I wanted to take a last minute look at what the Cowboys will be facing in KC come this Sunday. After a strong victory over the Jaguars, Chiefs fans have joined us here at BTB to debate the coming matchup that should be a fun and competitive game to watch. As has been written in many places, the biggest key to defeating the Chiefs will be to coral their best player on offense, the dangerous Jamaal Charles. He is a threat in the running and passing game and the Cowboys defense will certainly make containing him the top priority.
But what about the Chiefs passing attack? I have been in a few debates about the effectiveness of Alex Smith as a quarterback and sighted his lack of arm strength and unwillingness to throw a deep ball a benefit to the Cowboys in the coming matchup. Despite having a dangerous receiver like Dwayne Bowe, and knowing Andy Reid uses a quick strike West Coast passing attack that likes taking shots deep after confusing the defense with crossing patterns and play-action, I do not think the Cowboys will be in too much danger.
While Alex Smith may be very good at limiting turnovers and the "perfect fit" for a West Coast offense, there is one thing he has yet to prove, the ability to hurt anyone deep. In fact, he rarely shows the ability to hurt a defense with quick strikes to the sidelines. When reviewing the KC dominating performance versus the lowly Jaguars, I decided to see if Alex Smith's new destination, after nine statistically solid starts in San Fran in '12, could be when he begins to thrive in the NFL.
First order of business, find the most effective passing plays from Week 1 to study. Alex Smith was 21 of 31 against the Jaguars, so I went looking for a few of his most efficient passes. Anthony Sherman gained 26 yards on the longest passing play of the day, so it should be carefully analyzed. This longest gain through the "air" for the Chiefs came in the fourth quarter and is really a beautiful illustration of what the Cowboys must do to stop the Chiefs passing attack.
Lesson One: Don't bite on play action. With the defense making Charles the top priority, it will be important for the team to recognize play fakes the Chiefs use to confuse their opponents. With the short and intermediate game being the point of emphasis, getting fooled by a play-action pass will leave the linebackers out of position.
Alex usually likes picking the shortest throw to make. If everyone in the secondary is playing man coverage, they won't know when the three yard pass to Sherman will become dangerous enough to become the longest passing play for the Chiefs. As Kiffin preaches, the defense will have to swarm to the ball. Here, the Jags do not.
If the defense allows over ten yards before they swarm to the ball, Kiffin might die of an aneurism...especially if they then continue to mirror the Jags and he sees one DB not even trying to get involved while sightseeing on the sidelines, and another still oblivious to the throw and catch, and ten yard run by a TE.
Lesson Two: Swarm to the ball and gang tackle. This will be very important. Otherwise, the defense will look like the Jaguars. Sherman caught the ball around the 23 yard mark, and the first point of contact wasn't until the 40 yard line! What makes matters worse, two or three missed tackles later, Sherman gains another five yards after contact. This will not be acceptable. Good thing the Dallas defense has shown much better discipline and tackling so far this season. It may be enough to stop this longest passing play from the Chiefs come Sunday.
Since this long passing play really should be attributed to the Jaguars defense, I decided to find the next most efficient passing play for Alex Smith. It occurred in the 2nd quarter when he managed a "quick" strike down the seam to McCluster, another dangerous weapon for the Chiefs. Please pay close attention to the game clock as it may reveal something interesting in the debate about Alex Smith's ability to hurt teams with deep passes, and provide some fodder for debate, since Smith thinks arm strength is over rated.
While Alex Smith believes arm strength is overrated, it's the reason this pass to McCluster went from a dangerous open-field player wide-open down the seam to a receiver taking a big hit right after the catch. What should be a laser strike turns into a throw with a two second hang-time and tcarries McCluster nearly ten yards downfield before he can even try to make a play after the catch. This was the second longest passing play of the Chiefs dominant victory over the Jaguars.
But wait, there is more. Alex Smith explains that decision making is far more important than arm strength. And while I don't want to dispute that, what happens when lack of arm strength and/or indecision prove to be an issue?
The Chiefs were trailing 0-2 as they prepared for their second drive of the game, starting with great field position near the Jaguars 30 yard line. Most Cowboys fans know Andy Reid, and this is certainly one of his classic ‘hit ‘em deep early moments' so his team can take a quick lead and send a message. And he does just that with this first-down call (after a three and out) using Bowe and Avery to threaten the defense deep. And it looks like he got exactly what he wanted.
The Chiefs have two receivers pressing a single safety who is caught between a touchdown and a hard place. Reid must be grinning like the Walrus in Alice in Wonderland counting his oysters. Alex winds up to throw and...
Well, perhaps it isn't surprising that he chose the shortest throw he could make, to the receiver with the smallest chance of making any extra yards. There was someone with a shorter route and a chance for some yards after the catch, but perhaps his lack of arm strength made that longer throw towards the sideline a less favorable decision...you know, after the other two less favorable decisions that would have been the longest passing plays of the day for him.
Now, I know, I am being tough on the guy and the coaches' tape makes it look like he is getting pressured so maybe the quick short throw was to avoid a sack. But a better angle shows us how clean the pocket really was during that first-down play.
Perhaps Smith doesn't turn the ball over because he refuses to try and hurt someone with a deep pass or a sideline throw...only time will tell. One thing is for sure, right now it seems the best thing the Cowboys can do to slow down the Chiefs passing attack with Alex Smith is to recognize play-action passes early, swarm to the ball, don't miss tackles, and collapse on all the short and intermediate routes; which actually sounds like the Kiffin Tampa 2 guide book. If Marinelli and the Rushmen can find success harassing Alex Smith, a QB with one of the worst sack rates I have ever seen, and disrupting the running game while the linebackers and safeties contain Charles and make receivers pay for the short passes, the Cowboys should be able to outscore the Chiefs on Sunday and come home with a victory.