With Alex Smith, it's not about the yards or the arm -- it's about the scoreboard

BY foxsports • September 24, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- "Dink" and "dump" may be four-letter words, but they're not obscenities. In fact, of the last nine quarterbacks to pilot an AFC West team to the playoffs, five of them -- 55.5 percent -- averaged fewer than seven yards per pass attempt over the course of their career: Jon Kitna (6.7), Rich Gannon (6.8), Jake Plummer (6.7), Tim Tebow (6.7) and ... Matt Cassel (6.6).
OK, fine. So it's not the best company ever to buckle a chin strap, especially when compared to the other four (Peyton Manning (7.7), Philip Rivers (7.8), Trent Green (7.6) and Brian Griese (7.0)) contestants on the catwalk.
But the point remains: A signal-caller that throws a pretty deep ball is nice to have, but you can punch a ticket to the postseason without one. Honest.
With a 3-0 record and a defense that's flying around like a pack of angry badgers, the Kansas City Chiefs of present have given the locals far few things to be miffed about than the usual sky-is-falling, fire-them-all narrative of recent Septembers. But this is the NFL, so nits will be picked.
And Alex Smith's arm has been picked on more often than most. Through three games, the Chiefs' new quarterback has done everything asked of him, although that "everything," to date, hasn't included an awful lot of heavy lifting. He's completed 64 of his 105 throws (61 percent) for 223 yards per contest, tossed four touchdowns against zero interceptions, taken care of the football, made good decisions, run a little, and checked down a lot.
An awful, awful lot.
It's this last one that has some people edgy, especially the people who happened to have the Chiefs' big wideout, Dwayne Bowe, on their fantasy team. To date, the 6-foot-2 Bowe has been targeted an average of 5.7 times per contest, snaring three receptions a game. A year ago, he averaged 8.8 targets and 4.5 catches a contest. After Week 3 in 2012, Bowe had been targeted 37 times; this year, it's just 17.
"We have different personnel groups that we're using," Coach Andy Reid had said late last week when asked about Bowe's role in the passing attack. "Everything's fine. Yeah. Everything's fine."
For now, at least. A month in, this looks like a Chiefs team that falls somewhere between the Martyball salad days of the ‘90s and the better versions of Rex Ryan's Jets, from whose staff new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, no coincidence, was plucked.
It's not a sexy formula, but with the right horses, it works. Attack on defense; trust your Pro-Bowl punter to win the field-position game; trust your Pro-Bowl running back to hang onto the ball and grind out the tough yards; and trust your quarterback to turn the game over to the aforementioned punter and defense rather than force anything or get cute.
Like Brian Billick in Baltimore a dozen years earlier, Reid is an offensive mastermind at the helm of a potential defensive monster, a team designed to win games 19-16 as opposed to, say, 38-35.
And through three games, Smith has pretty much picked up right where he left off early last fall in San Francisco, averaging 6.4 yards per attempt; for his career, that nahem umber is 6.6, which ranks 25th out of all active quarterbacks. According to ProFootballFocus.com, of Smith's passes, 82.9 percent of been in the air for 10 yards or fewer, the highest-such percentage in the league.
"I don't really care about that," Reid said when asked about the -- ahem -- conservative passing approach to this point.
"I care about points. I care about turnovers. I think you saw (that) when everything was on the line, it was pretty doggone good. That's also important."
Because there's this, too: FootballOutsiders.com's "Defensive-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement" statistic -- think Wins Above Replacement, but for football nerds -- rates Smith 10th among NFL quarterbacks, ahead of reputed gunslingers such as Jay Cutler, Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger and Colin Kaepenerick, the man who replaced him in San Francisco. And in his last 28 NFL regular-season starts, Smith's record is now a sparkling 22-5-1.
"I would tell you that you're going to have a mix, as we go, of deep balls and a mix of short ones that you get (to throw)," Reid said. "It's a blend, normally. That's how it works."
And it's working, so far, warts and all. Whether Reid and company trust Smith enough to test defenses over the top, whether Smith trusts himself, or whether he's simply taking what he thinks is being given is open for debate. The West Coast offense, historically, likes to push slot men and tight ends deep, and the Chiefs' depth at the latter position has been decimated by injuries in the early going. So until Anthony Fasano and Travis Kelce are running at full speed, you could make a case that we haven't really seen Smith at full speed, yet, either.
Although, in the marathon that is the regular season, the combo of slow and steady wins plenty of races, too. The Chiefs head into Week 4 against the New York Giants ranked sixth in the NFL in average time of possession (32:56 per game) and third in the league in time of possession on the road (35:18), behind only New England and Indianapolis.
Keeping defenses honest is good. Keeping them on the field, exhausted, is even better.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com

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