KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the Chiefs offense faces a key third-down conversion or a critical call at the end of a game to keep the ball moving, quarterback Alex Smith possesses options – more specifically, the option.
Option plays – which give Smith the choice to keep the ball, hand off or pass based on the defense’s response – played critical roles for the Chiefs in recent seasons and through a 2-1 start this year.
“In some cases, teams have gone away with certain schemes because they didn’t think they had to defend it,” Smith said. “We’ve had some good looks and we’ve been able to make a few defenses pay the price here and there.”
One such moment came in the season opener. The Chiefs clawed their way back against San Diego to force overtime, and found themselves with a third-and-goal from the 2-yard line.
Smith looked over the Chargers defense and checked to an option run, where he had the choice to keep the ball or pitch to his running back based on how the defense responded.
“It was a look they had been playing all day,” Smith said after that game. “They’d had success with it, a lot of success, they’d run it on a bunch of third downs.”
Smith ran to his right, saw an opening and plunged into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
“I just got a good look down there on third-and-2 and I was able to take advantage and convert,” Smith said.
Chiefs co-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said option plays in Andy Reid’s version of the West Coast offense evolved from the option-shovel pass in his playbook from day one.
“You get a little real creative with it, and coach is as creative as they get,” Nagy said. “You look at some ways to attack a defense, and then you draw it up and you see if you think it can work or not with the blocking assignments.”
Nagy said the Chiefs like the option because it sets up strategic advantage against certain defenses.
“If there is a particular defense that we think is advantageous to get to the option, it’s a two-on-one essentially on the defender, so he’s unblocked,” Nagy said.
Reid said the reason the Chiefs run the rests with Smith’s skill set.
“It starts with the quarterback,” Reid said. “He’s had experience with it. He kind kind of knows when to get down and when to release it and how to go about that without getting completely destroyed. I think that’s important, that’s where it starts.”
That danger – exposing the quarterback to hits from the defense – poses the largest risk of running the option.
“The biggest thing is what kind of hits are you going to take if you do this,” Nagy.
Smith’s ability to avoid big collision helps make the option work for the Chiefs.
“Prior to this past week, I don’t think I’d even been touched,” Smith said. “I felt like the Jets were aware of it this past weekend. If it did get ran, they were going to try and get a lick in.”
Smith often times mimics the look of a read-option play with his handoffs to running backs. Nagy said that’s part of his quarterback’s style to keep the defense honest.
“He does a great job at sometimes making it look like it’s a read, sometimes it’s not a read, and just mixing it up and keep defenses off balance,” Nagy said. “Try to stay away form tendencies.”
Smith does not believe an NFL offense cannot effectively run an option scheme consistently.
“You’ve got to pick your spots,” he said. “Some weeks work better than others.”
Despite the risks of running the option, Nagy feels it complements the Chiefs offense
“If you go back the last couple of years and this year, you’re scoring some touchdowns,” Nagy explained, “and there’s other times, for instance last week where the Jets did a good of shutting it down, and you lose six or seven yards.
“There’s a risk and reward with it, but right now I feel like there’s more reward than risk,” Nagy said.