You may recall that I wrote a time or two in the buildup to Sunday night’s game about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ difficulty in defending opponents’ running backs and tight ends over the course of the first three games of the season. While they hovered near the bottom 10 in defending tight ends, they gave up more yards to running backs through the first three weeks than anybody.
Today I am happy to be able to write that the defense did a much better job in containing one of the better offenses in the league in getting the ball in space to some of the league’s more talented pass catchers from the non-wide receiver positions on the field, as neither tight end Travis Kelce nor running back Spencer Ware had a good day for the Chiefs.
In fact, Kelce, whose receiving stats last season were spectacular, was limited to just 23 total yards on the day on five receptions, including eight total targets. Two of which, admittedly, might be fairly considered drops. He scored a three-yard touchdown in the waning seconds of a blowout loss.
As for Ware, he caught just one pass on the day on five targets for 14 yards, and that one reception came on a third-and-21 play with the Steelers holding a 36-point lead. One pass targeted for Ware was tipped and intercepted by the defense as well, returned to the four-yard line, with the offense converting that to points on the next play. His other two incompletions came on misfired passes that the defense was in position to defend and a drop, which was also well-defended.
If you were wondering about Jamaal Charles, he only got two touches on the day on two carries, and was targeted just once in the passing game on an incompletion. On the play, the Chiefs used a two-back set with Charles swinging out into the left flat, but the pass was led too far upfield. Had it been caught, however, it may have gone for a loss anyway. Knile Davis caught two of three targets for 14 yards.
All told, Kansas City attempted a total of 17 passes to their running backs and tight ends, completing eight passes for 51 yards, one touchdown, and an interception, with the touchdown coming in what would be considered the textbook definition of garbage time, on fourth and goal with eight seconds left and trailing by 36 points.
Credit must be given where credit is due. The Eagles really took advantage of the Steelers’ defense last week utilizing their running backs and tight ends, but Pittsburgh came well-prepared to handle a similar offensive look a week later, making the appropriate adjustments to stymie Kansas City’s game plan.
As noted, while part of the Chiefs’ struggles on targets to these positions can be attributed to execution errors—some aided by defensive pressure—the Steelers were consistently well-positioned to defend them, and some credit is owed to Jordan Dangerfield and Justin Gilbert in their roles played in this area.