Throughout the 2014 season, the Kansas City Chiefs have been extremely limited in the passing game. Alex Smith has been accurate and moved the ball, but he fails to strike fear into opponents. Smith is almost always looking for the short completion, hoping athletes like Jamaal Charles and Travis Kelce can gain yards after the catch.
The pattern has become somewhat maddening, with anger boiling over after a third straight defeat against the Arizona Cardinals. Smith did not identify multiple receivers down the field in a game that three points was the difference. On Sunday, in a must-win against the Oakland Raiders, Smith and the offense looked different.
With Jeff Linkenbach in for Mike McGlynn at left guard and Albert Wilson starting his second career game on the outside, Smith was granted time and another weapon. The result? Smith looking long and taking some chances, all helping the Chiefs to a 31-13 triumph over the Raiders.
While Smith is the quarterback in Kansas City, the Chiefs will never be an aerial show. Smith will never throw for 4,500 yards or 35 touchdowns, and he may never make another Pro Bowl. However, if he takes smart chances like he did Sunday, Kansas City is in very good shape.
Let's take a look at three plays from Sunday's win that display Smith's deep-ball decisions.
Play 1: Smith looks long for Bowe
Alright, the Chiefs have Wilson wide right with Kelce next to him. On the left, Anthony Fasano is in the slot with Dwayne Bowe wide. Knile Davis is in the backfield, staying in to block.
Oakland actually has very nice coverage on this play. Normally, I would expect Smith to scramble here, but he stands firm. Kelce is breaking across the middle and a good throw could find him, while Wilson is running curl. If Smith's timing was perfect, Wilson could have been an option. Instead, Smith trusts Bowe in man-to-man coverage. Also, it should be noted Smith has a terrific pocket to throw from.
It's a great throw by Smith and nicely pulled down by Bowe. Unfortunately, Bowe could not drag his second foot and the end result was an incompletion. Still, these are the types of plays Kansas City needs to aim for. When your best (and very physical) receiver has 1-on-1 coverage, you take a shot. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bowe will have an advantage over any corner he faces.
Play 2: Smith goes to DAT
This is a play I want to see much more of. I took the liberty of drawing the routes out, with Charles in motion to the left. Bowe is running a slant while Kelce drives the corner and gets the safety's attention with a seam route. On the left, Wilson is basically running a legal rub route while De'Anthony Thomas goes on a wheel route from the slot.
Again, Smith decides to go long. The safety has stayed home because Kelce did not get a free release off the line, but Thomas is still seeing man-to-man coverage. Smith looked briefly to the right, holding the safety, but knew all along he was going to Thomas. Bowe actually broke wide open and would have been an easy 8-yard completion at the least. Instead, Smith is looking for the home run, trusting his blazing-fast receiver to make a play. I love the guts.
The downside of this play? Smith makes a poor throw. He's trying to throw it to Thomas' left shoulder to keep it away from the corner (who fell right after Smith released the ball), but he misses toward the sideline. Smith has to make a better throw here. Usually, accuracy is not the problem for Smith, so this is the exception, not the rule.
Play 3: Smith's best throw of the season
Coming into this play, the Chiefs are leading 10-6 in the third quarter and facing a 3rd and 5. Kansas City needs a big first down or punt again, allowing Oakland a chance to take the lead.
With that backdrop in mind, we have Wilson wide right and Bowe in the slot. Charles and Fasano are in the backfield with Kelce tight left, next to Eric Fisher.
Fasano and Kelce both stay in the block with Kansas City expecting blitz. Charles runs into the flat for a checkdown, while Wilson runs a curl short of the first-down marker. Bowe is running a deep out, one of the hardest throws in football. This play is Bowe or nothing.
The Raiders have great coverage, but there is no adequate coverage for the throw Smith made. This is an absolutely perfect pass, leading Bowe away from the defender but giving him enough space to stay in bounds. Without question, this was the play which blew the game wide open.
The Chiefs are a good team, but could be great with solid protection and Smith trusting his guys down the field. In this game, Smith finally took designed shots and it paid off. Kansas City had five explosive plays (20+ yards) and scored 31 points, earning a massive win.
Against Pittsburgh, the Chiefs have to attack deep. The Steelers have a bad secondary and can be exposed. To make the playoffs, Kansas City can't play scared. Smith must continue to push the ball and stretch the field, forcing defenses to open up underneath.
Here's to hoping the Chiefs go for broke on Sunday and come up aces.