Allow me to put you in John Dorsey’s shoes. After more than a decade with the Green Bay Packers, Dorsey was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs to turn around a talented but poorly coached roster that lacks a lifeblood. That lifeblood is the quarterback position, the most important position of all in football, if not any sport. Last season it was manned by an ineffective Matt Cassel, who was given the boot upon Dorsey’s arrival. That led to Dorsey looking at all his other options, which were admittedly limited.
One of the options is always the draft, which offers a few talented passers, but none were worthy of the Chiefs’ first-round selection this year, one that happened to be the first overall pick. That put Dorsey in a quandary, which is later exacerbated by the unappealing free agent options — other than former New Orleans Saints’ passer Chase Daniel, of course. He then looked to his next option: trading for the one quarterback on the market who has experience in big-game moments, wins under his belt, and he can work well within a tailored system: Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers.
He paid a steep price tag of (potentially) two second rounders for Smith, and he received more hate than Evan Silva‘s Twitter timeline. It’s understandable, though. Smith is a limited passer. He’s a quality thrower in the short-to-intermediate range, but he struggles deep, a troublesome weakness considering the aggressive throwing style that new head coach Andy Reid has recently incorporated into his gameplans. But this raises another question: why can’t Reid alter his offense to Smith’s strengths?
Reid’s done it before. He did it with Kevin Kolb to an extent, focusing his offense on the underneath middle and in between the hashes like traditional West Coast Offenses do, and he made him look like a starting-caliber NFL quarterback, much like Jim Harbaugh did with Smith. Reid can do the same with Smith, even though Smith isn’t a Super Bowl level passer (he doesn’t need to be one right now).
Reid can rely on Smith to run his typical Hi-Lo concepts in the middle of the field to effectively stretch defenses horizontally and vertically on a weekly basis. As said, Smith did that with the 49ers in 2011-2012, when he made a few big throws to catapult the team to the NFC Championship Game, such as the 14-yard fourth quarter strike to tight end Vernon Davis against the Saints in the Divisional round.
There’s 14 seconds left in the dying quarter of the game and the 49ers are down 32-29 to the Saints. Candlestick Park is rocking as the offense has moved the ball downfield on several massive throws by Smith, most notably up to this point, a 47-yard strike to Davis. But then came the biggest strike of them all, a game-winner.
Smith stood in a shotgun set in his distinct way, with his right leg forward, arms loose to his sides, and his upper body bent forward as he awaited the snap. Surrounding him were four receiving threats split two to a side and one back offset to his near left. It was a modern day “spread” formation.
The two keys to making this Hi-Lo play work were tight ends Justin Peelle and Davis. Both were to Smith’s far left, lined up detached from the formation. Peelle would be running a sit or “pin” route underneath that brought up the strong-side linebacker and in behind them, Davis would run his dig route behind the middle linebacker and in between the safeties.
At the snap, Smith crouched as he caught the ball and took a quick three-step drop on 3rd-and-3. Simultaneously, Davis released outside from his inside alignment while Peelle released inside from his outside alignment. Davis did this to stretch the strong-side linebacker wide before he turned toward the middle of the field. When Peelle ran his sit route, that drew the strong-side linebacker up and allowed Davis to cut behind them and run behind the middle linebacker as well.
While Davis ran freely behind the immediate defenders, Smith stomped his back foot at the end of the three-step drop and released a laser to the tight end for a game-winning strike.
The moment and throw was exactly what the Chiefs need after suffering from piss-poor quarterback play for many years, including last year with the abominable Cassel. It offered a glimpse of Smith at his best at a time when the spotlight was on and the pressure was consistently intensifying, which is what Dorsey needs as he looks to reshape and refocus the Chiefs’ franchise.
Dorsey has learned from some of the league’s best talent evaluators, and although he’s well aware that Smith is limited, he’s also aware that not every quarterback is elite. At the end of the day, you have to have a serviceable quarterback at the lifeblood of the roster to have any chance of competing, even if it means you have to pay handsomely.