This year, Matthew Sottile and I will break down the opposing team’s defense in our weekly scouting report. Like last year, I will be looking at the opposing team in a more broad, scheme-approach. Matthew will have a closer eye on the individual players.
Alex’s Scheme Report
It’s a tough bunch across the board led by defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, a great coach. Let’s figure out their personnel.
Donatri Poe is the starting nose tackle but he’ll line up as a three tech too or a LDE in their base. Jaye Howard gets work at nose in those situations and also sees time as the LDE. Allen Bailey is the typical starter at RDE and in nickel.
They’re a deep bunch with highly touted rookie Chris Jones, who often sees time on the right side and Nick Williams – the ex-Steeler – on the left side. Neither have played a lot, neither even a quarter of the time, but they’re ready to handle an injury or need to substitute.
Their run defense hasn’t been great though, allowing nine runs of 10+ yards (tied 23rd in the league) and allowing 4.2 per carry, 18th league wide.
They mix one and two-gapping up front. Hard for me to get a read on them.
Last couple things on the DL. They’ll run a lot of Bear fronts to cover up both guards and the center and really stress the interior of the defensive line. Really dig it. Helps them get a guy like Poe, a crazy good athlete and pass rusher, one-on-one. Like he did here against the Jets, hurrying the throw and leading to one of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s six interceptions a week ago.
B.J. Finney/Chris Hubbard will have their hands full.
Don’t have a picture but also some Steelers’ hallmarks of shifting their DL to line one head up over center and the other as the contain rush as an end.
Derrick Johnson, #56, is their rock and a name you’ll hear a ton Sunday. Even near the end of his career, he’s still playing like a stud. The other linebacker isn’t used often, they’re going sub-package because the talent at the position isn’t strong, but when they do, it’ll be #59 Justin March-Lillard. He’s second on the team with 17 tackles despite the low snap count.
At outside linebacker, Dee Ford, Frank Zombo, and Tamba Hali are the big three. They’ll flip-flop but Hali is usually the LOLB and Zombo the ROLB. As a defense, they have three sacks this season, all by their linebackers and two by their edge guys (one by Hali, one by Ford).
Whew, it’s good. Tweeted it out yesterday – think they have the best ball skills of any secondary in football. From top to bottom, they are aggressive and get after the ball. No wonder they lead the league in pass deflections (24), interceptions (8), are third in QB completion percentage (55.6), and 5th in yards per attempt (6.2).
So even though teams aren’t throwing over their head (only one completion of 40+ yards through three games), they’re not giving up dink and dunk plays underneath, as shown by the low completion percentage.
Marcus Peters is the LCB, Phillip Gaines the RCB. Both young, spry, athletic dudes. Gaines isn’t certain to play this week, however, and Steven Nelson probably sees a lot of action there. He is also their nickel corner so I”m not 100% sure who will play RCB when they go sub-package. Perhaps rookie D.J. White, who has seen just six snaps this year. Something to watch.
The safeties are led by Eric Berry and the vastly underrated Ron Parker.
Daniel Sorensen becomes their safety/box LB quite often, basically replacing what Hussain Abdullah would do for them last year. He’s played 38% of the time this year.
Coverage wise, they’re a man-heavy team and hey, who can blame them. These guys can win one on one. Play a lot of Cover 1 and Cover 1 Robber, with a deep safety and another underneath looking to “rob” any intermediate throw over the middle.
But they’ll mix in some zone. Here’s some variation of Cover 6 against the Houston Texans and also bracketing DeAndre Hopkins.
They have blitzed a little but not a blitz-heavy team and I couldn’t pick up on any obvious tendencies.
Chiefs’ Special Teams
They had a pair of rookies at gunner last week…and both were WRs. Maybe the only team in the league to do it. Those guys are Tyreek Hill, a 5’8/185 pounder and Demarcus Robinson. Interesting.
Eric Murray and Sorensen lead the team with 71 special teams snaps. LB D.J. Alexander is right behind.
Matthew’s Individual Report
Many fans are drooling this week, as Le’Veon Bell is set to make his season debut Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs after a 3-game suspension (especially after that offensive display last week against the Philadelphia Eagles). Unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Steelers is the upcoming clash with one of the hottest defenses in the league, as New York Jets’ quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick learned that the hard way after his 6-interception display. Without further adieu, let’s take a look at the crew.
The defensive line is anchored by nose tackle Dontari Poe, who has become one of the more feared 0-techs in the league. He’s much more than a sinkhole for blockers, as the new-age defensive tackle shoot gaps much more frequently than before in the 3-4 defense; Poe uses his 6’3” 346 lbs frame on a consistent basis. Conversely, his massive size also causes trouble for the offensive line when the run is deployed. He ended the game registering only 2 quarterback hurries.
To the left of Poe is Jaye Howard, who struggled a bit last week against the Jets, but is an incredibly versatile player. Last year saw him lead the defensive line with 50 run snaps from the tackle position, and in run-stop percentage. He also had a total of 31 quarterback pressures, and a healthy amount of sacks at 7. Look for Howard to rebound Sunday night.
Allen Bailey rounds off the defensive line, and possibly one of the more “old-school” 3-4 defensive lines; they account for very little in the pass rush. He had a great game last week, racking up 3 tackles, 1 quarterback hurry, and 1 stop behind the line of scrimmage. That being said, it was his run defense that caught eyes throughout the afternoon, swallowing up linemen and allowing the swarm behind him to target the ball-carrier in a relatively easy fashion.
It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on this battle, especially in Ramon Foster is kept out because of his chest injury- B.J. Finney will have to answer the bell, and after a rather impressive display last week, he’ll definitely have his hands full this upcoming Sunday night.
The linebacking corps is where majority of the pressure is developed. The Steelers struggled last week on 3rd down, and that may continue into Sunday night’s matchup- the Chief’s defense was second in the league in regards to pressure on 3rd down, causing havoc in the backfield a ridiculous 49.7% of the time in 2015.
That being said, their stud pass-rusher Justin Houston isn’t available for duty, so in steps third-year linebacker Dee Ford. They’ve struggled as a group so far in the pressure department as they’ve only registered 3 sacks (Steelers fans can relate), so they’re looking to their youth to step up and make noise (again, very relatable). Ford struggled against the Jets, accounting for a single tackle. A healthy Marcus Gilbert should be able to prevent Ford from celebrating too much.
Opposite Ford is the ageless wonder, Tamba Hali. The 33-year old can still run with the best of them (when healthy), as he’s registered positive grades in his last 7 seasons- some of which saw monstrous numbers in the pass rush category. He registered 1 quarterback hit, 3 hurries, 4 tackles and 2 behind the line. Now, although he didn’t successfully get to the quarterback, he did enough to force some errant throws. Furthermore, he held his own in the run game. Take a look below if you don’t believe me.
Hali lines up over the tight end, and as soon as the ball is snapped, throws his man to the side and finds Matt Forte in the backfield. He may not be the strongest against the run, but when he’s capable of plays like this, it makes him all the more dangerous.
The interior is anchored by Derrick Johnson, who saw him both struggle against the run, but thrive in pass coverage. On an incredible 8 targets Johnson’s way, he allowed 6 receptions- this may sound like quite a bit, but he held the running backs and tight ends in check- those 6 went for only 25 yards, while also recording 1 batted ball and an interception. Why couldn’t he have played for us last week?
Taking a look below, you’ll see what I mean. Johnson fakes a blitz, and rolls out into the flat while keeping his eyes in the backfield. His assignment, Matt Forte, begins the run up the sideline- Johnson begins chase, staying in position eventually flipping his hips to grab an interception.
Second year linebacker Justin March-Lillard lines up beside Johnson on the inside, and played a mediocre game at best last week. He registered no tackles, no hurries or pressures, and made an incredibly small impact on the field. The team’s still looking for March-Lillard to find his stride.
The secondary is where things- special things- are happening for the Chiefs right now. Second year cornerback Marcus Peters is the main catalyst, and is quickly becoming one of the more prominent faces on the defensive side of the ball. Taking a look at his contest against the Jets, one can easily understand why Ben Roethlisberger called him a “phenomenal talent”, as his 6’0”, 197 lb frame allows him to move easily across the field.
While spending time blanketing Quincy Enunwa, Eric Decker, and Brandon Marshall, Peters was targeted 5 times- of those 5, he allowed only 2 receptions for a total of 17 yards, and registered 2 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 10.0. We’re talking about the real deal here, folks.
Opposite Peters in Phillip Gaines, who naturally has to deal with a lot more traffic and targets- that being said, he held his own against the Jets. He was targeted on 8 attempts, allowing 4 of them for 53 yards.
The safeties consist of Ron Parker, and fan favorite Eric Berry. Parker held his own on Sunday, allowing 3 receptions on 7 targets for 58 yards with a batted ball. The 9th-year veteran’s strong suit is definitely in his pass coverage, as he struggles mightily in his run defense.
Berry, on the other hand, plays your in-the-box type strong safety, leading the charge from the secondary in the run game. Although he consistently grades in the positive for pass coverage (he registered an interception and a batted pass last week on 4 targets), his run-stuffing abilities are invaluable. He hasn’t been his usual run-stopping beast thus far in 2016, but you’ll be sure to catch a glimpse of 29 in the backfield from time-to-time, as the offense looks to lean on Le’Veon Bell this week.
Dustin Colquitt has punted 15 balls so far, for an average of 43.6 yards, with a long of 57. Six of those were inside the 20-yard line, with 7 total returns. Conversely, opponents have punted 12 balls, for an average of 42.8 yards with a long of 62. Of those 12, only 2 were within the 20-yard line, and 10 were returned- those 10 returns went for an average of 12.7 yards. The Chiefs’ special teams haven’t exactly blown away their competition in 2016, but have done what they’ve needed to do in order to help their defense/offense thrive.