Can Alex Smith transform the Kansas City Chiefs into play-off contenders?

Richard Moore examines Alex Smith's switch from the San Francisco 49ers to the Kansas City Chiefs.

All was well in the world - A passer rating of 104.1, (the third best in the NFL), a 19-5-1 record as starter, 25 of 27 passes completed, for a completion percentage of 70%, 1,731 total yards, and 13 touchdowns to five interceptions. Good enough for most, surely?

Only it wasn’t. Following a concussion sustained in San Francisco’s 24-24 tie with division rivals St. Louis on the 11th of November 2012, Quarterback Alex Smith would lose his job to 2nd round (36th overall) pick Colin Kaepernick, who’s greater capacity for dynamic playmaking would spark a sensational march to Super Bowl 47, which San Francisco would eventually lose in agonising fashion to the Baltimore Ravens.

With the prospect of being consigned to the side-lines for the rest of his days in the Bay area, Smith needed a fresh start for the sake of his career, which despite the success of the previous campaign, could only be described as tumultuous at best. So it was of great relief when, on the 12th of March 2013, San Francisco agreed a trade with Kansas City for the 2005 first round pick out of Utah.

So, after seven offensive coordinators in eight years, one hopes that at long last, this most likeable of Southern Californians has ridden out the rough seas of change and can now sail through calmer waters.

One man who has already gone some way to ensuring smoother waters is new head coach Andy Reid, who after fourteen rather eventful seasons in the city of ‘brotherly love’ has now taken up the reigns at Arrowhead, and his marriage to the veteran Quarterback should go some way to banishing the memory of last season’s 2-14 calamity, and ensure that the Chiefs no longer prop up the AFC West basement with perennial hosts - the much maligned Oakland Raiders.

Though Reid’s first words to his new signal caller represented the most unusual of proposals - “Can you still run 22 Z In?” (Hands up if you’ve ever got down one knee and uttered those words…) Thankfully for all those who love a fairy tale ending Smith’s response was a resounding ‘yes’ - “Oh yeah, of course”.

And so begins what will hopefully become a long and happy union bound in systematic compatibility; especially given their respective grounding in Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense; the staple of which being the previously mentioned 22 Z In scheme.

The 22 Z In is essentially a pass play where one receiver is required to run a post pattern opposite the others 12-yard curl, the tight end then runs a short cross over the middle, as he does so the fullback runs a swing route as the hot receiver in addition to the quarterback, after initiating a five-step drop, throws quickly to his best, and deepest positioned target. This is generally regarded as the kind of ball control play designed to provide maximum security during a drive in which the defense anticipates a run.

Many of his detractors will point to his (Smith’s) steady, but ultimately uninspired performance in the 2011-12 season NFC Championship game against the New York Giants as proof of limitations that would only prove injurious to a team’s prospects of articulating the big plays needed to change a game. 12 of 26 for 192 - yards, an inability to concert on third downs, and going for a paltry 1 of 13 hardly does much to dispel the notion that he’s a mere chains-mover, and therefore undeserved of the deeply unflattering ‘Mr.Checkdown’ moniker .

However, despite being more than happy to go for the safe yards by dumping off to the hot receiver (even when a key wideout like Micheal Crabtree might be step ahead of the cornerback up the right and side), and gaining the minimum yardage, Smith, courtesy of the aforementioned 22 Z In scheme, will have a greater array of passing options at his disposal and therefore can afford to introduce a little more expansion into his and the Chief’s offensive play.

Lest we forget, ‘Mr. Checkdown’s’ yards-per-attempt average in 2011 - 12 was particularly impressive: 7.97 yards per pass. Superior to more celebrated triggermen such as Aaron Rodgers (7.78), Drew Brees (7.73), Matt Ryan (7.67) and the great Tom Brady (7.58).

“I feel like I’ve been handed the keys to the car”, said Smith of his new found freedom. Let’s hope for the sake of Smith, Coach Reid, and the franchise itself, that he can indeed be the ignition that drives the Chiefs down that highway to a bright and prosperous future.

With talent such as Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Dexter McCluster, Donnie Avery, and a more than competent right tackle in the form of Eric Fisher (a competent weapon in the event that Kansas run the ‘stretch play’) on the roster, Smith has every chance of transforming the fortunes of a perennial laughing stock.

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