I don’t think it’s any secret that Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense struggled against the Panthers. In fact, ever since the game ended it’s been a source of near-constant discussion here on Arrowhead Pride, as we considered a time-honored tradition of worrying about how the Chiefs almost lost a game that they won.
I was really hoping to just let this game slide by and not have to review it, especially after some technical difficulties stole Google Chrome from me on my new laptop (long story, suffice it to say if anyone is a true tech-head email me at MNchiefsfan@hotmail.com. Please!), making it an annoyingly long process to create GIFs (ain’t nobody got time to re-learn all their passwords on a new browser). But, as I always say, I’ve got a job to do. And a big part of that job, like it or not, is to review Alex Smith’s film. So let’s do this, even if it won’t be fun.
(Due to time constraints caused by the afore-mentioned Chrome issue, we’re going to have fewer GIFs/pics than normal. I’m sorry, but believe me there weren’t many fun plays to GIF anyway)
When I went into the game, I was expecting a bloodbath on the same level as the Houston and Pittsburgh games, both of which led me to very harshly criticize the Chiefs quarterback. After reviewing the all-22, I can confirm that Smith definitely struggled. However, it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought during broadcast viewing. Let’s look at the numbers, then discuss the film.
Missed Shots: 6
Happy Feet: 2
Drops: 5 (70 yards lost, conservatively)
Inaccurate Throws: 5
Potential Picks: 0 (throwing an actual pick doesn’t get tallied here)
Drives extended with feet: 0
Franchise QB Throws: 1
Screens: 6 (new category, I had to start counting)
Throws Behind LOS: 6
Throws 1-5 Yards in Air: 9
Throws 6-10 Yards in Air: 11
Throws 11-19 Yards in Air: 6
Throws 20+ Yards in Air: 4
Now again, let me be crystal clear on this, Alex Smith was not good against the Panthers. He missed some open receivers (Chris Conley in particular) and had some accuracy issues, one of which ruined a surefire touchdown to Conley at a time the team was desperate for points. He also didn’t make up for these struggles with great plays on other snaps.
Overall, Smith just looked OFF. His timing didn’t seem to quite be there, and he spent a lot of the day looking flustered upon re-watching. I have no idea what the problem was. It could be that Smith is still hurt. It could be that Carolina’s VERY zone-heavy defense (I bet they’re in zone twice as often as any other team I’ve watched this year, if not more) messed with Smith’s presnap reads and he had trouble compensating. I don’t know. But he absolutely needs to play better if the Chiefs want to make a run this year. That’s on him.
The flip side of that coin is that more than a few times, Smith DID make the correct play and/or the offense was finding a rhythm, and something totally out of Smith’s control happened. One example of this was a horrific drop by Albert Wilson 20-plus yards down the field on a perfect throw by Smith between multiple defenders. that drop alone cost the Chiefs a drive, as it swung from 1st and 10 in enemy territory to a punt.
There were multiple costly drops on the day. One came late in the game when Smith got CRUSHED by a free blitzer up the middle (that one is on the OL, as Smith actually POINTED at the linebacker prior to the snap) but managed to throw the ball as he was getting hit. Wilson was running a quick slant and had plenty of room to work with, but was unable to haul in a throw that was behind him. It was a very catchable pass despite the fact that Wilson had to reach behind him. When your quarterback sticks in the pocket and takes a shot, you’ve gotta catch the ball. Sometimes it truly is that simple.
Wilson wasn’t the only culprit. Travis Kelce dropped a (low) throw over the middle that would have netted at least 20 yards and brought the Chiefs close to field goal range on one drive. Now, make no mistake, the throw was low. But it was a routine catch that Kelce (and any other NFL player) should make all day long. Kelce committed the sin of starting to run before gathering the ball in (one of his only weaknesses as a player).
Now, before people start to think I’m just going to make excuses for Smith the rest of the article, take note that despite Kelce’s drop Smith was hardly blameless on the play.
Holy smokes, Conley (top of screen) was wide open on Kelce's drop downfield. Still should've been a big gain, but that's as open as it gets. pic.twitter.com/itLLPuVvsN— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 16, 2016
Smith started this play looking at DAT on the right side, then shifted his focus in Kelce’s direction over the middle of the field. In the meantime, he at least appeared to look right at Conley. But for whatever reason (whether he doesn’t see Conley or feels like Kelce will somehow be even more open), he doesn’t pull the trigger. That’s an absolutely inexcusable miss by Smith. So again, he was definitely a big part of the offense struggling.
The deeper concern I have is how out of sync the ENTIRE offense looked. There were multiple drops (as I mentioned) that seemed to come at the worst possible time. There were also several plays where the offensive line, after Smith had actually pointed out a blitzer, still let him get a free sprint at Smith (he took some real shots getting the ball out that he should get credit for, picking up positive plays when the defense had him dead to rights). Finally, there were multiple false start penalties that, much like the drops, seemed to come at the worst possible time (generally right when the offense was starting to get some momentum).
If the rest of the offense plays an average day, I’m not sure we would be looking at the Carolina game the same way. If even a couple of those dropped throws are caught, the Chiefs very likely put up another six points or more on the scoreboard. If a few of those false starts and free blitzers go away, several drives are quite likely sustained that were later snuffed out on 3rd and long. What you had with Carolina was a situation where Smith was playing “meh” football and the rest of the team followed suit. As a result, the offense as a whole completely stunk and Smith is now receiving the lion’s share of the blame (which hey, is part of being the quarterback and pretty deserved).
Carolina’s front seven, in my opinion, is a really poor matchup for the Chiefs offense. Their linebackers are freakishly fast and instinctive, which destroys a lot of what the Chiefs try to do offensively in stretching the defense horizontally (the Panthers don’t need to adjust to such things because they can trust their LB’s to clean up those plays). Additionally, they are stout enough against the run to prevent the Chiefs ground attack from getting started, a major problem for the offense in Kansas City. Finally, Carolina’s tendency to play zone messes with presnap reads, which is a huge part of Smith’s game.
When you combine a bad matchup with poor general play from the entire offense, bad things are going to happen. Frankly, it’s a miracle the Chiefs escaped with the win. I’ll be watching closely against Tampa Bay to see if things look more tightened up on offense. The efficiency we saw against Oakland and New Orleans is going to be a must down the stretch, no matter how good the defense is at stealing games.
We’ll get back to a slightly more in-depth look next week, when I’ve hopefully worked out my Chrome issues.