Rams wary of Chiefs QB Alex Smith’s rushing skills

Oct 19, 2014; San Diego; Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) against the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 19, 2014; San Diego; Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) against the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has nine touchdown passes against an interception in the last four games.

Smith takes care of the football, evidenced by a 1.4 interception percentage in 2013, which marked the best among quarterbacks with a minimum of 350 passing attempts last season.

“The offense that he’s operating within,” St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said during Wednesday’s media conference call. “I mean, it’s very impressive to watch the variety of things that they do. The diversified run game, and then his decision-making process, he’s very decisive.”

The Rams are aware of the challenges defending Smith when he’s passing.

But another area where Smith excels raises caution flags for the Rams, especially after Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson rushed for 106 yards against St. Louis in Week 7.

“We talked about it today when we went over personnel in our meetings,” Rams middle linebacker James Lauranaitis said during Wednesday’s media conference call. “Don’t sleep on Alex Smith and his speed. I mean, he’s a legit runner now. I’ve played against him, so I know it.”

Smith, who has 139 yards rushing on 24 attempts, currently ranks sixth in the NFL among quarterbacks in yards rushing.

The Rams play in the NFC West, which is also home for Wilson and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, both of whom rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, as the NFL’s top rushing quarterbacks.

The familiarity of defending against mobile quarterbacks could offer an edge, but don’t expect the Rams to have a firm grip on the blueprint.

“Did you watch our second half of our game last week?” Fisher said with a chuckle. “It’s hard. It almost becomes an additional player. You’re one player short when that quarterback decides to run, especially on some of the designed runs.”

Fisher said the key to defending a mobile signal caller surrounds playing sound team defense, which includes players rallying to the ball carrier with a view to minimize gains.

But defensive breakdowns occur, such as Wilson’s game where he gained 101 yards rushing in the second half against the Rams.

“You can work real hard at taking things away,” Fisher said, “especially on third down situations, and then have the quarterback break your back by pulling it down and running for a first down. You have to play team defense, you have to be patient. In a lot of ways, sometimes field goals are a win for a defense.”

Laurinaitis agreed.

“You have to be great in your pass-rush lanes,” he said. “That’s where Russell hurt us.”

The Rams middle linebacker complimented Smith’s athleticism to scramble out of the pocket and recognition when to pull the ball down and turn upfield.

Laurinaitis would know after facing Smith for four seasons in the NFC West before the Chiefs traded for Smith from the 49ers on March 12, 2013.

The sixth-year pro indicated he’s making it a point to ensure his current teammates fully understand how Smith can hurt the defense with his legs.

“Some of these guys that have been drafted or added to the team since 2012 haven’t played against him,” Laurinatis said. “He can move. I know his athleticism, I know his ability. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes.”

The Rams don’t want a repeat of last week’s defensive performance, and accounting for Smith out of the backfield appears to be one of the priorities.

“If we’re not careful – we don’t try and disrupt him and keep him in the pocket there – if we let him just run rampant,” Laurinaitis said, “he can do the same thing. He has the ability to do a lot of the same things that Russell did to us, so we have to be mindful with Alex.”