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What the Chiefs should do with Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes

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Is it time for the KC Chiefs to bench Alex Smith in favor of rookie QB Patrick Mahomes? Here’s one Chiefs fan’s take on what they should do.

I’m not here to write about what Andy Reid will do. I think most people who know Andy (or have just watched him coach for a long time) believe that he is going to ride out the rest of the season with Alex Smith, regardless of what will happen.

No, I’m here to talk about what Andy Reid SHOULD do.

It’s time to have a conversation I really did not think we would be having this season. I never really thought that Alex Smith would play poorly enough for enough consecutive games to make me say it was time to talk about Patrick Mahomes.

I have watched Alex Smith’s all-22 more than literally anyone else I know. ANYONE else.

I re-watched literally every dropback in 2014 and wrote about it here. I re-watched literally every dropback in 2015 and wrote about it here. Last season, I again re-watched every dropback, but I wrote about each game individually. I have done the same this season. You can find those articles here.

All told, I have watched, quite literally, somewhere around a thousand Alex Smith dropbacks on all-22. All while charting missed shots, happy feet snaps, and a bunch of other things in order to get beyond the “base stats.”

Throughout that time, you can find a pretty standard theme in the vast majority of my work regarding Alex, even as I refined my system and “stats:” he’s a decent but not great QB who gets a bad rap from many fans and is overrated by a few fans. In short, I like Alex Smith. He stabilized the QB position for the Chiefs after years of horrific play, does a lot of things to help the team win, and seems like a legitimately good person off the field. I have, on many, many occasions, been accused of being a “pro-Smith homer.”

I say all that to give some context for this next statement: Andy Reid should give serious consideration to benching Alex Smith and starting Patrick Mahomes.

There are a few reasons I’ve come to this conclusion, but I’m just going to state a few here. Make no mistake, though, I take no pleasure in writing that. My dream scenario was that Alex would ride off into the sunset a folk hero to Chiefs fans, having led them to a Super Bowl win in his final year. I hate how this is going down.

That said, Alex’s last 3 games (if the film vs the Bills looks ANYTHING like I think it is going to) have been utterly horrific. 5 of his last 7 have been terrible, with only the Raider and Bronco games being solid on his part. That alone would make me question things, because good quarterbacks generally don’t have that many bad games in that short a time span.

However, it’s the WAY Alex has struggled that has brought me to where I’m at. The Chiefs are getting throttled by cover 2 and middle field closed coverage zones, both of which are quite basic defenses that NFL quarterbacks have seen a million times. However, the Chiefs simply CANNOT find an answer to them.

In the last 3 games, against 1 “meh” defense and 2 absolutely terrible defenses, the Chiefs have mustered 36 points TOTAL (only 6 more than they were averaging per game not too long ago). In other words, the Chiefs have been literally the worst offense in football with regards to scoring output as of late.

People have been attempting to blame the defense (and given its struggles earlier this season, I can understand that), but for weeks now the defense has done enough to win games, only faltering when asked to repeatedly carry the burden for an offense that can’t move the chains and can’t score points.

Today’s game was a classic example. The Chiefs defense forced the Bills to punt on 3 straight possessions to start the game. The Chiefs offense responded... by scoring literally no points and gaining literally no first downs. Then, after the Bills managed to score a TD and a FG (on a pair of short fields thanks to the offense continuing to go 3-and-out... the offense responded with its ONLY FIRST DOWN OF THE FIRST HALF.

I want you to think about that. The offense was so horrifically inept against a bad defense that the Bills had 7 possessions in the first half. Last season NFL offenses averaged about 11 possessions a game. THAT is how an offense destroys a defense; by forcing it to be perfect over and over and over again. Eventually, the defense will falter. It will just happen. It is absolutely inevitable.

Then, in the 2nd half, after allowing a field goal, the Chiefs defense forced 4 straight punts (3 of which were the result of 3-and-out drives) to give the offense a chance to get back in the game. And they couldn’t do it. The defense even made a highly critical stop vs the Bills rushing attack (you know, that run defense we’ve all mocked all season) right outside the 2 minute warning to give the ball back to the offense with a chance to win the game.

You know what happened.

Make no mistake... it is the offense that is the problem in Kansas City right now. Not the defense. The offense is scoring at a league-worst rate, not moving the ball, and is generally looking completely dysfunctional.

Now that we’ve established that, let’s talk about Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes. I’m not going to attempt to talk you into the idea that Mahomes will be good if he starts next week. I have no idea what he’d look like.

What I CAN say, with a lot of confidence, is that Mahomes will almost certainly not result in a WORSE offense than what we’re currently seeing. And so begins the “it’s time to talk about Mahomes” conversation. The way I’m going to do this is simple: I’m going to take a few of the most common arguments people have given against starting Mahomes and explain why they are, in my opinion, incorrect.

“Starting Mahomes means giving up on the playoffs. The Chiefs are in the hunt, they can’t go with a rookie QB down the stretch. Veterans will mutiny.”

As I said above, the Chiefs are currently playing the worst offensive football in the league right now. Unless you believe that Mahomes will be on the same level of, say, Tyler Palko or Tom Savage, there’s no reason to believe the output will actually get WORSE than it currently is.

In fact, a strong argument can be made that the offensive output will be better. Even if you factor in turnovers (which, by the way, considering Alex has thrown 4 picks in the last month, isn’t exactly the most convincing way to argue in his favor), the fact is that a Mahomes-led offense will undoubtedly produce more big plays. Big plays = points. It is written in stone in the NFL. Heck, we all SAW that earlier in the season.

However, I’d urge you to take a look at the specific weaknesses teams are picking at currently against the Chiefs. They are keying on Kareem Hunt, keeping defenders close to the line of scrimmage, selling out to stop Hunt from getting going, and showing almost no respect for deep and intermediate boundary throws. They are counting on mixing Alex up presnap, forcing him to go away from his first read, buy time in the pocket, and throw with anticipation against zone. All of those go against Alex’s biggest weaknesses: post-snap reads, pocket presence, and “dangerous” throws.

Guess whose SPECIFIC strengths all of those things are? Patrick Mahomes. So again, telling me you’re “tanking the season” makes no sense when the offense is already performing at a league-worst rate and Mahomes happens to have the exact skillset to beat what is currently killing them.

“It’s Andy Reid’s antiquated system, not Alex. He’s the problem. Screen much?”

I’m sorry, you’re just wrong. I could show you about a hundred gifs like this one.

Watch the all-22 against the Steelers, Cowboys, Giants and Bills (I’m guessing with the Bills, but some of the all-22 replays they should had the same issue): you will absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, see receivers open in “zone busting” routes like seam routes, flood concepts, deep/intermediate crosser and corner routes, and level routes. You WILL see it.

The Chiefs’ first FG drive against the Bills was a great example, and Trent Green laid it out in detail on the broadcast. On 3rd and 6 on Buffalo’s 26-yard-line, Alex had Kelce open on a zone busting corner route (I honest to God cannot remember if it was a corner or a seam route, I just remember screaming and pointing at Kelce on my TV as Green calmly pointed it out), but just flat-out missed him. Instead he made a contested throw to a covered Albert Wilson. Incomplete.

The problem isn’t Reid’s system. Talk to me about screens all you want, I’m telling you, guys are open down the field. The worse Alex plays, the more tightly you’ll see Reid control the offense with screens and quick shots. But that’s a reactionary move by Reid when Alex is struggling, NOT Reid playing his preferred system. You want to know what his preferred system is? Turn on the film from the first 5 weeks, which features concepts other teams are still copying. The problem. Ain’t. Andy.

“It’s the offensive line, not Alex. Mahomes will get ruined if he plays behind that line!”

The offensive line has been disappointing this season in some respects (injuries have played a role), but again, if you watch the film, you’ll see Alex repeatedly make pressure worse by getting happy feet, moving off his “spot” in the pocket (which ruins the angles linemen are trying to work, as they can’t see the QB move), and even running into pressure.

Just watching Alex play you can see a quarterback who has lost all trust in his line, and is looking to bail the second things look even a little bit off. And if you think it’s the line’s fault, note how well Alex played against the Eagles and the Redskins, when there was plenty of pressure on Alex. HE was different, not the line. And when your QB is seeing shadows out there, it makes everything else worse.

Now let’s turn to the idea that Mahomes would be ruined by playing behind this line. Turn on some college tape of Mahomes last year before you do that. His pass protection was absolutely, utterly completely horrific. You’ll say “yeah but that’s against college players,” my point is that Mahomes has played with LESS time before he had 250+ pound men sprinting at him. And it didn’t break him.

Or, watch Mahomes face more pass rush than any professional QB has ever faced, against a bigger mismatch than any professional QB has ever faced.

Again, no NFL quarterback has ever played a game with THAT big a disparity in talent. LSU had at least 9 (maybe 10) future NFL players on that defense. Mahomes had 2 borderline NFL players on his offense (one of them, his LT, got absolutely worked over the entire time). It is the worst circumstance I’ve ever seen a QB play in. And that was 2015. Mahomes was BETTER in 2016, not worse. Not broken. Better.

If that game didn’t break Mahomes, playing behind the Chiefs’ offensive line isn’t going to do it. He’s not going to get QB PTSD. He’s not going to be broken. To argue that he will is ignoring all evidence we have to just say a narrative.

“If Mahomes plays, his gunslinger tendencies are going to lead to way too many turnovers! The Chiefs can’t win that way!”

Alex Smith has ended 2 comeback attempts in the last 3 weeks with backbreaking interceptions that ended the game. He’s thrown 4 in his last 110 passing attempts despite Andy Reid protecting him a great deal with the play calling.

So please, tell me more about the way picks will suddenly “start” to hurt the Chiefs if they switch quarterbacks.

“The Chiefs offense is way too complicated. No way Mahomes could learn it. Guys need to sit and learn like Aaron Rodgers.”

If we ignore Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Big Ben, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Cam Newton, Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Matt Stafford, Peyton Manning, and about 50 other names... yeah, sure, it totally ruins guys to start as a rookie. In other words... the evidence points to the idea that it’s the player, not whether he starts as a rookie, that determines if he has success.

PLENTY of quarterbacks have come in and had some success as a rookie. Nevermind that, as we talked about above, all Mahomes has to do is help the offense be better than “league worst” and it’ll be an improvement over what we’ve seen as of late. Look at the offense the Chiefs run. It’s a blend of spread, run/pass and read option concepts with a mix of some west coast concepts. While there’s a lot of potential plays, the concepts are NOT that complicated.

If you think Andy Reid isn’t capable of paring down the offense for Mahomes, you haven’t been watching the last few weeks. He’s already doing that for Alex. So we’re afraid... the same thing will happen?

On a final note, go watch some of the route concepts used on the air raid offense Mahomes ran last season. Then re-watch the Chiefs games from earlier this year. Once you’ve done that, you will know what my point is. And if Andy Reid thought there was no way Mahomes could run it, he wouldn’t have made him the backup. Re-read that sentence and understand that the idea Mahomes just can’t run Reid’s offense at all goes against the very decision Andy has made himself.

There are a lot more arguments against putting in Mahomes that people like to use, but those are the most common. And frankly, none of them hold water at this point. Alex has been outright B-A-D for 5 of the last 7 games, and it’s resulting in the Chiefs going from Super Bowl contender to a team that people are starting to question with regards to their playoff chances. They are losing to legitimately bad teams.

The freefall has not only started, but it is in full swing. Something drastic needs to be done. Andy’s system does work. The offensive line is what it is for 2017 (and in my opinion has talent). Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt are killers. The rest of the “role player” talent on offense is what it is. The ONLY major change Andy can make to an offense that has been the worst in the league for the month of November is replace Alex Smith.

And, from a guy who has defended Alex here and elsewhere for years... that’s exactly what he should do. Not only for the sake of 2018 and beyond, but for 2017 as well.