Don't Kill The Mellinger

Chiefs-Broncos rewatch: Thoughts on pass rush and Smith

Updated: 2014-01-18T02:47:32Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

— Like I wrote in the column, there isn’t anything a level-headed person thought of the Chiefs before losing to the Broncos that they shouldn’t think of the Chiefs after a 27-17 loss here.

The biggest things are the pass rush, and Alex Smith. The pass rush — which has been the NFL’s best — generally acted like it was allergic to Peyton Manning and, sure, some of this is because Manning gets the ball out so damn quickly but the Chiefs have to do better here.

Smith was pretty bad, completing just 21 of 45 passes — and most of them short. He made some plays with his feet, like usual, but if this is how he’s going to play in important games against mediocre defenses then the Chiefs probably can’t be more than a fringe playoff team.

So, anyway, I watched the game again when I got back to the hotel trying to find clues about the team’s biggest shortcomings against one of the league’s best teams.

And without talking to anyone about assignments and whatnot, the explanation about the defense is much simpler: they came up short in the season’s biggest moment.

Just eye-balling it, I would bet Manning got the ball out in less than 2.5 seconds more often than not. The Broncos also made sure to run the ball plenty (35 carries for Knowshon Moreno and Monte Ball), which kept the Chiefs from being able to concentrate solely on knocking Manning down.

But the pass rush has to be better. They didn’t even knock Manning down. Justin Houston pushed a lineman into Manning once, sort of hurrying a bad throw, and that was pretty much it. I sat in the press box drinking Diet Coke and wasn’t THAT much safer against the Chiefs pass rush than Manning.

Some of this falls on the secondary. Marcus Cooper, especially, had an awful night. Playing on the road against Manning and Demaryius Thomas is a big ask, obviously, but Cooper has played like an All Pro most of the season. He was terrible on Sunday, alternating between giving up catches and being called for penalties. If the Chiefs can’t play their press coverage in the secondary, it changes most of what they do on defense.

With Alex Smith, there is a bit of a fine line here in not trying to drive a family sedan like a sports car. Like a microcosm of the team around him, Smith’s success this year has mostly been in not being asked to do things he can’t do.

I like Smith. I have a higher opinion of his ability than most, I suspect, but he needs to be better — better than he was against Denver, and better than he’s been in most games this season. For instance, people are going to criticize Donnie Avery for that drop on the deep ball in the first half, but if the throw is there a half-second earlier it’s a much easier play.

People call Smith a game manager, like that’s some enormous insult, but the truth is with this defense that’s all the Chiefs need him to be. Game managers can win playoff games. The problem is when the receivers can’t get much separation, and that gets compounded by Smith’s passes being off by just that much.

I don’t want to repeat much of what was in the column, but we all know the Chiefs are working without a metaphorical safety net. They need Smith to hit basic passes, with his value being in extending plays with his legs and protecting the ball.

All of that broke down here on Sunday night. That’s fine, as long as this isn’t a trend. The Chiefs still control the AFC West, and homefield advantage in the playoffs. The Broncos aren’t as good protecting Manning on the road, and the Chiefs are much better getting after quarterbacks at home.

But what we saw on Sunday pushes a little more importance onto the Chargers game this weekend. Special attention on the pass rush and Smith.

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