Those are winning games (fourth among quarterbacks in winning percentage over the previous three years) and protecting the ball (seven interceptions last season and lowest interception rate among starting quarterbacks).
Smith did a rotten job of protecting the ball Sunday against the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium. He threw three interceptions, which was a major reason the Chiefs lost 26-10.
“Those are the little things, and they add up," Smith said, referring more to the mistakes that led to the interceptions rather than the turnovers themselves. “All of a sudden you look up and the scoreboard looks like that."
The Chiefs played without their top wide receiver, the suspended Dwayne Bowe, and their fastest player, injured slot receiver De'Anthony Thomas. So things were going to be difficult for the Chiefs in the passing game.
In that respect, Smith can hardly be faulted for trying to make some plays (two of the interceptions were on deep balls) or attempting to get the ball to the Chiefs’ most accomplished receiver in uniform, Donnie Avery.
“He was trying to make something happen, and things didn’t work," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Those are calls down there, opportunities for shots. They had him covered."
Reid, offensive coordinator Doug Pederson and quarterbacks coach Matt Nagy have been after Smith to be more aggressive in going downfield with the ball. He has a well-deserved reputation for being too quick to go to his checkdown receiver, but that’s one reason he rarely throws an interception.
That’s not a bad strategy on the part of Reid and the offensive coaches, but Smith has to be smarter in his decision-making. The Chiefs trailed only 7-3 and were backed up at their own 2 in the final minute of the first half when Smith threw his first interception.
The Titans converted the resulting field position into a field goal, which ignited their rout.
“The one that jumps out at me as far as the decision is the one before the half," Smith said. “Maybe just taking your medicine there and checking the ball down to Jamaal [Charles].
“We got what we were looking for. We had one-on-one [coverage on Avery]."
Smith shouldn’t make that throw in that situation unless he’s sure Avery is open or the ball is going to be incomplete. That can be a difficult thing to discern, but the Chiefs are paying Smith enough money to get it right. The circumstances demanded a conservative decision.
The next interception happened when he thought Avery had cornerback Jason McCourty beat. He was right, but the ball was underthrown.
The last interception, in the game’s final moments and long after the Titans had secured the victory, came off a tipped ball.
Smith has to walk the slimmest of lines between making a play and protecting the ball. His line is thinner than that of most NFL quarterbacks because the Chiefs haven’t surrounded him with much in the way of playmakers besides Charles.
But he’s paid, and paid a lot, to get it right. The early returns on the Chiefs’ investment in Smith don’t look good.