But back in the confines of reality, rewind and glance at the menu of available quarterbacks heading into 2013. Knowing what we know now, which one would've served as a more viable option for the Chiefs?
Matt Moore? The only season in which he captained the ship for a significant span of time was 2011. Throughout that year, Smith averaged more passing yards per game and led the league with the lowest interception percentage (1.1). He also engineered six fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives to Moore's one.
Carson Palmer? He currently has more interceptions (14) to his name than touchdowns (10). Ask the Cardinals how that's working out.
As far as rookies go, while Geno Smith and EJ Manuel could eventually become passing playmakers—and I believe they will—Kansas City would be flailing just to keep its head above the .500 mark with either of them starting.
Geno has periodically shown flashes of brilliance, but his growing pains have amounted to eight touchdowns to 13 interceptions.
An injured Manuel, meanwhile, has remained sidelined in three contests and, according to head coach Doug Marrone, is scheduled to miss his fourth (which is versus the Chiefs, coincidentally). During his five-game stint, Manuel also completed less than 57 percent (56.7) of his attempts.
I could continue scouring the laundry list, but you get the point.
Now, let's refocus our attention back to (Alex) Smith.
Much has been made of the Chiefs' favorable schedule, and outsiders, for whatever reason, regularly anchor their criticism of Smith by injecting that factoid into their argument. Obviously, it's a case of using a broad brush to paint someone in a negative light, but don't tell them that.
While the defense has enjoyed a slate of spectacularly average passers, the same can't be said for the defense's that No. 11 has faced.
Still, out of passers with a minimum of 100 completions, Smith's anorexic interception percentage (1.4) ranks only behind Andrew Luck. What's more impressive? Smith has found himself under pressure in 119 of his dropbacks—sixth most in the league. Subsequently, he's also the NFL's 46th-leading rusher.
|2013 Interception Percentage (Min. 100 Completions)|
He also doubles as the best friend of Kansas City's vaunted defense. According to SportingCharts.com, the Chiefs have possessed the ball throughout 54.17 percent of their games, ranking the offense fifth in the NFL. Back in 2011, when Smith started all 16 games for the San Francisco 49ers, his team also finished fifth in the category.
However, with his successor, Colin Kaepernick, now at the helm, the 49ers have plummeted to 19th this season.
In other words, the Chiefs quarterback comes to a mutual agreement with his defense(s): They lend him the ball; he offers them a breather.
That was a fantasy last year.
In 2012, Kansas City's eyesore of an offense converted 33 percent of third downs, slotting it at 28th of the 32 teams. This year, the unit has improved its efficiency to 37.14 (17th) despite Chiefs receivers dropping 21 passes (tied for fifth most).
Perhaps the most compelling proof that Smith is fighting an uphill battle? He's been hit on 48 occasions this season—30 more than Philip Rivers.
But enough with the numbers—I'll spare you the aspirin binge—let's take a look at what distinguishes Kansas City's starter from his predecessors.
Normally, posing a dual-threat skill set is a luxury. However, with Kansas City's protection woes, it's borderline essential.
Smith's athleticism is the most underrated aspect of his game. People often forget that the eighth-year passer sprinted for over 1,000 yards (1,072) alongside 15 rushing touchdowns during his three-year stay at Utah.
At least, they forget until he's flushed out of the pocket.
A handful of plays from Kansas City's Week 8 win illustrate Smith's playmaking ability.
Here, Smith knows Anthony Fasano is darting up the middle on a seam route. He also knows that Dwayne Bowe and Dexter McCluster are running drags to the weak side of the formation.
Cleveland's safeties drop into Cover 2 while the Browns rush four. The cornerbacks (including the nickelback) apply man coverage, while the weak-side linebacker locks onto Charles and the strong-side linebacker drops back into a shallow zone between the hash marks.
Smith only needs five yards to move the chains, so when Paul Kruger rounds the corner, the quarterback flees to the left, knowing that it should be relatively free of defenders. Due to an instrumental block by Bowe, the Chiefs rack up 23 yards.
In another example, Jeff Allen allows Desmond Bryant to strike his pads and initiate first contact, which results in the defensive end swimming past the guard and slicing through Kansas City's line before Rodney Hudson can offer assistance.
Smith spots a small grizzly stampeding toward him, rolls to the right and fires a completion to Bowe to set up a 3rd-and-short.
If the same scenario unfolded in 2012, it would've been capped off by Matt Cassel cradling the ball in the fetal position to 70,000-odd boos.
What Smith lacks in arm velocity, he compensates for in mental acumen.
The Chiefs' aerial enforcer breaks down defenses quicker than Rain Man files taxes. Time and again, Smith snaps through reads in cyborg-like fashion before quickly calculating a solution.
An example that always chimes to mind stems from a relatively obscure play from the 2012 season.
Smith, then still with the 49ers, sends tight end Delanie Walker in motion.
Arizona deploys what was seemingly intended to be Cover 3, but the always-opportunistic Patrick Peterson looks for an easy interception and prematurely jumps a dig route. Smith swiftly progresses through his reads, sells Peterson with a shoulder fake and finds Walker on a corner route.
The most striking feat of the conversion? Smith scans through five reads in a shade under three seconds.
Remnants of the above play reemerged in McCluster's 28-yard touchdown against the Browns.
Cleveland utilizes Cover 3 while Fasano and McCluster streak up the field. Given the situation, Smith knows that the key to tacking six on the scoreboard lies in manipulating the deep safety.
By design, Fasano dashes up the sideline and gradually fades to the corner at a hair under full speed. Meanwhile, McCluster bolts toward the end zone and bends his route inward toward the seam.
Smith initially eyes Donnie Avery on the far side of the field—notice that his feet are angled toward McCluster—which distracts the safety as he gravitates away from the aforementioned duo. That, in turn, creates a window for the Chiefs passer to snipe the ball into.
He scans back to the play side, sees that the cornerback hunkers down on Fasano and forfeits inside leverage to McCluster. Twenty-eight yards later, No. 22 is dancing.
Smith isn't an elite quarterback—a title that's become diluted due to pundits throwing it around like fish flakes.
He's not going shower you with flurries of fantasy points, either.
Detractors will tell you that the Chiefs are imprisoned by his limited arm and Kansas City won't graduate to serious contenders while he's steering the ship.
But remember this: The last time he commandeered a team to the playoffs, he upstaged Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints' air show, twice recapturing the lead in the fourth quarter.
A week later, the 49ers had all but booked their tickets to the Super Bowl before a muffed fourth-quarter punt return forced overtime with the New York Giants. And in that extra period, another fumbled return penned the final chapter to San Francisco's season.
If it wasn't for those two head-scratching mistakes, Smith's resume would, at the very least, be decorated with Super Bowl experience.
You can disparage his arm's firepower. You can pay him the backhanded compliment of "efficient game manager."
Just don't forget: Regardless of what he's doing in these games, at the end of the day, he's "managing" to win them.
Statistics provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
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