Alex Smith felt the pressure come from his left, and when he ran to his right, he also saw plenty of green grass –– an unusual sight of late, to be sure.
This was Monday, late in the second quarter of the Chiefs’ 29-20 win over Washington, and the running opportunities for Smith –– the Chiefs’ mobile quarterback –– have been scarce for more than a year now.
Since an impressive 2015 season in which he hurt opponents with his legs, teams have long been clued into Smith’s ability to make plays on the run. So when they haven’t been spying him or flooding the zones or rushing with the specific purpose of keeping him in the pocket, they’ve been conscious of his ability to take off at any point, and adjusted appropriately.
Hence the reason Smith’s eyes lit up at the aforementioned opportunity. The result –– a 32-yard run that was the longest for Smith in two years –– helped set up a field-goal attempt before halftime.
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And don’t think Smith –– who tried to gain a little extra yardage by playing rope-a-dope with oncoming safety D.J. Swearinger by slowing up near the sideline –– didn’t enjoy every second of it, despite the big hit he absorbed as a result.
“I hit the angle hard,” Smith said. “Sometimes when you’re on the sideline, they sleep on you as a quarterback, right? And now I thought, ‘man, there’s really only 30 seconds left, I have to get an extra 10 yards.’ And I tried to hit the cutback, and he was ready for it and I got slammed.”
Soon afterward, the Chiefs, who had the ball in Washington territory with about 30 seconds left, attempted what would have been a game-tying field goal but missed.
Regardless, Smith’s ability to hurt Washington on the ground played out a few times Monday. He finished with eight carries for 56 yards, a yardage total that topped any he managed to muster in any game last season.
And while you have to go back to a 23-17 win over Oakland on Jan. 3, 2016, to find the last game in which Smith totaled more rushing yards (61), Smith’s 56 yards rushing Monday were still more than he totaled in all but two games that regular season.
“You don’t always get opportunities to run the football,” Smith said. “I get asked that a lot, ‘why don’t you run?’ Some games there’s a bunch like this, and all of a sudden I find myself on the edge, and that’s the way the defense played us and I got a lot of good looks. And there’s other weeks where there’s none.”
Smith –– who already has 18 carries for 89 yards this season, only 45 yards fewer than his 2016 total –– has found himself under pressure a lot this season. The Chiefs have been sacked 16 times, the third-highest total in the NFL, and while Smith won’t ever stop looking downfield first, scrambling is a good counter to the strong rushes he has seen thus far.
“I don’t ever drop back looking to run,” Smith said. “You just kind of play ball, your eyes downfield and things happen.”
If Smith does continue to run, however, he’ll be doing so with coach Andy Reid’s omnipresent reminder in his brain, about the importance of protecting himself.
Scrambling got Smith in trouble last season, when he suffered two incidents of trauma on runs against Indianapolis. And defenders — like Swearinger showed Monday –– are all too willing to go for the knockout blow against a running quarterback, especially when that quarterback is playing at as high of a level right now as Smith, who is No. 1 in the NFL in passer rating for the undefeated Chiefs, 4-0.
“He took a few (shots) –– he’s probably a little sore today, I’d imagine,” Reid said. “He knows (to protect himself). I always remind him of that at the beginning of the game and let him go.”
Kansas City Star staff photographer David Eulitt has photographed Chiefs' game-deciding kicks before but didn't know how new Chiefs rookie kicker Harrison Butker would react after either making or missing his attempt against Washington at Arrowhead, on Monday, Oct. 2, 2017.David Eulitt The Kansas City Star