Chiefs rely on “underrated” Alex Smith

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Scanning the lists of the best NFL quarterbacks or perusing the league leaders in passing yardage and touchdown rarely yields the name of Alex Smith. The leader of the Kansas City Chiefs offense flies under the radar, except when he’s the target of criticism.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith prepares to deliver a pass during the team's 27-21 win over the New Orleans Saints at Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 23, 2016. (Nick Tre. Smith/Special to The Topeka Capital-Journal)

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith prepares to deliver a pass during the team’s 27-21 win over the New Orleans Saints at Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 23, 2016. (Nick Tre. Smith/Special to The Topeka Capital-Journal)

Oftentimes NFL coaches defend their players after a loss, but Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid offered a stirring defense of his quarterback after the team’s signature win last week against the Denver Broncos.

“I have respect for the guy,” Reid said. “The way he handles himself is just top of the line, so lucky to have him. Very unappreciated outside the walls.”

Even in Kansas City’s 29-28 on the road at Atlanta Sunday, most of the praise found its way to others. Yet Smith delivered another crisp performance, completing 21 of 25 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown, compiling a 125.0 passer rating.

Smith completed 15 straight passes in the game for the second time with the Chiefs, tying the franchise record he shares with Hall of Famer Len Dawson. His 84 percent completion rate for the game tied his fourth best ever. It also gives him the top five best games in team history for completion percentage.

Yet Smith still finds his detractors. Linebacker Derrick Johnson fails to understand why.

“He’s a guy that can make all the throws, he likes to get ball out of his hand, accurate,” Johnson said. “As far as running the ball, he can do it all. I’m glad on Alex’s team.”

Smith owns 38 regular season wins as starting quarterback for the Chiefs since 2013. Only New England’s Tom Brady and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, tied with 43 wins, have won more games in that time.

Since the 2011 season, Smith owns 58 regular season wins as a starting quarterback. That trails only Brady (68) and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (59) for quarterback wins.

Chiefs co-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy believes the lack of gaudy passing numbers and downfield throws changes how outsiders measure Smith’s value.

“If you look in the stat book he doesn’t have the big scoring numbers,” Nagy said. “But one thing he does do is he wins, and that’s a simple fact. He wins ball games, he doesn’t turn the football over and he plays smart.”

Teammates and coaches frequently use the word “smart” to describe Smith, but the word eludes an objective definition.

Protecting the football, however, provides some clarity in quantifying intelligence. Only four quarterbacks in NFL history have more than 150 touchdown passes with an interception rate below 2.2 percent. Smith joins the group that also includes Brady, Rodgers and Donovan McNabb, another Reid protege.

Johnson says he values his quarterback protects the football.

“He’s a guy that’s very smart, especially with the football that doesn’t turn that ball over,” Johnson said. I’m a defensive guy so I love that.”

Center Mitch Morse added that in addition to his intelligence, many of Smith’s best attributes prove difficult to measure.

“He’s definitely a field general out there,” Morse said. “He takes care of us, puts in the right position. The way he carries himself, the poise, even when things aren’t going very well he rallies the troops around him.”

Reid believes Smith’s greatest strength lies in his ability to remain calm during the chaos.

“He just kept battling, which he does,” Reid said. “Everybody is down on him but he comes through and he shows his mental toughness and pushes through.”

Reid said everyone within the Chiefs organization stands behind Smith. Morse emphatically agrees that his teammates understand his value.

“We love Alex, we love the way he plays and we wouldn’t want anyone else at quarterback,” Morse said.

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Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and the Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.