Alex Smith Elevates Game, but Chiefs Not Yet Ready for the Next Level

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystDecember 1, 2013

USA Today

The Kansas City Chiefs needed to beat the Denver Broncos at home on Sunday, but they fell 35-28. With just four games left to play, they are now realistically playing for a wild-card spot.

Just about everything was going right early in the game.

Kansas City jumped out to a 21-7 lead but couldn’t keep Peyton Manning down for long. Despite intercepting him twice and getting a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from running back Knile Davis, the Chiefs needed a late touchdown just to pull within seven points.

On the bright side, Alex Smith proved that he’s not the team’s problem.

He elevated his game for the third time in three weeks and kept the Chiefs in contention throughout. When Kansas City was 9-0 at its Week 10 bye, a productive Smith seemed like all that was standing in the team’s way of becoming one of the NFL’s elite.

Unfortunately, Smith’s production has not taken them to the next level. Injuries, deficiencies in the secondary and ineffective play by the wide receivers weren't issues early in the season, and they certainly are now. 

Until the Chiefs beat another good team with a top-level quarterback, it’s hard to take them seriously as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Smith’s improved play is important, but Kansas City hasn't been able to put it all together during its three-game skid. 

The Chiefs play the Indianapolis Colts at home on Dec. 22, and that game will offer a chance for them to silence their critics. The two games before that, at Washington and at Oakland, won't present the same opportunity. 

Against the Broncos, Smith went 26-of-42 for 293 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception, adding 46 yards on the ground. It was the third time this season he has reached the 300-yard level.

Contrary to popular belief, Smith has the arm to be more aggressive in the passing game, and the Chiefs have made that a point of emphasis since coming off their bye.

Alex Smith's Improvement
Last Three (Per Game)24.341.658.4272.32.30.731.7
2013 Season26144059.32,736166360

Defense has been an issue for the Chiefs in recent weeks, but the schedule has something to do with that. Playing the Broncos twice along with the Chargers is never easy, and it becomes even harder with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston out or limited. 

With the way he is playing, Smith makes the Chiefs competitive with just about anyone, even if the Broncos remain a step above them at this point. Now that we know Kansas City is likely playing on the road in the playoffs, it’s time to size up the competition.

Currently, it looks like the Broncos, Patriots, Colts, Bengals and Chiefs are likely to make the playoffs, with the Ravens fighting with the Dolphins, among others, for the sixth seed. The Chiefs are most likely going to open up on the road, either against Cincinnati or Indianapolis. 

Kansas City's Week 16 game with the Colts could end up being a rematch in the first round. And although the team is now 9-3, Kansas City's offense has put up 38 and 28 points in back-to-back weeks. 

The Chiefs just need to clean up a few areas on defense and hope their receivers can catch the ball more consistently.