After losing to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, for Kansas City’s fifth loss in their last six tries, the talk leaving the Arrowhead stands, driving out of the Truman Sports Complex and at the water cooler Monday morning will not be focused on the offensive line play, lack of pass rush or play calling. For most Chiefs fans, it’s all about Smith vs. Mahomes.
Fair or not, right or wrong, realistic or a pipe dream, that’s where the fan base is at. The quarterback is the most important position on the football field, the one who gets all the blame, all the glory and draws the most passionate stance from fans far and wide.
Head coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach are paid to make the tough decisions, and deciding the future of the Kansas City quarterback situation is the most important one they’ll make.
No matter what the loudest guy at the bar yells, it’s a debate that has very logical reasoning on each side of the debate.
The case for starting Mahomes:
Mahomes flat out can do more things on a football field than Smith has shown the ability to consistently do. That mainly entails making the deep throw anywhere from 25 to 70 yards down the field, a skillset the Chiefs can’t count on Smith to show week in and week out.
Mahomes has also showed in the preseason the ability to keep his eyes down field when the pocket breaks down, above average mobility, the talent to make accurate passes from a number of arm angles and decision making that in his four games as a Chief, which is all we have to evaluate, looked better than most rookies.
After starting the season looking like a legitimate MVP candidate, Smith’s game has fallen off a cliff in the last six games. The deep throws are no longer as accurate or frequent, the pocket presence has noticeably regressed to past years, the accuracy in and out of the pocket is not as sharp and the decision making has resulted in more mistakes and less chances taken.
The offensive line has stopped protecting at a high level, something that Smith arguably needs to be a great quarterback. Mahomes had a terrible offensive line at Texas Tech and could be better suited to deal with consistent pressure and playing from behind.
Kansas City has a receiving group that’s built more for big plays, rather than having pure possession receivers, and the combination of Tyreek Hill and Mahomes could take the offense to a new level. More of a downfield passing game could take safeties out of the box, which could in turn bring to life a suddenly stagnant running game.
On paper, looking at Mahomes’ skillset, potential and what works best for the team if Mahomes plays at a high level, the move makes a lot of sense. Especially if you as a fan, or the team, believes Smith has reached his ceiling. After losing five of six, some may even argue the Chiefs have nothing to lose.
The case against starting Mahomes:
The Chiefs do have a lot to lose by starting Mahomes. As terrible as the last few weeks have been, Kansas City still sits atop the division with a schedule ahead that is far from murderer’s row of the ’27 Yankees. Benching a QB who has led you to a division lead is almost unprecedented and one that could further jeopardize such playoff chances.
Smith has gone through terrible stretches as a Chief before, such as the 1-5 start in 2015, only to suddenly take his game to a new level and lead his team to the playoffs. Especially after Smith showed what he’s capable of just months ago, it’s absolutely a possibility that he will re-find his grove in the team’s last five games.
There’s precedent behind Smith as well, not just from 2015, but Smith has a career of winning seasons to his name and obviously much more playoff experience than Mahomes. The rookie is undoubtedly the future of the franchise, but looking at 2017 as whole, one option has proven multiple times the ability to win and make the playoffs, and even perform well in the playoffs.
This is not the first year as a Chief for Smith either, the relationship between the veteran quarterback and Reid, his receivers, his line and the entire organization has been building for five years. There’s a rapport there that’s been established and successful, to a certain degree.
With Mahomes, there’s four real games on tape and training camp. That’s it. It’s a complete unknown how he’d perform under the brightest lights in a game that counts and it’s a very real possibility that he’d be worse than Smith. While Smith’s play can be frustrating, not turning the ball over is a valuable skill and one that is not guaranteed under Mahomes.
One of the biggest arguments toward keeping Smith has to come from the locker room, as most of the time a team trusts their own guy, the player that has led them through battle and taken the hits week in and week out, as opposed to a new guy. There’s a trust established and making a switch from the guy that led a team to multiple playoff appearances might not go over well.
The Bills turned to a rookie quarterback over a proven veteran one week, only to go back to the veteran the very next week. It’s a move that was widely panned by fans, some teammates and Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott lost some credibility by not only making the decision, but then not sticking with it. Most likely, once you go to Mahomes, there’s no going back. Smith’s confidence would take a hit and the move tells the team that it’s Mahomes’ time.
That’s why starting Mahomes is such a risk. If it crashes and burns, not only could the rookie’s confidence be shaken for the short and long-term, along with Smith’s, but also the team would rightfully question why Reid messed with a formula that had led to a division lead, winning seasons and a playoff win.
Smith is the proven, safe option, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Smith has taken a team to a conference championship game and has better numbers in the postseason than in the regular season, whereas Mahomes is literally an unknown with everything to prove and everything to lose.
No matter which side of the debate you land on, the fact is that Smith is at least starting against the Jets and probably will through the season, unless the Chiefs lose control of the AFC West.
No one knows if that’s the absolute right decision, and the final chapter of the debate and season as a whole, has yet to be written. Just blank pages waiting for the outcome of a triumphant playoff run or yet another winter heartbreak. Only question is, who should write the final chapter, Smith or Mahomes?
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