The Chiefs are in free fall. The offense, which led the league in touchdowns over the first five weeks, has stopped scoring. The team, after a 5-0 start, has stopped winning. And fans have finally given up on Alex Smith, who was considered the front-runner for the MVP award just a month ago.
The latest loss, a 16-10 stinker against the Bills, cut the Chiefs’ lead in the AFC West to one game and made one thing clear: This team has no chance against the Patriots and Steelers in the playoffs.
For all intents and purposes, Kansas City’s season is over, which means it’s time to start looking toward the future, which means it’s time to play 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes.
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Is he ready to lead this team into the playoffs? Probably not. Mahomes was as raw as quarterback prospects come out of Texas Tech. His mechanics are sloppy. His decision-making is questionable at best. And it’s likely he’s still lightyears behind Alex Smith when it comes to grasping Andy Reid’s playbook.
(I’m not really all that high on Mahomes. I gave him a third-to-fourth round grade before the draft, but the Chiefs, who gave up two firsts and a third for the right to draft, clearly think he’s the future of the franchise.).
But, despite all of that, playing Mahomes is really the only move that makes sense right now. Worst case scenario: Mahomes, at the very least, gets valuable reps that will accelerate his develop. Best case scenario: The rookie, who possesses Favre-ian arm strength, gives the Chiefs offense a Deshaun Watson-like spark and gives Kansas City a shot at knocking off Pittsburgh and New England.
Reid has already shot down the idea of making a change, but he has to at least consider making the move if Kansas City’s tailspin continues.
Smith offers a lower floor, but there’s no doubt his ceiling is also much lower than Mahomes, whose big arm and big-play mentality could give Kansas City’s offense the jumpstart it needs to get back on track.
And while Smith may have a better grasp of the playbook, he is still leaving far too many plays on the field. Without the benefit of the all-22, we could still find a couple examples from the Bills game of Smith turning down bigger plays for more conservative ones.
Here he drops his eyes in the pocket and scrambles instead of finding a wide-open Kareem Hunt in the flat with plenty of room to move the chains on third down.
On this play, he wastes a good pocket by going straight to his checkdown after his first read.
Look at the bottom of the screen. His best receiver, Tyreek Hill, has three yards of separation near the first-down marker. Smith never even looks his way.
Here’s a similar play from the Week 10 loss against the pitiful Giants.
And this play from the Giants game perfectly sums up all of Smith’s problems. This is a perfect pocket, and Smith has TWO receivers open downfield.
He gets locked in on the safer throws underneath, panics and takes and terrible sack on third down.
Smith may avoid turnovers – he’s thrown only three interceptions on the season – but leaving first downs on the field are nearly as bad as turning the ball over. The result is the same: The offense is coming off the field.
Mahomes may throw more interceptions, but he’ll at least attempt these throws. And with his arm strength, he won’t miss gimme throws like this….
That might force defenses to take a safety out of the box and to back off the line of scrimmage, which will open things up for Kareem Hunt, who has struggled to recapture his early season magic in recent weeks. That’s what the offense needs to start scoring again.
That’s not going to happen if a change isn’t made. Smith will continue to dink-and-dunk, defenses will continue to play close to the line of scrimmage and bottle up the run and the Chiefs’ season will end in familiar fashion with another early playoff exit.
Going to Mahomes is a risky move, for sure, but more risk-taking is exactly what this team needs right now.
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