Don't Kill The Mellinger

Rounding up suspects for Alex Smith’s six sacks during Chiefs’ loss to Broncos

Denver Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson (97) arrived to help strong safety T.J. Ward (43) sack Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) in the first quarter Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium. The Broncos beat the Chiefs 29-16 to retain sole possession of first place in the AFC West.
Denver Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson (97) arrived to help strong safety T.J. Ward (43) sack Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) in the first quarter Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium. The Broncos beat the Chiefs 29-16 to retain sole possession of first place in the AFC West. Kansas City Star

Alex Smith was sacked six times Sunday night. You probably heard about this. The last time a Chiefs quarterback was sacked more than six times was the final game of the 2010 season. Smith was also sacked six times at Buffalo three weeks ago.

Six is a huge number, and a big worry for Chiefs fans because Andy Reid and his assistants have been scheming around an untrustworthy pass protection all season. Maybe a game like last night was always going to happen, and the Broncos have talented pass rushers and a respected defensive coordinator. So I’m going to play Barney Fife and look for suspects who caused each of the sacks.

And before we say anything more, it’s worth acknowledging that more than the usual caveats about watching film and making assessments about who’s at fault for what apply here. I’m doing this off the broadcast, not the All-22 (which will be out later this week), which makes it difficult or impossible to know what’s happening down the field. All we see is the line of scrimmage.

I’m listing only what I’ll call the top suspect for each sack, because I think that’s all we can do here. The All-22 gives us something like a trial in civil court, where the standard of proof is essentially that it’s more likely than not. The coaches have an even better version of game film, plus, obviously, they know the assignments and everything else. So that’s really the criminal trial.

Six sacks matches the Broncos’ season high. Reid isn’t one to divulge much in a press conference, but he said the Broncos weren’t doing anything differently than they normally do in getting to the quarterback.

“They really weren’t,” he said. “They did their normal stuff. They did some games, they brought some people, brought an inside defender and dropped an outside guy in pass rush position. But these are all things that they’ve done. We just didn’t handle it very well.”

That number, the six sacks, is also a little misleading. Four of the sacks came in the fourth quarter, when Denver knew the Chiefs had to pass. The sixth sack came on the Chiefs’ last play, when Smith ran out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage.

But, still. There were many times Smith was hit hard — including one late hit, which we’ll get to — so it’s worth taking a closer look at what might’ve been the problem(s).

Sack one:

This one looks like confusion. Like Reid said, the Broncos did some tricks with their pass rush, some stunts, some blitzes, some blah-blah-blah, but it’s nothing they don’t usually do and it’s nothing most teams don’t usually do. This is a good example of what he’s talking about. The Broncos actually only rush four on this play, but it looks like more in part because T.J. Ward comes through the “B” gap between left tackle (Eric Fisher) and Mike McGlynn (left guard) clean. Smith is in the shotgun, but still doesn’t have time to even set his feet before he’s scrambling around. He had no chance here. This is on the Chiefs’ line, or the Broncos’ blitz, depending on your perspective.

I’ve got Smith with 2.25 seconds before he has to bail on a play that looks designed with the promise of more than that.

Top suspect: McGlynn.

Sack two:

This one looks again looks like the line is overwhelmed or confused by the blitz. Quinton Carter gets the sack on another blitz, this time through the other “B” gap — between right tackle Ryan Harris and right guard Zach Fulton. It’s impossible for any of us watching tape to know assignments — this is gathering suspects, not even the civic trial of amateur All-22 watching — but it’s a fair guess that with Charles lined up on the left side this is on Fulton to read the play and pick up the blitz.

This is another instance of Smith in the shotgun but still without virtually any time to run the play. This was the snap immediately after Smith was hit hard immediately after throwing it away. This is about the time you started to see how this game would go. Again, this is one the Chiefs’ line, or the Broncos’ blitz, either one side failing execution or the other being too sharp.

I’ve got Smith with 1.75 seconds before he has to bail, which is just enough to time to get hit hard.

Top suspect: Fulton.

Sack three:

This is on third and 13, and when Reid called this play he had to know he was risking sack with a five-step drop. The Broncos blitzed, again confusing the Chiefs’ line, but Smith had enough time that the ball could’ve come out. When the All-22 comes out later in the week we’ll have a better idea about who was open and where the passing lanes might’ve been — looks like Charles and Kelce are open for the kind of short pass that wouldn’t get a first down — but this might be one where the Chiefs’ sorry receivers are making others look bad. Brandon Marshall is credited with the sack, but, like Collinsworth said on the broadcast, it could’ve been split in third with DeMarcus Ware and Derek Wolfe.

I’ve got Smith with 3.35 seconds before he’s swallowed, which should be enough.

Top suspect: the receivers, and/or Smith.

Sack four:

This one’s pretty simple. Von Miller is much better at rushing the passer than Donald Stephenson is at protecting the passer.

I’ve got Smith with 2.9 seconds before he realizes Miller is about to do a sack dance. It turned out to be the Nay Nay. I think?

Top suspect: Stephenson, but I’m willing to be convinced that the ball needed to come out quicker.

Sack five:

This one is part situational, but mostly coverage. Von Miller beats Stephenson again, eventually, a split second before Demarcus Ware beats Fulton, but this is hard to pin on the offensive line. Smith doesn’t have much space to break the pocket, and the receivers — NBC showed them on replays — seem to be acting as if getting open is not part of their job description. When the quarterback stands upright for a beat or two like that, someone has to be open or they’re not doing their job.

I’ve got Smith, again, with 2.9 seconds before the end on a play that looked designed for the receivers to be open by then. Miller chooses the Ravishing Rick Rude dance this time, which is a personal favorite.

Top suspect: receivers.

Sack six:

I mean, this is a sack only by technicality, situation and — stop me if you’ve heard this — the receivers not being open. Smith runs out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage.

I’ve got 3.9 seconds or so before Smith can no longer throw.

Top suspect: all of us, for analyzing a 4th and 18 play in a 13-point game with 31 seconds left. Don’t we have something better to do?

Like, I don’t know, giggle about Travis Kelce doing this?

Kelce deleted his tweet explaining what he was doing there but, well, he was expressing displeasure at Von Miller’s late hit on Smith:

OK, that’s all I’ve got for today.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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