The pressure’s on Alex Smith, because threes won’t fly at Mile High
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — So the big question was broached, shouted from a dogpile of cameras, the way the big questions get broached when 9-0 meets 8-1.
What do you have to do offensively to beat Denver in Denver?
“Score more points,” Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said Wednesday, grinning slyly at the obvious. “This is a contest where, yeah, they put up a ton of stats and (have) done all that. For us, we’ve got to score more points, and that’s the bottom line.”
Three is nice. Three is cute. Three is swell.
Field goals work in Philly and Nashville and Buffalo.
Three in Denver?
Three in Denver, amigo, gets you beat.
Hide the kids, because the Broncos lead the NFL in percentage of red-zone appearances that result in touchdowns — 79.49, more than three out of four. At home, Team Peyton converts at a scorching clip of 81.82 percent.
The Chiefs are … let’s see … scrolling … scrolling … scrolling … scrolling … 26th.
It says here they’re rolling at a 48.28 percent pace. We love kicker Ryan Succop as much as the next guy, but that’s basically half the time. Three points or six? Flip a coin.
A coin flip in Denver, sarge, gets you beat.
“Yeah, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs in the red zone,” Smith said. “Earlier in the year, (we) started off really well in that area and executed really well in that area. And, as of late, we haven’t. So, yeah, that’s really an area of focus for us.
“And when you’re down there, that’s kind of across the board, across the NFL, (that) you want sevens. And when you get ’em, your chances of winning go up. So, for us, no question, when we do get down there, let’s get some touchdowns.”
Your serve, Alex Smith.
The Chiefs have the best statistical defense in the NFL, a nightmare in red, a takedown machine. But in his last 13 regular-season starts at home, Denver quarterback/cyborg Peyton Manning has won 12 of them, throwing for 42 touchdowns along the way, or 3.23 per home start.
When Peyton gets close enough to smell it, Peyton doesn’t often settle for three. Peyton tends to get sevens.
You can hit him. You can armbar his receivers at the line of scrimmage. You can throw confetti at him like Rip Taylor. More often than not, CyberPeyton is going to get his, especially in friendly confines.
Since 2008, including postseason tilts, 20 teams have toppled a Manning-led club; those teams needed to score an average of 30.5 points to do it.
The Chiefs average 24.
“You know Alex, he’s probably the most humble guy I’ve ever met in my life,” tackle Donald Stephenson said. “Peyton Manning probably hasn’t even crossed his mind, bye week or this week. He’s just a guy that just keeps on winning.
“And people keep pushing him further back and pushing him to the side, and he stays quiet and he keeps winning. And that’s what I love about him. He doesn’t need to be on the front of magazines or all that stuff, or (have) people patting him on the back. He just does what he has to do to win. And that’s the best thing about him.”
Also, there’s this: In his last 16 games on the road, dating to 2011, Smith has won 13, completing 62.9 percent of his passes and throwing 13 touchdowns, or about one per game.
One Alex Smith touchdown in Denver, kemosabe, gets you beat.
“You don’t want a quarterback to come in the huddle (with) like deer-in-the-headlights kind of eyes,” Stephenson said. “He knows a team can feel that. He’s cool and calm and collected and we’ve been able to play well on the road because of that.”
Poise is great. Poise rocks. But all the poise in the world needs help, every now and again. Since 2011, Smith has thrown for three scores or more in a game four times, and just once on the road (at Arizona, October 2012). Manning has thrown for three scores or more 16 times during that same stretch, and CyberPeyton took all of the 2011 season off.
Now we know what you’re saying: Sunday night isn’t about Peyton versus Alex, it’s about the Chiefs’ defense versus Manning and Smith and Jamaal Charles and company versus the Denver defense. But here’s the thing: At home, Manning finds a way to make it about the opposing quarterback. Of the 16 squads that beat him during the regular season since ’08, none scored fewer than 23 points.
And the average point total for those victorious clubs? A crazy 31.3.
“You know he can throw it, he can run it, he can do a lot of different things, bring a lot of different elements,” interim Denver coach Jack Del Rio said of Smith. “And so we’re getting ourselves prepared.”
You may outlast RoboManning. Eventually. It can be done. But you’re going to have to keep firing and firing and firing to do it.
“For us, we’ve got to go out there and execute,” Smith said. “I think if you go out there and try to play keep-away and hold the ball for (a while), I don’t think good things happen. For us, (the goal is) to go out there and score points.”
Three doesn’t fly at Mile High.
Away from home, the Chiefs are turning red-zone chances into touchdowns just 35.7 percent of the time. Over its last three contests, The Andy Gang has been reaching the end zone at a pace of 37.5 percent.
Thirty-seven point five in Denver, comrade, gets you beat. Badly.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.