KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The name of quarterback Alex Smith sits atop the leaderboard among the league's most proficient and prolific passers through the Kansas City Chiefs' 5-0 start, sparking talk of most valuable player awards, but Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin doesn't see a "new" Alex Smith this season.
"I've always had a great deal of respect for Alex," Tomlin said. "It's no different for me this year than it has been in the past. Obviously, statistics are impressive but I've always been impressed by his play."
The Chiefs (5-0) host the Steelers (3-2) this Sunday, and the Kansas City offense looks to continue its hot streak despite a series of injuries among the offensive line and receivers. Many observers say that changes in Smith's approach and attitude have fueled the offensive explosion, but head coach Andy Reid disagrees.
"I'm around him a lot because I'm in the meeting room with him, all the meeting rooms with him, so I spend a lot of time with him and I haven't really seen a different person that way," Reid said. "He seems to go about his business the same way."
Instead, Reid attributes much of Smith's success to the trust his quarterback built with his young receiver group. The club drafted tight end Travis Kelce in 2013, the year Smith and Reid arrived in Kansas City. All of the club's wide receivers have four years of experience or less, and played exclusively with Smith in the careers.
"I keep coming back to the fact that he's kind of helped raise these receivers," Reid said. "They've grown together and I think that would probably be the thing I think he feels most comfortable with right now is that group."
Yet this level of success is new for the 33-year-old Smith, who toiled through losing seasons and ceaseless coaching turnover during his early career with San Francisco.
"I think even way back when, when he came out, he had so many offensive coordinators over the years, he's probably done one of everything, more so than any other quarterback in this league," Reid said. "He's had to execute about one of everything that you could do offensively, he's done. But he's taken to this and done a nice job."
Those early seasons, riddled with injuries and losses, shaped Smith into the player he is today.
"Certainly for me, it was tough early," Smith said. "It carried a lot of weight when I played and it took a while to shrug that off. It was a process. And I am not sure I would be where I am if I didn't go through it, as frustrating as it was."
Back then Smith would agonize over his performance and the results. At this point in his career, he makes it a point to avoid studying his own statistics or reviewing where he ranks compared to other quarterbacks.
"I think anytime you stop and reflect on that and are feeling good, that's probably not a sign of what is to come," Smith said. "For us, it is a little bit more about the path we are on, the direction we are heading and the bigger goal."
Smith spoke to reporters in front of his locker on Wednesday with last week's Sunday night football player of the game ball resting on the top shelf, just one of the many accolades pouring in for the 13-year veteran this season. Running back Charcandrick West said for all the attention coming Smith's direction and buying his time, nothing has taken his focus from the business at hand.
"The way he's handling the success is the most impressive thing to me," West said. "He's not letting it get to his head. He comes in week out and week in coming in doing the same thing."
Trusting his teammates and knowing that playing his best are among the few things in his control, but those issues created a different player along the way.
"I think it is just a different mindset of going and playing ball and not having the anxiety of that," Smith said. "And the confidence in your teammates and yourself to just go out and play your game and to know that that is good enough."
SERIES HISTORY: 32nd regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 21-10. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger owns a 5-1 record versus the Chiefs as a starting quarterback, winning more games against Kansas City than any team outside the AFC North. Kansas City's lone win against Roethlisberger came in 2009 in a 27-24 overtime victory, despite Roethlisberger throwing for 398 yards and three touchdowns. This game is a rematch of last season's AFC divisional playoff game, an 18-16 Steelers' victory at Arrowhead Stadium.
--The Chiefs prepare to host the Pittsburgh Steelers as a battered group with seven players, including five starters, missing practice Wednesday.
Tight end Travis Kelce remains in the league's concussion protocol following a helmet-to-helmet hit sustained in Sunday night's 42-34 win over the Houston Texans. Head coach Andy Reid remained optimistic his team's leading pass catcher will return for Sunday afternoon's game.
"I think he's doing well now, but I'm not the doctor here," Reid said. "But he says he feels pretty good, but I don't know how all that other stuff works. They do all that."
Linebacker Justin Houston, who left Sunday's game with a calf spasm, did not practice Wednesday but Reid said he is doing better.
The team did receive some good news with linebacker Dee Ford returning to practice for the first time after missing two games with a sore lower back.
On offense, center Mitch Morse and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif did not practice. Morse missed his third game with a sprained foot while Duvernay-Tardif missed Sunday's game with a sprained knee. The timetable for both to return remains uncertain.
The team also found itself down two receivers. Chris Conley is out for the remainder of the season after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon during an onside kick recovery against Houston. Albert Wilson left the game with a sprained knee. Reid believes Wilson should return for the Steelers matchup.
"I think so," Reid said. "He's making progress every day. Feels a lot better than he did after the game. Felt better today than he did yesterday."
If Wilson cannot play, the Chiefs' healthy wide receivers include Tyreek Hill, De'Anthony Thomas, Demarcus Robinson and Jehu Chesson. Thomas has 50 career receptions over the past four seasons for 353 yards. Robinson has just three catches for 25 yards and Chesson has yet to catch a regular-season pass.
Backup safety Steven Terrell also remains in the league's concussion protocol.
--The NFL's fall league meeting takes place in New York next week, and commissioner Roger Goodell distributed a memo to all 32 owners placing a discussion of the national anthem and player protests on the agenda.
The commissioner indicated he intends introducing a plan that includes a platform to promote the community engagement of players on social justice issues. The memo suggests Goodell wants to bring an end to the demonstrations by players such as Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, who elects to sit during the national anthem before games.
"We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players," Goodell wrote in the memo.
The issue remains a hot-button issues among players and coaches alike. Quarterback Alex Smith, who spoke out strongly against Donald Trump's recent criticism of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, said he and his teammates want to focus on football regardless of what moves the league makes.
"If it happens, it happens at this point," Smith said. "I feel like we have been dealing with this for a long time now. For me, I am just focused on ball. We will deal with that when it comes."
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin declined to comment on actions that may emerge from next week's meetings.
"I have thoughts but none that I wish to share," Tomlin said.
NOTES: TE Travis Kelce remains in the league's concussion protocol following a helmet-to-helmet he received during Sunday's game against Houston. Kelce briefly returned to the game after being cleared by the league's unaffiliated neurological consultant but experienced memory issues during halftime and left the game for good. Head coach Andy Reid said he feels good but remains unsure of his availability against Pittsburgh. Kelce did attend Wednesday's practice while watching from the sidelines. ... LB Justin Houston did not practice Wednesday after leaving Sunday's game with calf spasms. Reid said Houston was doing well, suggesting he may practice later this week. ... C Mitch Morse missed his third straight game Sunday with a sprained foot and did not practice Wednesday. Backup C Zach Fulton expects to continue starting in his place until Morse is healthy. ... RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif remains out of practice with a sprained knee sustained in Week 4 against Washington, and appears likely to sit this week as well. OL Cameron Erving drew the surprise start in his place last week, and appeared to perform well enough to earn continued playing time in Duvernay-Tardif's absence. ... WR Albert Wilson sat out practice Wednesday after spraining a knee Sunday night against Houston. Head coach Andy Reid indicated Wilson continues improving day by day and expects to play against Pittsburgh this week. ... WR Chris Conley will miss the rest of the season after it was confirmed he ruptured his Achilles tendon Sunday night against Houston. Conley went down after recovering an onside kick late in the ball game. The Chiefs have yet to place Conley on injured reserve or make a roster move replacing him. He expects to undergo season-ending surgery soon. ... S Steven Terrell sustained a concussion on the opening kickoff of Sunday's game after taking a knee to the helmet. There is no timetable on the return of the backup safety, who contributes primarily on special teams. ... DT Bennie Logan was limited in practice Wednesday. The team continues providing additional rest for Logan, who has battled knee inflammation since training camp. He is not expected to miss any game time.