In The Trenches: Steelers Vs Chiefs

After a convincing win in the AFC Wild Card round against the Miami Dolphins the Steelers are gearing up for a rematch against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round. The Chiefs defense leads the NFL with 33 takeaways, but let’s see how they match up against the Steelers’ running game in what could be the second coming of the “ice bowl”.

Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers offensive line turned in another strong offensive performance last week against the Dolphins’ 30th ranked run defense and tomorrow they match up against the Chiefs 26th ranked run defense. Let’s break down the trenches.

When the Chiefs are in their base defense they run a 3-4 scheme with their three down linemen are Chris Jones, Dontari Poe, Rakeem Nunez-Roches. Jones, Poe, and Nunez-Roches’ run metrics are 77.6, 49.1 and 45.1 respectively per Pro Football Focus (PFF).

The Chiefs’ defensive line starts with Poe who plays nose tackle and routinely takes on double teams (thus the low run stopping metric). He is one of the most effective run stoppers in the league, and is a perfect example of why it’s impossible to gauge a player’s effect on a football game with a single number.

Jones has benefited from all the attention Poe receives at the line of scrimmage, and has shown himself to be effective against the run in his own right. He is very effective at closing holes as quickly as they open with persistent back-side pursuit.

Nunez-Roches is a backup who has played less than 300 snaps all year and is still trying to reach his full potential.

As pedestrian as the Chiefs interior linemen’s metrics are, they are solid and deep on the outside. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are known as effective pass-rushers but their run metrics are solid; 72.6 and 74.4 respectively. Dee Ford and Frank Zombo also see regular snaps, but their run metrics are 42.6 and 67.6, leaving a lot to be desired.

The Steelers offensive line is blossoming into one of the best units in the AFC. From right to left Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Alejandro Villanueva have helped Bell turn in one dominant performance after another. Their run metrics are 79.4, 84, 75.2, 81.1 and 77.5 respectively and they have blossomed as a cohesive unit under offensive line coach Mike Munchak.

Considering the weather reports expect the Steelers to come out in run heavy formations involving fullback Roosevelt Nix (81.4) and lineman turned tight end Chris Hubbard (58.8) trying to help establish movement at the point of attack. Nix has blossomed into a star, becoming the 3rd highest rated run blocking full back in the league.

The non-300 lb. tight ends; David Johnson (55.1), Jesse James (74.4) and Xavier Grimble (64.6) have improved their blocking as the season has gone on as well. Jesse James has raised his blocking rating more than 20 points since the bye week from around 50 to 74.4 (see his block on Antonio Brown’s first touchdown last week).

While the numbers say the Steelers offensive line should be able to block the Chiefs defensive front without much difficulty, expect the Chiefs to put up a fight in front of their home crowd and on primetime TV. With an ice storm hitting Kansas City prior to the game the line of scrimmage will most likely look like a mosh pit as opposed to a set of well executed run blocks.

With a healthy Bell and Nix in the Steelers backfield, that’s just fine, because if there’s an alley, Bell will find it and show another defense why the Steelers’ running game is one of the most dangerous in the NFL.

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