Alex Smith has attempted just three passes of 20 or more yards so far this season. (USA Today Images)
Sizing up the Chiefs' offense vs. Eagles' defense ahead of their Thursday night showdown ... (here's the Eagles' offense vs. the Chiefs' defense)
The Chiefs are completely remade (again), this time with Andy Reid implementing his West Coast offense and with Alex Smith engineering the offense. Smith isn’t quite in Philip Rivers’ league, but he’s more mobile and a better athlete.
To capitalize on Smith’s mobility, Reid has introduced some pistol formations and read option into his offense, something he never did in his 14 years of coaching mobile quarterbacks in Philly. He hired former Nevada coach Chris Ault, who popularized the pistol at the college level with Colin Kaepernick, as a consultant.
The offense is still a work in progress, so most of Kansas City’s passing routes are short and intended to work the middle of the field. It’s loaded with play action, roll-outs and dump-offs, not nearly as explosive as the one Reid fielded in his last six years coaching the Eagles.
Smith has attempted just three passes of 20 or more yards, so there hasn’t been a great downfield chemistry yet between he and Pro Bowl wideout Dwayne Bowe. Anyone who watched Reid’s offense for 14 years in Philly wouldn’t be surprised to see that 10 different Chiefs have at least one reception or that Pro Bowl halfback Jamaal Charles leads the team in both rushing and receptions.
Charles is frequently released into the flat and occasionally lined up out wide to create mismatches against linebackers or safeties. He was split right in the season opener against Jacksonville and caught an 18-yard touchdown pass on a slant.
Charles is averaging about 16 carries per game, which is typical of running backs under Reid. He’s a tremendous between-tackles runner with an explosive, fast first step. Since 2010, he has the highest yards-per-carry average (5.7) among running backs with at least 400 carries.
Much of Reid’s running attack is predicated on misdirection and counters, plays designed to catch the defense off guard and create just enough space for Charles, who takes care of the rest.
The Chiefs have good size and athleticism up front, anchored by left tackle Branden Albert and No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher. Left guard Jeff Allen, a nimble 307-pounder, sees a lot of pulling action. Fisher has played OK in his first two games. His run blocking is better than his pass protection, which is common for rookies. Fisher struggled last Sunday against Dallas’ pass rush.
The Eagles will need to be patient and fundamental in the second level, which they weren’t against the Chargers. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks and safety Nate Allen missed too many tackles and at times seemed lost in coverage. They’ll need to have their eyes on Charles and Dexter McCluster out of the backfield.
Cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher can play aggressively on the outside because they’re not likely to get tested deep.
This should be a big game for Connor Barwin in the pass rush. The Chiefs aren’t especially explosive at tight end and Fisher’s pass protection struggles might invite coordinator Bill Davis to funnel his pressure toward the right side of the Chiefs’ offensive line.
Despite his plus mobility, Smith’s accuracy dips when he’s out of the pocket. If the Eagles can force him to scramble laterally, they can rattle his rhythm. Smith is completing just 42 percent of his passes and the Chiefs have converted just 32 percent on third down (28th).