Scouting report on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Week 16 opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs.
– Alex Smith leads the bunch. You can call him a “game manager” and it’s true this isn’t a vertical offense but he’s still been a good QB. After throwing three picks in Week One, he’s only tossed three in his last 384 attempts. There is the occasional throw that misses that shouldn’t have but every quarterback is guilty of that. Does a nice job going through his progressions. Andy Reid has given him control over the offense with an array of packaged plays we’ll get into later. Threat with his legs, too. Ran for 21 yards on 3rd and 14 against the Arizona Cardinals.
Smith fits this corner route to his tight end between four defenders for a 19 yard pickup.
– Jamaal Charles is, of course, a major threat. Loads of speed to get to the edge and can plant and change direction. Shows both off on this nine yard gain versus the Denver Broncos.
Beats the LB to the edge and then cuts upfield to avoid the DB.
He can make defenders miss but he’s not a fancy runner. Gets downhill, likes to hit his top gear. And sometimes he can turn what seems like a medium run into a 62 yard touchdown. I’m still not sure how he scored with three defenders swarming him.
Charles has 33 catches on 49 targets. Both are third on the team.
Knile Davis is the backup but only 61 carries separate him and Charles. However, Davis has been less impressive, averaging 3.6 YPC and has been in a funk since early in the year. Though carries have been inconsistent, he’s reached 49 yards rushing just once since October. And doesn’t have a 10+ yard run since November. It wasn’t until last week against the Oakland Raiders did Davis have his first splash lay on offense in quite some time, taking a short pass 70 yards to the house.
Davis can still be a threat, especially on special teams, but I’m less concerned about him on offense.
– De’Anthony Thomas is not targeted the ball on every snap. Far from it. 33 looks (carries + targets) on 150 snaps. Though he has gotten involved more lately.
The Chiefs are a part of the trend of the jet sweeps, almost something pulled out of Tubby Raymond’s Wing T playbook. Screenshot of it below.
Thomas will motion pre-snap and receiver a quick handoff from the QB. Smith can fake it, too. Difficult to stop and you can’t be a tick slow against the speedy Thomas.
We’ll talk about him more in the special teams’ section because that’s where he’s done the majority of his damage.
– Anthony Sherman is the team’s fullback. A squatty kid out of UConn, he’s played a little over a quarter of the snaps on offense. He’s a multi-fact player on special team, including running down kicks. Only Will Johnson has played more snaps on special teams than Sherman.
– The wide receiver group is…lacking, as you’ve probably heard about already. Antonio Brown is out-producing the entire wide receiver grouping. Dwayne Bowe leads the group but he has yet to reach the 100 yard plateau in a regular season game since September 30th, 2012, a span of 37 games. And like the rest of the wide receivers in KC, has yet to catch a TD pass.
He’s still an athlete and size (6’2 221) poses a problem. Against the Cardinals, he hurdles two diving defenders en route to a 22 yard pickup.
The other receiver who caught my eye was rookie Albert Wilson from Georgia State. He has only played 117 snaps on offense in 2014 but has come on strong over the last two weeks. 48 in Week 14 and 46 last week. Numbers have reflected that, catching a combined 7 passes for 122 yards over that span. Three of his 11 catches this season have gone for 20+ yards, including a 48 yard reception a week ago. He has wheels, clocking in a 4.38 40 at the Combine. They love to get him in space on drag routes and let him use his speed to out run man coverage.
He’s only 5’9 but is a physical player. They’ve taken him off special teams since his promotion into the offense but before that, was running as the team’s upback on kicks and punts while playing on kick coverage, too.
Very willing blocker who can lay you out, as he did to this Cardinals’ DB.
Still, this is an objectively terrible WR group with names like Donnie Avery, Frankie Hammond, and Junior Hemmingway.
– Thank goodness for Travis Kelce. He’s only played 63% of the snaps but has caught 56 passes for 747 yards. He’s a great athlete who ran in the low 4.6’ and jumped 35 inches coming out of Cincinnati.
For Chiefs’ fans, his playing time has mercifully finally increased the last two weeks. He’s averaged 80% of the snaps. And like Wilson, the stat line has reflected it. 12 catches for 169 yards and a score.
– Anthony Fasano isn’t nearly as athletic but has caught four touchdown passes. However, he has only caught more than two passes in a contest once since November.
– The offensive line isn’t too shabby but nothing special. Mike McGlynn was its weakest link at left guard, replacing the injured-reserved Jeff Allen. McGlynn did have to face a tough matchup against Calais Campbell in one of the three games I watched, but overall, he found himself on the ground far too often.
And on one occasion versus the Denver Broncos, blows his assignment entirely, firing off the ball like it’s a run when it’s a pass.
It was 3rd and 8.
But the Chiefs corrected that by benching McGlynn in Week 15 in favor of former Indianapolis Colt Jeff Linkenbach. He’s not going to any Pro Bowls but is an upgrade.
I remember hearing left tackle Eric Fisher catching some flak throughout the year but he looked good when I watched him. Showed the athleticism I saw that made him the number one pick. Maybe I missed something but they could be doing a lot worse at left tackle.
Rodney Hudson was one of the most athletic – and least penalized – centers I’ve ever seen to come out of college. I’m not sure how often he’s been flagged in the NFL but the athleticism is still there. The Chiefs use it accordingly, pulling Hudson to the edge to each direction. Expect to see it Sunday.
Right guard Zach Fulton is a big body that doesn’t always do well moving laterally in pass protection.
The Chiefs will occasionally use an extra lineman. Donald Stephenson is that guy, a heck of an athlete coming out of Oklahoma. It’s not all short yardage situations, either.
– The Chiefs have allowed 39 sacks, including 12 over the last three weeks. Alex Smith is the third-most sacked QB in the league. The line can get confused by some overloads and twists that still allow defenses to drop six in coverage while generating pressure.
Smith has been sacked by a defensive back in three of his last four games. Twice against the Broncos. The Steelers sent a DB on a blitz 13 times last week. They could remain with that heat. And they might get there this week.
– Schematically, the team uses a good mix of zone and power. Like most teams, a lot of their power concepts come out of two back sets while their zones come out of one back. But it’s not exclusive. They’ve pulled their left guard multiple times in the three games I watched.
– Conceptually, they are a true West Coast under Andy Reid. Not like the vertical offense Reid tended to run with the Philadelphia Eagles. They have a variant of the “mesh” concept but it’s really more a designed pick for Kelce to get open. Fasano is the rub that creates an obstacle for the trailing LB in man coverage or the frontside in zone, who has to work through Fasano to get to Kelce.
– I saw the Chiefs go for it on one fourth and short. They ran Lead Strong with Charles behind Sherman and Stephenson as an extra lineman. It was converted. Something to keep in mind situationally should it come up.
– As I mentioned, the Chiefs like to run packaged plays common in plays like Cincy or Philadelphia. Smith gets one of three options. A mesh point that allows him to keep it or hand it off or a bubble screen if he wants to throw.
Against Oakland last week, they opened with three straight of them. One big alert to the packaged play is a trips look from KC, shown below.
On the third play of that aforementioned sequence, Smith started to run with the ball before tossing it off to Thomas at the last moment. Very Chip Kelly-esque, who I specifically remember running this play in the preseason of 2013.
– The defensive line starts with Dontari Poe. He’s a manimal. Doing things a NT shouldn’t do. I remember not being a fan of his coming out of college – how could a first rounder be second-team Conference USA his senior year? – but boy, was I wrong.
Poe has 40 tackles and five sacks across 830 snaps. It’s that final number that is the most shocking. Poe is 346 pounds and doesn’t come off the field. You can’t get rid of him by forcing the Chiefs into their nickel defense, either. He just slides over to play end.
He’s played 88.6% of the Chiefs’ snaps, 5th most at his position of defensive lineman, not just nose tackles. No other NT has played even 80%.
A tremendous athlete, Poe can move laterally down the line. He follows this toss and makes the stop a few yards downfield.
And he has the strength to anchor against double-teams in the run game.
This could be Maurkice Pouncey’s biggest test of the season. It’ll be fun to watch.
– DE Allen Bailey has the physical tools you look for. Long arms and a good first step. He has seven TFL to lead the team.
– Left end Jaye Howard surprised me. Good pass rusher with a nice swim move. Just one sack but four TFL. Splits this double-team for a TFL.
– The outside linebackers are obviously dangerous. Justin Houston has 17 sacks, 6 TFL, and three forced fumbles. He knows to go aim for the throwing arm of the QB. Tamba Hali doesn’t have the gaudy sack numbers he used to but a respectable six sacks and three forced fumbles.
Houston is the better athlete who does an excellent job of getting his arms extended, not letting offensive lineman get into his pads. Big hitter with good recognition skills. Forces a fumble against Drew Stanton.
Big hitter with good recognition skills. Destroys Emmanuel Sanders below.
Hali is the better technician with super quick hands. His hand fighting really comes in handy against the run, where both excel at it.
– The inside linebackers are weak. Joe Mays was activated off the IR to return list in early November but only recently surpassed James Michael-Johnson into the starting lineup. Still, Josh Mauga is the only one who plays a high volume of snaps.
Though he leads the team in tackles, he isn’t an impact player who misses too many.
He has 89 tackles but is without a sack or forced fumble while accumulating only 2 TFL.
– Sean Smith is the best guy in the secondary. Odds are good the Chiefs will try to shadow him on AB. That’s what Smith did to Demaryius Thomas. Smith is a big body at 6’3 218 with long arms. Brown hasn’t had to face much press coverage so this could be interesting to watch.
While Smith can play left or right corner, he doesn’t play in the slot. Chris Owens does. Meaning, if the Steelers want to shed themselves of Smith on 84 for a play, they can line him up in the slot. Or stack receivers and force off coverage. That’s how Larry Fitzgerald shakes free here.
– Teams have been testing rookie CB Phillip Gaines. Peyton Manning threw at him three straight times at the end of the first half. One completion, one incompleton, and one defensive holding. The team may be asking Gaines to play more bail technique to protect getting beat, allowing breaking routes to be completed instead.
– Without Eric Berry, the safeties aren’t much to fear. Kurt Coleman, Ron Parker, and Husain Abdullah make up the group.
– The defense forces a lot of fumbles but not many interceptions. They’ve picked off only four passes, their last coming in Week 8. That was nearly two months ago.
– The biggest takeaway about their defense is all the subpackage used. It’s actually very reminiscent to what the Steelers were forced to do last year. Kansas City uses a ton of nickel and dime packages.
Against Oakland, six defensive backs played at least 50 snaps. The week before, six saw at least 30. Like the Steelers losing Larry Foote in Week One of 2013, the Chiefs are compensating for the loss of ILB Derrick Johnson early in the year.
As the Steelers did with Troy Polamalu, Abdullah has acted as a hybrid linebacker/safety, playing in the box most of the time.
It helps open up big running lanes for offenses and is in large part why the Chiefs are allowing 4.9 YPC, tied for the worst mark in the league.
But in a near Simpson’s Paradox like moment, the Chiefs have given up the fewest rushing touchdowns – two. Howl, I’m not quite sure. Having the league’s best red zone defense certainly does help though.
If I’m the Steelers, I’m keeping the Chiefs out of their base. That means avoiding “heavy” personnel groupings like 13 (1 RB, 3 TE). I’m running a lot of 11, spreading the Chiefs out while putting them into nickel or dime, and running all over the lanes created. Easier to control a guy like Poe, too. Better angles to chip him and you have one less DL to worry about blocking at the first level.
– Secondary plays a lot of man coverage. Your best versus their best. Lot of stress on their cornerbacks. And their safeties. Ron Parker is asked to cover tight ends and running backs but because he is also put up near the LOS, he can get picked when asked to cover routes in the flat. Example below that went for a big gain by Cardinals’ TE Rob Housler.
– One other note. Although it hasn’t burned them from what I saw, the Chiefs make the mistake of playing their CBs at the same depth. Especially near the red zone. Susceptible to getting beat on pick routes (slant/flat). In the red zone is where those routes are most prevalent.
– There’s been a rotation of kick returners. Davis has 25 while Thomas has returned 12. Davis has a 99 yard kick return for a score, Thomas has taken a kick back for 78 (didn’t score), and returned a punt 81 yards to the house last week against Oakland.
Though to be fair, Thomas didn’t have to do much. There were only two defenders in the area and a lot of green.
Thomas has great change of direction skills and is explosive. The way Steelers’ fans wish Dri Archer currently was.
– Rookie Daniel Sorenson (#49) has replaced Albert Wilson on special teams. Starting upback on kicks and punts while playing other phases of special teams.
– Linebacker Frank Zombo (#51) has played 330 snaps on special teams. It’s one of the highest totals in the league.
– Fellow linebacker Josh Martin (#95) has played 52 snaps on defense but you have to figure most of his 14 tackles have come on special teams. He’s logged 287 snaps on the third phase.
– Sherman and rookie Dee Ford make up the wedge on kick returns.
– Kicker Cairo Santos is 17/21 on field goals with a long of 53. He’ll also star in the upcoming film, Honey, I Shrunk the Kicker.
5’8 173 is not a good look in the NFL.
– I’ll leave perhaps the most interesting special teams’ piece for last. I don’t know how many, if any, the Chiefs have stopped this year but twice in 2014, the opposing team ran a successful fake punt against them. The Broncos and San Francisco 49ers converted on 4th down with runs by their upback. Nugget to keep in mind. Steelers have run one fake punt this year, though it was a pass.