completion percentage in 2012 before being benched in favor of the younger Colin Kaepernick.
It appeared that one’s trash was another’s treasure as Kansas City had found their quarterback of the future for a relatively small cost. Chiefs fans were happy and all seemed well in Chiefs Nation. After Smith led the Chiefs to a 9-0 start, Andy Reid was being hailed as a genius and last year’s debacle was all but forgotten.
But, after struggling down the stretch while facing the highest quality of competition on their schedule, Chiefs fans must begin to wonder if Smith truly is their man for the future.
Smith has led a Chiefs offense that ranks 24th in the league in passing with an average of 209 yards per game. To put that in perspective, ranking 22nd and 23rd respectively were the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings. If you didn’t put it together yourself, that’s not very good.
Add that to the fact that Smith has shown a knack for falling off in the second half of games, and you have a recipe for disaster. Smith has been money in the first half this season, throwing for 1,943 yards, 15 touchdowns and only one interception. But compare that to only 1,370 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions in the second half of games,, and it’s quite obvious that his performance drops off considerably when the Chiefs needs him the most.
Smith supporters often reference his accuracy when making a case for the former No. 1 overall draft pick. These numbers can be deceiving. Throughout his career, Smith has had the luxury of playing with a top-tier defense. Whether it was the 49ers early in his career or this year’s stifling Kansas City defense, Smith hasn’t had to win many games by himself. He has thrived on low-risk, low-reward passes, rarely throwing the ball more than 20 yards downfield.
This is Kansas City’s offense, and it’s worked for them the majority of the season so many will say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But, this mantra will only last so long before Smith’s inability to win games, rather than simply manage them, is exposed.
Smith has been routinely praised for his high football IQ, and the laud is well deserved. Smith limits his mistakes and rarely makes a truly bad decision with the football. One of the more cerebral quarterbacks in the league, Smith knows how to manage the clock and exploit opposing defenses’ weaknesses. This is a major reason why Smith has been so successful as a starter in the league.
But, as the Chiefs move deeper into the playoffs, defenses will get better and the weaknesses will grow fewer. The Chiefs will need a quarterback who can lead a march down the field in late-game situations, but don’t expect Smith to be that quarterback.
Ultimately, I don’t think Smith can lead Kansas City deep into the playoffs this season, or any season in the future. Smith is by no means a bad quarterback, but he’s also not a great one. Smith will have to pull off a Trent Dilfer-esque playoff run if the Chiefs plan on advancing far into the playoffs with him as their field general.
If a quarterback like Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel slips to the Chiefs late in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Chiefs would be wise to seriously consider calling a quarterback’s name.