When the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at Heinz Field, they’ll have their hands full trying to contain running backs Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis while at the same time attempting to cover tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. If that’s not enough, they’ll also have to make sure that they don’t get bitten for big chunks of yardage by rookie running back De’Anthony Thomas, a.k.a. ” The Black Mamba.”
Thomas, who was drafted by the Chiefs in the fourth-round of the 2014 NFL Draft, has turned into the kind of offensive and special teams weapon that the Steelers are hoping rookie running back Dri Archer will someday turn in to.
So far this season, Thomas has registered 182 total yards from scrimmage and one touchdown on 26 touches. In addition, the Oregon product has amassed 710 yards and one touchdown on 28 punt returns and 12 kickoff returns.
Thomas enters Sunday’s game against the Steelers fresh off of him being named the AFC Special Teams Player of Week for his performance in the Week 15 win over the Oakland Raiders. In that game, Thomas returned eight punts for 156 yards with one going all the way back 81 yards for a touchdown.
Offensively, Thomas has seen his playing time with the Chiefs increase drastically in the second half of the season. After only playing just over 40 snaps on offense in the Chiefs first eight games of 2014, Thomas has played 111 snaps in their last six games.
Against the Raiders, Thomas gained 23 yards on a bubble screen on the second play from scrimmage only to have it wiped out by an offensive pass interference call. You can see that play below.
During the Chiefs second offensive possession of the game, a motioning Thomas took a handoff from quarterback Alex Smith and gained six yards around right end.
Midway through the third quarter of that game, Thomas lined up in the backfield as a running back and scampered eight yards around left end.
While Archer isn’t expected to dress Sunday for the game against the Chiefs, he likely provided the Steelers some good looks as a part of their scout team. Even so, the Chiefs are likely to get even more creative with Thomas this week as their confidence in him continues to grow.
As far as Thomas’ ability as a punt returner goes, the Steelers special teams unit will need a repeat of the performance that they had last week against the Atlanta Falcons in order to keep the Chiefs diminutive speedster from flipping the field.
Last Sunday in the Georgia Dome, the Steelers punted three times to Falcons premier return man Devin Hester and he only returned one of them for seven yards as he was forced to fair catch the other two.
Thomas can flip the field in a hurry and if the Chiefs wind up winning Sunday, I’m willing to bet that he will have contributed a few splash plays during the game.
Beware the Black Mamba!