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See how Alex Smith performs in the red zone compared to rest of AFC West

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

It was a breezy, borderline chilly, Sunday afternoon in mid-November last season. The 7-2 Kansas City Chiefs were at home against the five-loss Tampa Bay Buccaneers, rolling with a five-game winning streak that included victories over the New Orleans Saints at home and the Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers on the road.

It was also ... confession time ... my first visit to Arrowhead Stadium.

I will say, it was an experience I’ll never forget. The atmosphere, the tailgating, the fans ... it was all amazing. But, at the same time, it was just about as frustrating a game as you’ll ever see.

The funny thing is, though, Alex Smith had your typical, average Alex Smith performance. The Chiefs QB threw for 261 yards, had one touchdown and one rushing touchdown, along with one interception. Pretty so-so, but that seems to be then norm for No. 11. Spencer Ware rushed for 69 yards on 17 attempts, a stat line that pretty much was his average performance on the ground in 2016.

I did some digging and found the postgame column of The Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger. You don’t have to read too much to remind yourself of how that game panned out.

What could’ve been another ugly Chiefs win turned into an ugly-as-vomit 19-17 loss to the mediocre Buccaneers at home on Sunday the moment quarterback Alex Smith executed a bad throw, poorly leading to an interception in the end zone when even a field goal would’ve probably been enough to win.

The biggest frustration, aside from the inability of the offense to score, was the red zone performance by Smith. Most notably, Smith threw a crucial interception from Tampa Bay’s six-yard line (the one referenced by Sam above) with KC trailing 12-10 early in the fourth quarter.

I won’t spend too much time dwelling on the Smith interception, but it appeared to be a predetermined read, where Smith failed to notice Chris Conte waiting in the middle of the end zone.

And as a Chiefs fan, you probably feel that this missed throw in the tweet below by Smith is one you see every Sunday.

The Chiefs scored in the red zone 46 percent of the time in 2016, which was 26th-best in the league. That’s about 10 percent worse than Kansas City’s red zone conversion rate in 2015.

Plus, what really makes the red zone inefficiency by Smith & Co. so frustrating is that the offensive line for the Chiefs did a pretty good job in 2016. According to Pro Football Focus, the Chiefs offensive line allowed the fewest pressures in 2016 (they tied with the Raiders) and Smith saw the lowest percentage of pressures on third down.

For an offense that operates like the Chiefs, scoring in the red zone has to be one of the most important parts of their game. Minus Tyreek Hill running wild throughout the field, there isn’t a big-play threat out there. It’s reasonable to contribute the lack of a play maker to Smith’s inability or unwillingness to take shots down the field.

So, if you were asked a trivia question on where Smith ranked in red zone passing performance in the AFC West in 2016, you’d be a winner if you answered with ... “dead last.”

2016 AFC West Red Zone QB Stats

Quarterback Passing Completion % Passing Yards TD INT Passer Rating Yards/Attempt Rushing Yards
Quarterback Passing Completion % Passing Yards TD INT Passer Rating Yards/Attempt Rushing Yards
Derek Carr 44/90 47% 306 19 1 91.9 3.4 -7
Philip Rivers 45/96 47% 333 22 2 86.5 3.5 1
Trevor Siemian 28/55 51% 164 10 1 89 3 5
Alex Smith 29/63 46% 167 11 3 72.7 2.7 51
Statistics via Pro Football Reference

The only real edge that Smith has over the other three quarterbacks actually has nothing to do with his passing game. He has 51 rushing yards; the other three have -6 combined rushing yards. Congratulations.

Trevor Siemian threw for one less touchdown than Smith did in the red zone in 2016 but had eight less pass attempts. Smith’s passer rating was 16.3 percentage points worse than the next-best rating, owned by Siemian (89).

The Chiefs are at the point now where no one reasonably expects them to be any better than an average offense so long as Smith is behind center. The AFC West won’t be an easy division to play in in 2017 by any means, and if the Chiefs want to compete for a playoff run, improvement in the red zone should be one of their highest priorities.

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