Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
The myriad of problems up front have directly contributed to Alex Smith's poor preseason performances. Despite completing 31 passes during three preseason games, Smith has failed to throw a touchdown pass. Being swarmed on for six sacks certainly hasn't aided his efforts to move the ball.
The pressure and its results speak to Smith's general inability to make plays under duress. That's an issue detailed by Fox Sports Kansas City reporter Sean Keeler, who cites numbers from Pro Football Focus:
Since 2011, when the Kansas City Chiefs' quarterback turned the corner for the better in his NFL career, Smith's completion percentages while 'pressured,' according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), are as follows: 41.7 ('11); 51.2 ('12); 47.8 ('13). From his overall completion percentages of 61.3, 70.2 and 60.6, that's an average drop of a whopping 17.3 percentage points, while rushed, per season.
No quarterback is as effective while forced to throw on the run, and No. 11 is no exception. In fact, he's kind of the rule. Of the 37 NFL signal-callers, per year, who appeared in at least 25 percent of their team's snaps from 2011 through 2013, Smith ranked 18th in terms of completion percentage while 'pressured.'
As Keeler correctly pointed out, very few passers operate at their best under pressure. That's the whole point of wanting competent protection up front.
But while breakdowns are inevitable, just like pressure, a team can withstand a few incomplete throws or even take a few sacks. What a team like the Chiefs can't cope with is multiple turnovers.
That's why the pair of interceptions Smith tossed in a 30-12 loss the Minnesota Vikings rates as such a concern. ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher detailed just why Smith's mistakes are so costly:
Smith threw two interceptions Saturday night, both coming with the Chiefs inside the Minnesota 20. Both were bad interceptions, the kind generally thrown by a rookie still feeling his way around the NFL game and not a veteran like Smith, who has built his career around protecting the ball.
If Smith is going to commit turnovers like that when the regular season begins, the Chiefs are sunk. Smith doesn’t make enough big plays to overcome that.
Teicher's point is well-taken. This is not a team built to just roll with the punches when it comes to turnovers.
There is no natural big-play wide receiver to answer with a game-breaking catch on the next drive. The defense, while strong, is essentially a feast-or-famine unit, reliant on its own big plays.
The Kansas City D is at its best when it has favorable field position to take risks with blitz concepts, pressure-heavy fronts and undermanned but aggressive coverage schemes.
In this dynamic, Smith's primary function is to protect the football. That's true of any quarterback, but when a team has Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning under center, who can lead scoring drives in three plays, a few turnovers are often considered the cost of doing business.
Smith is more than a mere game manager. But he is still essentially running an offense defined by what it doesn't do wrong rather than how often it dominates a game.
Fortunately, Smith is generally very efficient. That's evidenced by the mere seven interceptions he was guilty of last season.
But of course, any time he struggles this season, attention will turn to his uncertain contract situation as a possible root cause. Smith and the Chiefs still remain at an impasse over an appropriate new deal, per Bleacher Report NFL insider Jason Cole.
It's not unreasonable to suggest that players do struggle during contract years. Not everybody seizes the moment to audition for new teams. However, a faltering Smith is not something the Chiefs can afford in 2014.
The formula is a simple one for Reid and the Chiefs. They must fix their offensive line; then the team will have a more productive quarterback.