Something has been on Alex Smith’s mind since Sunday. A loss, like the Chiefs’ 19-12 defeat at the hands of the Houston Texans, tends to do that.
But the issue nagging at Smith — his general lack of cohesion with his receivers — is unusual, at least since receiver Jeremy Maclin joined the Chiefs in March 2015.
“I felt like we haven’t had a day like that in a long time — a long time,” said Smith, who only completed six of his 15 attempts to Maclin. “I can’t remember the last time I was going through missed connections.”
Seven or eight of them, added Smith, who completed only 20 of 37 passes against Houston.
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“There were a lot of plays that would have changed the day,” Smith said. “We’ve got to get it figured out and get back to our old selves and connect. Certainly, there were a lot of plays out there that I think we make routinely that didn’t get made.”
Some of Smith’s passes sailed either high or landed short, and to the naked eye, it was easy to wonder if the golf-ball sized bump on his elbow — which was visible after the Chargers game and gone a few days later — affected his accuracy.
But after the game, Smith said that had nothing to do with it.
“The swelling left quickly — it was good,” Smith said. “It felt great all week; it was never really a pain thing ... it never inhibited me.”
And coach Andy Reid agreed, citing their communication issues instead.
“It wasn’t necessarily accuracy — it was just being on the same page, the receivers and the quarterbacks, and I’ve got to take care of that,” Reid said. “If you’re off a hair, it can affect things. That’s why we practice so much.
“I don’t want it to be a thing here. So we need to get it stopped.”
So this week, the Chiefs will set about doing just that.
“I think you kind of go back to the fundamentals a little bit, go back to the work,” said Smith, who added no one is panicking. “Communicating, making sure we’re on the same page, getting those things ironed out.”
You can’t get everything covered in practice, Smith added, so it’s on himself and the receivers to talk about the different defensive looks they might see on certain plays, then figure out how to counter and adjust.
“There were a lot of times where Alex knew where to go with the ball, he went to the right guy, but there was a little bit of miscommunication in exactly where he was going to put the ball,” receiver Chris Conley said, “how early it was going to come out, at what angle does he want the receiver to come out, and those are things that we just work on.
“He has a better feel (for) some of those things with some of the old guys, with Mac. Albert (Wilson) and I have to get extra reps with him, and that comes during and after practice.”
Still, one thing the Chiefs and Smith have established is they can depend on their “zebra” — or three-wide — personnel. The Chiefs have been at their most productive in those groupings, which mainly feature a running back and Maclin, Conley, Wilson and a tight end.
The Chiefs went to this set on 16 of their 17 fourth-quarter plays on Sunday, racking up 126 of their 291 total yards, and it was their primary personnel grouping by an overwhelming margin in the second half of their 33-27 win over San Diego on Sept. 11.
“Our three-wide package — I like the players that are involved with it,” Reid said. “They’re good skill players and we can do a lot of things out of it.”
The tempo on “zebra” plays has helped, as well, as it plays on Smith’s biggest strengths, namely his decision-making
“We’ve been working on our tempo all offseason — it’s just something the coaches put in us, and we get real comfortable in that situation, we’re more relaxed, and Alex can have the keys to the car,” Wilson said. “That’s when he’s the best, when he’s able to control things.”
Smith said his responsibility in the no-huddle changes week-to-week, depending on the defense.
“The more they do, the more you’ve got to get ready for them probably falls on my plate because you’ve got to avoid bad plays,” Smith said. “Weeks when the (defense) is more vanilla, it’s less so.”
All of which leads to the obvious question — why not turn to the no-huddle sooner? Well for one thing, it puts their own defense in a bind. If a no-huddle can be stopped early, the defense will have less time to rest, making it vulnerable.
Even Smith, who is comfortable operating at a quick tempo, agrees.
“It’s a give and take,” Smith said. “I certainly think there’s time you can jump in and out of it ... it’s not something you’re going to live in the whole time, though.”
By Smith’s answer, it sounds like it’s something he’d be comfortable mixing in throughout the game, instead of when they’re trailing by two scores (like they have in the first two games).
But he also understands that at some point, the Chiefs’ offense needs to score in its base tempo.
“You hate to be the team that has to go to that (no-huddle) to get the ball rolling,” Smith said.