Kansas City, Mo. It’s not in Alex Smith’s competitive nature to sit on the ball.
The quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs likes to run an up-tempo offense, wing the ball all over the field, tuck it under and scramble when things get hairy. But slow things down? Keep the other offense off the field? That’s a hard idea for him to accept.
It might be the Chiefs’ best shot at beating Denver on Sunday.
While the intoxicating matchup of Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ high-flying offense against Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and the Chiefs’ ferocious defense has garnered the spotlight this week, what happens when they’re off the field could prove just as critical to the outcome.
After all, the Broncos (8-1) can’t win if they can’t score, and they can’t score if Manning and his trusty lieutenants are standing on the sideline.
“I’ve heard that strategy before, keep-away, but that’s certainly not something we’re even talking about or focusing on at all,” Smith said. “We have to go out there and execute. I think if you go out there and play keep-away, it’s hard for good things to happen.”
Then again, it’s easy to keep bad things from happening, too.
Smith has earned a reputation for being a “game manager,” and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He may not throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns like Manning, but he’s also not prone to interceptions and fumbles — the kind of egregious mistakes that can cost a team a win.
That’s the biggest reason why he’s 28-5-1 as a starter since 2011, second to Manning (21-4) among active quarterbacks who have made at least 20 starts over the past three seasons.
“He’s done a nice job of landing on his feet there,” said Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who is also serving as interim coach while John Fox is recovering from heart surgery.
“We’re getting ourselves prepared for him,” Del Rio said. “He can throw it, he can run it. He can do a lot of different things. He brings a lot of different elements.”
Even if he’s unwilling to admit it, one of Smith’s best attributes is simply keeping the Chiefs’ offense on the field. They are fifth in the NFL in time of possession — despite ranking in the bottom half in most other categories — a big reason why their defense is so successful. They get to spend most of Sunday watching from the sideline.
Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson acknowledged Thursday that the Chiefs (9-0) prefer to grind games away. The fact that running back Jamaal Charles leads the AFC in rushing not only is a testament to that fact, but underlies the reasons for it.
Might as well lean on your best player, right?
As much as Smith might dislike it, though, Pederson also admitted that the Chiefs have a better chance of beating the Broncos if they can maintain control of the ball. Denver is averaging an absurd 487.7 yards and 41.2 points per game, both easily the best in the NFL.
“You know what’s on the other side of the ball,” Pederson said, “and any time you have guys like Peyton, or Tom Brady, that can score, you know you have to execute your offense.
“You can’t really worry about, ‘We have to keep the ball for x-amount of minutes or x-amount of plays,” Pederson added, “because you still have to score. But it comes down to execution.”
The Chiefs haven’t necessarily executed well the past few weeks.
Their only two touchdowns in a win over Buffalo prior to their bye came on Hali’s short fumble return and Sean Smith’s pick-six. In fact, the Kansas City offense hasn’t reached the end zone since late in the second quarter of a win over Cleveland on Oct. 27.
“We have to score touchdowns,” Pederson said. “That’s just an obvious thing.”
The Denver defense has shown a propensity for giving them up, too.
The Broncos are among the league’s bottom third in total yards, passing yards, points — really, just about every significant statistic. Part of that is the effectiveness of their offense, which often puts the defense back on the field quickly, but part of it is futility.
“It’s a challenge to be the best defense out there on the field,” Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard, “and that’s something that we are definitely going to do. We’re going to go out there and play as hard as we can try to be the best defense out there.”