It’s impossible to know for sure when the Chiefs finally decided to draft their quarterback of the future. The best guess? Last January 15, when as a No. 2 seed in the AFC Playoffs they could manage just 16 points and one touchdown in an 18-16 home loss to a Steelers team that kicked six field goals. What good is game managing your offense through the regular season when your opponent doesn’t even need to find the end zone to beat you in January? It was a quintessential Alex Smith debacle.
The Chiefs traded up for Patrick Mahomes and the clock started ticking on the Smith era in Kansas City. Then a funny thing happened: Smith started playing better. He passed for four touchdowns in Week 1, something he had done only one time in 136 prior starts. He followed it up with 11 more scores over his next six games, bringing him to within eight of his previous career high (23) with more than half the season to play.
Enter Alex Smith. Those four Week 1 scores? That’s what Smith has over his past four appearances. After entering Week 8 with an 8.68 YPA — a mark that would have been a new career high for a complete season by over an entire yard — that number has collapsed to 6.34 over the past month. The Chiefs have one touchdown over their past 28 possessions (thank you for that stat, Chris Wesseling).
Smith isn’t the only culprit. The running game is in shambles. So is the defense. The offensive line is blocking poorly. Tyreek Hill has proven to be too easily contained. The shaky depth behind Hill has been further pruned by injury. Andy Reid’s inventive early-season play-calling hasn’t evolved. But the main problem remains the same: Smith. The league adjusted to the Smith it saw in Weeks 1-7. Smith’s adjustment back has been to revert to the quarterback who got Mahomes drafted. It’s horizontal football with a hard cap, a style of play that can’t get you to the postseason, let alone win there, without a top-notch defense. Any dreams of a top-notch defense went out the window with Eric Berry’s injury.
With the season circling the drain and Smith once again the player we’ve always known, there is no choice, only action: Start the rookie. Rip off the Band Aid. Finish the job last January convinced you to start. If you don’t, 2017 will have gone sideways faster than a panicked Smith outlet to Charcandrick West. Reid is adamant he won’t make the change for Week 13. He may have no choice by Week 14.
Five Week 12 Storylines
Alvin Kamara stampeding the Rams for 188 yards from scrimmage. In a rookie season full of spectacular plays, none matched Kamara’s first carry in Los Angeles. Taking a simple handoff, Kamara got skinny through traffic and found the sideline. It was then off to the races for his longest gain of the year. What followed was a masterpiece of broken tackles, hurdles and Tyreek Hill-esque stop/start jukes. All in the span of 11 touches. Yes, Kamara’s season-best game actually came on a workload that matched his smallest since Adrian Peterson’s trade seven games ago. Averaging 7.09 yards per carry and 10.1 yards per catch, Kamara is delivering like some long foretold Tavon Austin or Christian McCaffrey. One of the game’s most dangerous talents is its most unique RB1 in recent memory.
Greg Olsen immediately re-injuring his foot. Olsen missed 10 weeks. He made it 24 snaps before renewed soreness forced him to the sideline. Speaking afterward, Olsen insisted it was nothing serious, but he will undergo a Monday MRI. Although the Panthers have made it to 8-3 with only one full appearance from their star tight end — a 2/18 Week 1 — his loss for any further amount of time would be devastating. Olsen’s impending return was surely part of the calculation when the Panthers traded Kelvin Benjamin. Since, they’ve lost rookie playmaker Curtis Samuel for the season. There are signs Olsen is not the player he once was, but he’s still not Ed Dickson. The Panthers desperately need competent targets. If Olsen is again sidelined, they won’t have nearly enough.
The Jimmy Garoppolo era begins in San Francisco. Garoppolo did in two passes what C.J. Beathard couldn’t in 38: Throw a touchdown. The context, of course, matters. Garoppolo was mopping up an out-of-hand loss after Beathard exited with a supposedly minor knee injury. The larger context? The 49ers did not surrender a second-round pick so Garoppolo could ride the pine behind former Big 10 struggler Beathard. Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense is complex, blah blah blah. It’s time to see what Garoppolo can do in it, regardless of Beathard’s health. The Bears would be a stiff Week 13 road test, but isn’t that why the 49ers went after Garoppolo at the deadline in the first place? To see what he’s all about? Why not find out on the road against a well-coached defense.
Amari Cooper suffers concussion on nauseating hit. Trying to make a tough catch in traffic, Cooper lowered his head and braced for Darian Stewart’s contact. What he got was one of the worst blows you will see on an NFL field. Panicked teammates and Broncos alike immediately signaled for the training staff as Cooper lay on the field seemingly unconscious. Eventually, he was helped to his feet and then to the locker room. He seems likely to miss Week 13 against the Giants. If there’s good news, it’s that it’s Cooper’s first documented concussion as a professional. If Cooper misses only one game, he would return for an attackable matchup against the Chiefs in Week 14.
Doug Martin’s rough season gets worse with concussion. Off to his first decent start in weeks, Martin was forced from the field after only seven carries. The Bucs took a long time to confirm Martin’s diagnosis, but his final touch came with 7:12 remaining in the second quarter. In his absence, Jacquizz Rodgers took the lead, but it was Peyton Barber who lucked into the goal-line work. Still around, Charles Sims mixed in for four touches. Like Cooper, it's Martin’s first documented concussion as a pro. There would seem to be a chance he gets back for Sunday’s game against the Packers. If he does, he will be more RB3/FLEX than RB2. With bye weeks over, there’s nowhere to hide Martin in the ranks.
Five More Week 12 Storylines
With Robert Woods sidelined, Cooper Kupp has first 100-yard game. Taking advantage of Woods’ absence, Kupp turned a season-high 11 targets into a season-high eight grabs. He benefitted from a bit of good fortune, as his long gain of 53 came after Saints DB Kenny Vaccaro mysteriously quit on the route. It appeared Vaccaro may have lost the ball in the sun. Either way, Kupp didn’t, and turned it into one of his biggest plays of the season. Kupp’s big day came as Sammy Watkins also revived for 4/82/1. They were encouraging performances for the still-hot Rams. Kupp will have a better chance of repeating his in Week 13 against the Cardinals, as Watkins will almost certainly draw Patrick Peterson’s shadow. Kupp will have a more exploitable matchup in the slot.
Paxton Lynch face plants before leaving with injury. Facing one of the worst defenses of the decade, Lynch couldn’t have had a better matchup. The same ended up being true of the Raiders, who victimized Lynch for their first interception of the season. Lynch was embarrassingly bad, converting just 9-of-14 throws for a mind-boggling 41 yards (2.92 YPA). Then he added injury to insult, hurting his ankle and quickly getting ruled out for the day. Despondent over the missed opportunity, Lynch was spotted in tears on the sideline. It was a human moment … and harsh reminder of life in the National Football League. Even if Lynch is healthy for Week 13, it’s possible the Broncos have already decided they’ve seen all they need to see.
Joe Mixon finally puts it all together. Mixon’s 165 yards from scrimmage bested his previous rookie high by 56. It was just the third time all season he cleared 100, as well as the third third time his YPC was above 4.0. It was not an effort propped up by one or two big runs, as none of Mixon’s 23 carries generated more than 19 yards. He was simply moving the chains and grinding out yards as the Bengals’ feature back. Having now cleared 20 carries in back-to-back games, Mixon is slowly adding ceiling to what had been a fairly pedestrian floor. The Steelers will be a tough Week 13 matchup on Monday Night Football.
Jay Ajayi remains a bit player in Philadelphia. Ajayi’s 22 snaps were his most as an Eagle, but his five carries were the fewest. Even in a game the Eagles won 31-3, Ajayi couldn’t get on the field. LeGarrette Blount handled 15 of the backfield’s 26 touches, gobbling up 37 snaps. Ajayi’s six looks were only one more than Corey Clement. Ajayi is the Eagles’ best running back, but acquired at mid-season, he is not the runner coach Doug Pederson trusts most. It still stands to reason there will be a breakout game at some point down the stretch. Your guess is as good as mine as to when that will be.
Damien Williams gets carted against Patriots. Announced with a shoulder injury, Williams was later diagnosed with a painful dislocation. There’s a chance he’s played his final down of 2017, and by extension, as a Dolphin. The 25 year old is headed to free agency next spring. Williams didn’t who much in four games without Jay Ajayi, turning 34 carries into 149 scoreless yards (4.38 YPC). 69 of that came on one run, which if you remove plunges Williams’ post-Ajayi YPC to 2.42. Williams’ loss means Kenyan Drake will get an extended look down the stretch of Miami’s wasted season. His first test will be the Broncos’ run-tough defense in Week 13. Help will need to be signed. There’s no guarantee Drake finishes the year unencumbered.
1. Better fit for the 2018 Browns — John Fox or Alex Smith?
2. Would either team do the Jay Ajayi trade over again?
3. Why does literally — and I do mean literally — every opposing cornerback despise Michael Crabtree?
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
QB: Case Keenum (@ATL), Tyrod Taylor (vs. NE), Jimmy Garoppolo (@CHI), Ryan Fitzpatrick (@GB), Eli Manning (@OAK)
RB: Jacquizz Rodgers, J.D. McKissic, Mike Davis
WR: Corey Coleman, Josh Doctson, Zay Jones, Marquise Goodwin, Dontrelle Inman
TE: Tyler Kroft, Charles Clay, O.J. Howard, David Njoku, Ricky Seals-Jones
DEF: Chargers (vs. CLE), Redskins (@DAL), 49ers (@CHI), Titans (vs. HOU)
Stats of the Week
Following Mohamed Sanu’s 51-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones — a wild cat snap Sanu bobbled on a fake handoff before calmly delivering a deep bomb seed — he’s now 6-of-6 for 228 yards and three scores in his career as a passer. He has just one fewer touchdown pass to Jones than Matt Ryan this season.
Amazingly, Jones’ 253 yards receiving were only the third most of his career. An interesting stat? 812 of Jones’ 8,649 career yards have come in just three of his 90 games. That’s 9.4 percent.
Marcus Mariota has nine passing scores in 10 games. His 2.9 touchdown percentage is behind Blake Bortles, Eli Manning and Trevor Siemian, amongst many others.
At 8-3, the Rams have guaranteed their first .500 season since 2006. A moment of silence for the St. Louis fans who sat through all those wasted years and were then called bad.
Cardinals TE Ricky Seals-Jones is an undrafted free agent making the conversion from receiver. He has seven catches for 126 yards and three touchdowns over his past two games. He is only 22 years old. Perhaps Arizona has a find on its hands.
Week 12 Fantasy All-Pro Team: QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Alvin Kamara, RB Joe Mixon, WR Julio Jones, WR Antonio Brown, WR Robby Anderson, TE Zach Ertz
The Tell Us How You Really Feel Award, From The Athletic’s Vic Tafur: Paxton Lynch may be worst quarterback I have ever seen
Wrong Take of the Week: Kenny Stills telling the Patriots they were “afraid” of the Dolphins.
The Duh, Again, Award: Derrick Henry running circles around DeMarco Murray.
The That Was Randomly Lit Award: Brett Hundley making some plays in Pittsburgh.