The Chiefs have worked with Smith to be more aggressive in going down the field with the ball since acquiring him two years ago. Smith is among the best quarterbacks in the league in protecting the ball -- he had the second-best interception percentage in the league at 1.3.
But the Chiefs had just four pass plays of 35 yards or longer last season, three fewer than the next lowest team and 20 fewer than the league leader. It’s no wonder the Chiefs finally collapsed under the weight of their balky offense toward the end of the season, when they kicked eight field goals and scored one touchdown in the final two games in failing to make the playoffs.
The fact the quarterback with the NFL’s lowest interception percentage, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, played for the team that was seventh in long pass plays shows a quarterback can both protect the ball and produce big gains.
This isn’t all Smith’s fault. The wide receivers did a lousy job of getting open last season, and pass protection was often faulty.
Some of it is Smith’s responsibility. With that in mind, the Chiefs are in the midst of their annual spring ritual of working with Smith in the film room and going over decisions made on plays where big passes were possible. The training then moves to the field, where Smith works some more with offensive coordinator Doug Pederson and quarterbacks coach Matt Nagy.
"If he misses a down-the-field throw, it’s my job and it’s our job to show him on tape exactly what he’s looking at in order to see that throw," Pederson said. "That’s the development of a quarterback. You do want to be aggressive. You’ve got to stay on the edge of aggression. When the throw is there, you make it. That’s part of what we teach.
"Coach Nagy will set up a drill where we’re reading that safety and we’re shooting that ball (down the field). We’ve got to sort of retrain, rethink just a little bit. But going from that first year to where we are now with (Smith), now he sees that kind of stuff. It’s just a matter of cutting loose."
The ball has been going down the field with some regularity in offseason practice. Smith’s job is to transfer that to the regular season.
"As far as the decision-making, it’s constantly getting fine-tuned," Smith said. "We just had a five-week window when we were (practicing without a defense). Then you’re really kind of talking textbook and you’re looking at all of our stuff from last year and all these different defenses.
"Now we’re in the second week (of offseason practice) and it flips a little bit and we’re going against our defense. When we get into these team drills and 7-on-7, you want to practice playing football. Sometimes the defense does dictate where the ball goes depending on the play. There’s a balance there."
In the meantime, the work continues in the video room and on the practice field.
"I like where Alex is," Pederson said. "But now in the spring, we want to see any quarterback shoot the ball down the field and at least test it. That gives him the comfort level the next time he’s in that situation."