Alex Smith has gone full Alex Smith over the last five weeks, and the Kansas City Chiefs need some type of spark to revert back to the squad that opened the year 5-0 with impressive victories over the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.
Head coach Andy Reid must consider the possibility of making a change at quarterback after Sunday's 12-9 overtime loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
A move of this magnitude isn't taken lightly, nor is it a knee-jerk reaction to the losses. Even the best teams struggle. Any given Sunday, right? But it's how the Chiefs continue to lose and Smith's role in their recent downturn that makes a switch at the game's most important position a legitimate possibility.
Patrick Mahomes is Smith's polar opposite, and the rookie's playmaking ability could send a charge throughout the entire organization.
For years, Smith earned the designation of the quintessential game manager. He was good enough to win games as part of a talented core, but he wasn't the type of quarterback who took over games. He made the expected plays and didn't turn the ball over, yet he lacked big-time throws.
His game began to evolve under Reid's supervision. The veteran signal-caller took on more responsibilities to create as both a passer and runner, especially after a knee injury cut Jamaal Charles' career in Kansas City short.
Smith started to look more like the quarterback once deemed an elite talent and drafted No. 1 overall coming out of Utah. His skill set evolved further this year with a vertical component added to the mix. Smith made deeps throws during his career, but his game was primarily built around precision passing and getting the ball out quickly. This is where he excelled.
The Chiefs found weapons in wide receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and rookie running back Kareem Hunt to help Smith become the ultimate distributor. The 33-year-old quarterback was an MVP candidate a month ago after catering to each of his dynamic weapons.
The Kansas City quarterback completed 76.6 percent of his passes for 1,391 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions during the team's 5-0 start.
Life came at Smith fast, though.
During the next five games, Smith's stats dovetailed to a 62.9 completion percentage, 1,283 passing yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions.
On the surface, those numbers aren't horrible. But he hasn't been nearly as efficient or dynamic. Smith has looked uncomfortable behind a reshuffled offensive line. He hasn't been nearly as accurate and made some terrible throws. The explosive plays just haven't been as prevalent, either.
Yes, Smith is willing to lay it on the line to win. On Sunday, he showed how much far he'll go during the final drive that led to the Chiefs' game-tying field goal and forced overtime, per NFL.com:
Aside from an ill-advised interception that would have killed Kansas City's final regulation drive if not for being called back due to pass interference, Smith completed five of six passes—including a 32-yard strike to Kelce.
Smith gave his team a chance to win, but it wasn't enough. The fact Kansas City had to battle for every yard is an indictment of the offense's current direction.
The Giants pass defense ranked 30th overall entering in the contest. The disappointing group surrendered 267.8 passing yards on average. Smith managed 230 yards and threw a pair of interceptions, which tripled his season total, per NFL Research:
Two factors make Smith's lackluster performance even more damning.
First, the Chiefs came off their bye week and provided a level of play bordering on lethargic. Second, Smith couldn't even replicate the success lesser quarterbacks experienced against the Giants in recent weeks, as Arrowhead Pride's Ryan Hall noted:
Not producing to the level of Jared Goff, Russell Wilson or even Philip Rivers isn't a crime. Not being able to play as well as Trevor Siemian or C.J. Beathard is a travesty.
Smith's regressed to his mean. Recent history shows it's not enough. In some ways, the organization has alluded to the fact it's preparing for life without Smith. The Chiefs made a bold decision in April by trading up 17 slots in the first round to acquire Mahomes.
The Texas Tech product is a pure gunslinger. Mahomes is everything Smith isn't. The 6'2" 225-pound quarterback displayed rare arm talent during his collegiate career. Scouts still viewed Mahomes as a project despite throwing for 5,052 yards and 41 touchdowns as a junior. His game isn't based on precision or efficiency. He's a big-play machine and can make throws other quarterbacks can't. WBIW-TV's Chris Lilly provided a preseason example:
The Chiefs may follow through on drafting Mahomes by moving past Smith this offseason. The franchise can save $17 million against the salary cap with his release, per Spotrac.
Why wait to make a move?
Kansas City isn't winning with Smith, and he's not playing well. Yes, Mahomes is going to make mistakes, but his penchant for big plays is exactly what the Chiefs lack.
A counter-argument is easily made: The Chiefs are 6-4, still lead the AFC West by two games and Mahomes isn't ready.
Reid and his offensive staff are counted among the league's most creative play-callers, and the group can build around the rookie's multifaceted skill set. Plus, the move wouldn't be made based just on this season. Mahomes is the face of the franchise; he just hasn't taken the field yet.
"I mean, you don't get any days off," Mahomes said on Nov. 9, per the Kansas City Star's Terez A. Paylor. "You do, but at quarterback, you don't. So you're watching film every single day, trying to make sure you're prepared and ready. That's something you hear about, you talk about, but until you're here, you don’t actually know what it’s like."
There's no reason to keep an ace off the mound in favor of a long-term reliever. Since the Chiefs do have some wiggle room in the AFC West, the option to bring the veteran off the bench exists if the first-year signal-caller struggles.
Smith is who he is. The Chiefs knew what they had at the position and chose to make a big move and acquire Mahomes. Being bold to acquire a special talent doesn't stop once the draft is complete.
After four losses in five games, there's no reason for the Chiefs to remain conservative. It's time to unleash Mahomes.