- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Alex Smith is feeling plenty of heat these days.

The Chiefs quarterback has been sacked 13 times through three games, putting him on pace for 69 this season.

That would be the third-most in NFL history, behind the 76 times that Houston’s David Carr went down in 2002, and Randall Cunningham’s 72 sacks in 1986.

Neither of their teams, incidentally, made the playoffs.

But pressure from pass rushers is hardly all Smith is feeling after two straight losses put Kansas City in the AFC West cellar.

Whether it’s talk radio or water-cooler chatter, the ability of Smith to lead the Chiefs (1-2) to playoff success is the top topic of conversation.

“Any time you come away, especially from back-to-back losses, your mindset is naturally going to be down,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “But he’s the kind of guy that can push it to the side, learn from it and get on to the next opponent.”

Considering the way things went in Green Bay, that’s a valuable trait.

Smith was 2 of 7 for 39 yards in the first half Monday night, when the Packers raced to a 24-7 lead and essentially put the game away. The Chiefs gained just 4 yards total while going three-and-out on their first three possessions, and four of the first five. By the time halftime mercifully came, the Chiefs had gained 94 yards and gone 0 for 4 on third down.

The second half was marginally better. Smith wound up throwing for 290 yards and a touchdown in the game. But he was also picked off once and sacked seven times total.

No wonder many fans were calling for backup Chase Daniel to get a shot.

“Well, we’ve got to do better there, obviously, protecting him,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Again, I start with the calls. We’ve got to make sure we give him the right calls in the right situation to get that done, and then take care of business everywhere else.”

Even when the Chiefs make the right calls, though, things seem to be going haywire. Part of the reason is Smith has gone down so much that he’s become skittish in the pocket.

Pederson acknowledged there were times against Green Bay that Smith had targets downfield, but he was too concerned with the pressure up front to notice them.

“I’ll tell you this from playing the position, as a quarterback, if you get hit early, if they move you off your spot early, yeah, I would say that’s in the back of your mind,” Pederson said. “Any of you who have stood in the pocket and stared down that rush would know that.”

Diagnosing the problem is the easy part. Finding the solution is much more difficult.

The offensive line has struggled, and veteran guard Ben Grubbs admitted Thursday that “he was hit way too many times last week.” The wide receiver group has not been able to get open.

But perhaps more than anything, Smith’s confidence seems shot. He was sacked a career-high 45 times last season, and things are going even worse for him this season.

“You can’t ignore everything. You can’t live in a hole. It’s impossible these days,” Smith said of the mounting criticism. “You do hear some of it. But like I’ve said, I think the older you get, the better you are at handling it.”

He’s had plenty of practice. The former No. 1 overall draft pick struggled to live up to lofty expectations in San Francisco, and comparisons to Packers star Aaron Rodgers - the next QB chosen in his draft - have only made his shortcomings more glaring.

Smith remains confident in one thing: The Chiefs can still turn things around. They are only three games into the season, and knocking Cincinnati from the ranks of the unbeaten Sunday would allow Kansas City to put a disappointing two-game stretch in the past.

“Sometimes I think the natural reaction is to overreact,” he said. “I think the focus needs to be on the little things and the details of what we’re doing. Refocusing in on all those little things through the week and on Sunday that will take us over the edge.”

NOTES: The Chiefs swapped practice squad wide receivers Thursday, releasing Fred Williams and signing Kenny Cook. … WR Albert Wilson (shoulder) remains limited in practice.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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