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.
Today, the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Chiefs’ Front Seven
The run defense on the season is better than the Miami Dolphins but it’s far from great. Allowing 4.4 yards per carry, tied for the 9th worst mark in the NFL. They have an interesting mix of journeys along the defensive line. There is the proven stud, nose tackle Dontari Poe, the rookie coming on strong, end Chris Jones, and then the unknown, the other end, Rakeem Nunez-Roches.
It appears the front seven typically plays things by the strength of the formation instead of sides, meaning they move around. In Bob Sutton’s base 3-4, Jones is the strongside end with Nunez-Roches the weakside. Ditto with inside linebacker as they’re trying to scramble a bit after losing their rock, Derrick Johnson, for the season with a torn Achilles.
Ramik Wilson is now their everydown linebacker, one of their leading tacklers on the season (Johnson still leads the teams in tackles). Next to him in their base is rookie #48 Terrance Smith, apparently replacing Justin March-Lillard.
Justin Houston should be back at OLB this week. Previously, it’s been Dee Ford and Frank Zombo as the bookends. In Week 16 against the Denver Broncos, they played strengths, Hali weak, Zombo strong, but in Week 17 versus the San Diego Chargers, Hali was often on the strongside as the LOLB. So we’ll see how things play out.
But knowing that some parts of the front seven play to strengths, you should see a lot of pre-snap motion by Pittsburgh. Shift the strength in order to put the guy they want to be the weak defenders become the strongsider players. Do what they’re uncomfortable with.
They’ve allowed 53 runs of 10+ yards, tied for 7th worst. Their safety play does keep a lid on things though, allowing just five runs of 20+ yards. That’s ranked tied for the third best mark in the NFL. That’s ok anyway since the Steelers don’t break a lot of those type of long runs, last weekend aside.
There is a relatively unusual degree of rotation along the defensive line. They will sub out their entire starting three for a new set of faces. The “second string” defensive line is: Jarvis Jenkins-T.J. Barnes-Kendall Reyes. Pretty clear dropoff.
Surprisingly, and maybe some of this is attributed to a loss of Houston, they have just 27 sacks in the regular season. Lower third of the league. Ford accounts for over a third of that with ten sacks. The linebackers as a group have 19.5, the defensive line 6.5, and the DBs one.
It’s a really good group. They’re a ballhawking unit, tied for the league lead with 18 interceptions. Marcus Peters leads the bunch with six. The corners and safeties each have eight.
Peters is on the left side with Steven Nelson, #20, on the right. Nelson will kick to the slot in subpackages with Terrance Mitchell, #39, becoming the right cornerback. Phillip Gaines, who got roasted in the first meeting, has dealt with a knee injury and hasn’t played in a month.
Safety is the same. Eric Berry, the All-Star, and Ron Parker, a really underrated guy.
Their man coverage philosophy creates a low completion percentage. At 58%, it’s the second best mark in the league, only behind the Denver Broncos. Their 6.9 YPA is tied for 11th best too. Their 46 passes of 20+ yards is the 12th worst in the league, sorta surprising, but they don’t allow anything over their heads. Only seven passes of 40+ yards all year long, tied for the 8th best mark.
Their red zone defense is 5th best in the league but their third down defense is poor, allowing teams to convert over 43% of the time. That’s 27th in the NFL. The Steelers’ third down offense is 12th best this year.
Like I wrote, it’s a heavy man defense. Not all they do, this isn’t Al Davis’ Raiders, but it’s what they do the best. Their entire secondary, not just Berry and Peters, have great ball skills and Sutton lets them be aggressive. Play to their strengths.
There’s also some sort of pattern matching going on here, too.
They have an array of sub-packages. In a lot of potential pass situations, third downs, Daniel Sorensen will replace the rookie inside linebacker Terrance Smith. Been doing that all season long and it’s a staple of the Chiefs’ defense (they did it last year with Husain Abdullah). Sorensen is a DB by nature but a bigger build to play in the box.
They also will go into an amoeba look of one defensive linemen, four linebackers, and six DBs for their dime personnel. And every Steelers’ fans favorite, even a 3-3-5.
Sutton is an aggressive coach and has some similar blitz concepts to Keith Butler. More man pressure than zone but here’s the safety and the NCB coming, similar to Butler’s Thunder blitz. Bottom of the screen.
Or a Frisco-like fire zone with the safety through the B gap.
You get most of this on third down. The downs I have secondary blitzes listed for:
3rd and 10
3rd and 7
2nd and 15
2nd and 10
3rd and 9
They’ll stack their OLBs, just like Pittsburgh, with Hali and Ford lined up to the same side.
Lot to deal with. Not fun.
One way to win is with some over routes vs man coverage. Chargers line up in a Trey alignment, 3×1 with tight end backside, and get one of their slot guys across the field. If you can establish leverage, you’ll have a lot of space.
Chiefs’ Special Teams
Dustin Colquitt is a great directional punter. Hard to get a read on where his punts will land. Someone capable of having the ball on either hash and kicking it to the other.
Kickoff man Cairo Santos is a little easier to predict. In the two games I watched, with probably ten kickoffs, none of them traveled to his right (return team’s left). They were left outside the numbers or down the middle. More the ball is center to center right, more likely the ball will go left. Center left has a higher chance of being down the middle.
On the punt team, wide receiver Albert Wilson is the upback with Sorensen and CB Eric Murray as the wings. The only other offensive players on this unit are RB De’Anthony Thomas (gunner) and TE James O’Shaughnessy (left guard).
Matthew’s Individual Report
These Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t push overs, but Sunday’s contest in Arrow Head Stadium will be anything but a walk in the park. The Chiefs have the 14th ranked defense in the league (via Pro Football Focus), and thrive in the pass rushing/coverage categories. Where they could be had is on the ground, which coincidentally, has been the Steelers’ greatest asset as of late. It’ll be an interesting contest that will go down to the wire, so let’s take a look at their defensive culprits.
Their base 3-4 defense is anchored by the likes of big man Dontari Poe, who’s about as disruptive as any defensive tackle in the league. He was, however, held in check during their last meeting all the way back in week 4, as his 50 total snaps yielded only 1 tackle- a lone sack. It must be said that Poe’s struggled a bit against the run this year, after coming off of a stellar performance in 2015. Conversely, while feeding off of the rushers around him, he’s improved in the pass-rushing category. Look for him to be his usual disruptive self; although the way the Steelers’ oline has been playing as of late, maybe it’s him that should be worried.
On either side are Chris Jones and Rakeem Nunez-Roches. The former has been the strongest lineman all year long, thriving against the run, in the pass rush, and overall. Jones has registered no negative games all year long, while slowly increasing his work load and snaps played.
This second round selection out of Mississippi State has yielded great results for the Chiefs, and is sure to lead the way come Sunday afternoon. Taking a look below you’ll see what I mean. Although Derek Carr got the pass off in time, it clearly disrupted his pocket enough to record the pressure- sometimes just as good as a sack. He lines up in the B gap, and as soon as the ball is snapped- boom! He beats Vadal Alexander like a drum.
Nunez-Roches has experiences his ups-and-downs, but mostly downs. His second year out of Southern Mississippi has been trying at times, struggling to some degree in the pass rush, but has struggled immensely against the run. This doesn’t bode well for the Chiefs, as the Steelers’ oline has been heating up and is at peak temperature going into this Divisional weekend.
The linebackers are where their pass-rushing strengths lie, with the likes of D.J. Alexander and Ramik Wilson heading the interior, and the always-petrifying Justin Houston and Dee Ford/Tamba Hali manning the edges. Starting with the interior, Alexander is used infrequently- they play with an additional defensive back quite often, and thus, need the spot open. When Alexander does see the field, he doesn’t really make the most of it. The fifth round selection out of Oregon State struggles against the run and coverage.
Wilson, on the other hand, sees quite a bit of playing time. He thrives against aerial attacks, and does what he can against the run but is no brick wall. He’s accumulated 30 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage, and throws his 6’2”, 237 pound frame around at will.
Houston and Ford. What a combination the Chiefs have on their hands. Reminds Steeler fans of the good ol’ days, where sacks came at a premium and either side was potent. Houston hasn’t been able to give 2016 a full effort go, as injuries have prevented him from doing so. It does seem that he’s getting healthy, and January is a time to shine for players of his caliper. That being said, he’s done what he’s needed to do when he did see the field.
Take the example below; he sniffs out the play all the while staying with his would-be blocker (#50 on the right of your screen). He sheds him at the perfect moment (while keeping his eyes in the backfield), and wraps up Latavius Murray for no gain. Although the Steelers’ gameplan will be a tad different, this play at the very least illustrates his instincts and his ability beyond the pass rush.
Ford is evolving into one of the better pass rushers in the league, in his third year out of Auburn. His 11 sack campaign has illustrated his ability, as he’s added 26 stops to go with it. He does in fact struggle against the run, so there is a dent in his armor.
Pair this with the ageless wonder Tamba Hali (no, not James Harrison), and you have a recipe for an offensive disaster. Tamba’s battled his fair share of injuries as well, but that’s to be expected from a 34 year old outside linebacker- or is it? He’s made good use of his playing time when he did see the field, grabbing 4 sacks and 40 total quarterback pressures.
Look for the Steelers to go run-heavy on Sunday, especially considering their pass rushing/coverage abilities. Don’t play with fire or you’re inevitably going to get burned.
The secondary is where the Chiefs’ heart and soul exist. All of their DBs have demonstrated their coverage abilities, lead by jack-of-all-trades, master of all Eric Berry. As per usual, he’s putting together a campaign in which he’s thrived in pass coverage, and has also played stellar in run support. He’s played 97% of the team’s defensive snaps all year, and has lived up to his workhorse demeanor.
His counterpart, Ron Parker, has also played at a high level in 2016. His coverage is in the top echelon of free safeties, of which he’s improved each year since entering the league in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. They’ve got some great coaching down there in Kansas City.
The cornerback are lead by non other than Marcus Peters. He’s somehow improved in his sophomore season, which is a rare feat to achieve in this pass-happy league. Looking at his most recent game against the San Diego Chargers, he allowed only 2 receptions on 5 targets for 8 yards while recording an interception. He allowed a quarterback rating of 8.3- 8.3! He didn’t, however, go against Antonio Brown in their last meeting, as he strictly focused on Sammie Coates (who isn’t really part of the offensive anymore). It’ll be interesting to see how he engages with the red-hot receiver. Oh, and he’s also improved against the run. Is there anything he can’t do?
Phillip Gaines has been something of a weak link in this potent secondary. He’s registered the only negative grade (via Pro Football Focus), and is routinely picked on, although that’s simply a result of playing opposite one of the most dominant cornerbacks in the league. Look for him to be picked on a bit more on Sunday, although the Steelers should be leaning heavily on Le’Veon Bell once more.
Dustin Colquitt ended the year with 76 punts, averaging 45.1 yards with a long of 64. Thirty-eight landed within the 20 yard line, with 30 being returned. Conversely, opponents have punted 69 times for an average of 44.6 yards with a long of 62. Of those, 15 landed within the 20 yard line with 40 being returned. Those 40 attempts, thanks in part of the controversial Tyreek Hill, averages 14.8 yards with a long of 95 and 2 touchdowns. Opponents turned their 30 returns into an average of only 5.2 yards with a long of 16. Not bad! The Steelers will have to keep an eye on Hill at all times, and should avoid kicking to him altogether.