As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.
Today, checking out the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense for this weekend’s game.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT
CHIEFS’ RUN GAME
The Chiefs’ run game certainly isn’t the first thing you think about when you think of this offense but let’s talk about it just the same. Their run game has not been bad, tied 7th at 4.5 yards per carry on the year and sitting middle of the pack with 13 rushing touchdowns.
Their top two backs are Darrel Williams and Clyde Edwards-Helaire having nearly equal carries. Williams has 112, CEH at 110, though the latter has missed five games with injury. When healthy, Edwards-Helaire is their top guy, especially on run downs. He played 71% of the snaps in last week’s win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Williams is more of the passing down back with 38 receptions to CEH’s 19.
Kansas City’s 41 runs of 10+ yards and seven runs of 20+ yards are each about average in the league. They, like Pittsburgh, have an overhauled offensive line Josh will talk about below. KC’s line, of course, has been much more productive with their two rookies LG Trey Smith and C Creed Humphrey, playing exceptionally well.
Schematically, I would define their run game as gap and man blocking. Believe it or not, they actually use a FB a fair bit, former Lion Michael Burton in his first year with the team. They’ll go heavy personnel with multiple tight ends and a fullback/running back. And they’ll hand the ball to Burton, who had a seven-yard TD on a FB dive against the Chargers.
They run a lot of counter power with the backside guard and tight end pulling across the formation. And you’ll also get man/duo blocks with a TE insert. Off-ball tight end is an indicator. Both examples in the clip below.
Their receivers also get involved in the run game. Jet runs they can use as window dressing to hold and move defenders. On third/fourth and short, watch out for TE Blake Bell to get over center and run a QB sneak while Mahomes is in the gun. Bell is a big body who was a QB in college so it’s an interesting wrinkle they use.
Some other offensive stats. They rank sixth in points per game at 27.5. Their offense is on track again, scoring 34+ points in three of their last five games and 40+ points in two of their last five. On the season, they have seven games of 30+ points. Pittsburgh has just one this year, the Chargers loss. One reason for their offensive output is their #1 ranked third down offense at a whopping 52.7%. Get this. On 3rd and 6 or closer, they are converting 73.2% (71/97) of the time, more than ten points higher than any other team in football (Tampa Bay is second at 62%) while the Steelers sit at 54%. Wild and probably historic numbers.
Their red zone offense is much more mild, 17th at 59.3%. The Steelers, if you can believe it, are actually a tick better.
CHIEFS’ PASS GAME
The bread and butter of the team with QB Patrick Mahomes at QB. We’ll just have to see what other weapons he has at his disposal. Mahomes had a rough start to the season but is playing close to his usual self as of late. On the year, he’s thrown for 30 TDs and 13 INTs. He’s thrown just three picks in his last six games. Overall, that tracks with the Chiefs’ total turnover numbers. Their 25 giveaways this season are tied for the second-most in football but most of that came early in the year as the team sputtered around. They have just six turnovers in their last six games.
His top weapons are of course TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreek Hill. Both – as of this writing – are on the Reserve/COVID list. Hill is arguably the fastest receiver in football, though his 11.5 yards per catch average is way down from 2020 when it sat at 14.7 yards per catch. He’s been used on my curls and drive/shallow routes this season but make no mistake, this guy can light you up over the top. Kelce is one of the most dynamic tight ends in football with a 83/1066/12.8/7 stat line. Kelce and Hill are two of ten players in the league with 80+ catches for 1000+ yards, and 5+ touchdowns. They’re the only team with two of them on the same team. Steelers’ WR Diontae Johnson, by the way, is on that list.
There is talent elsewhere. Mecole Hardman is another speedy receiver who has sort of underwhelmed in his career but still a threat. And Byron Pringle is an underrated threat who has hung around the league for awhile, I still remember Phil Savage talking him up at the Senior Bowl, who is averaging 14.4 yards per catch. The Chiefs’ receivers are fast and dynamic and that’s a problem for a Steelers’ CB group that doesn’t have a lot of speed. Cam Sutton is average and Joe Haden can’t run anymore. Will Ahkello Witherspoon play more this week or is Haden’s vet savvy enough to trust him?
It’s no surprise to know the Chiefs are top ten in 20+ yard completions (50 – tied 7th) and 40+ yard completions (8 – tied 8th).
Also want to note Chiefs’ punter Tommy Townsend has thrown a pass this year, completing it for 16 yards. Came on 4th and 7 on their own 47 against the Raiders a few weeks ago. KC was leading 27-14 at the time early in the fourth quarter.
Decent amount of RPOs in their offense. Opened up the last two games with it, shown below.
As Mike Tomlin noted during his Tuesday press conference, Mahomes handles the blitz well. Sacked just once on it this year. Bring the blitz and he’ll find a way out of it. Best to rush four, drop seven, cover and contain. Here’s examples of Mahomes beating the blitz each of the last two weeks.
Conceptually, you get a lot of spacing and divide routes, especially to open up Hill. More and more this year they’re working him underneath on curls/pivots/drive concepts. One other concept to note. Their power/shovel plays. Pull the guard, pitch to the TE/RB with a third option in the flat.
Really, it feels like the Steelers run a lot of the same concepts as the Chiefs do. Their playbooks seem similar. Of course, the Chiefs have better coaching and talent overall, making their offense much more important.
JOSH’S INDIVIDUAL REPORT
A Merry Christmas to all!
On that note…it’s Chiefs week, Steelers fans!
Things don’t get any easier for the Pittsburgh Steelers down the stretch as they fight for a playoff spot, facing a difficult task of hitting the road for a tough matchup with the high-powered, red-hot Kansas City Chiefs at one of the toughest places to play in the NFL: Arrowhead Stadium.
If it’s not bad enough that the Steelers have to go into a loud, hostile environment that is Arrowhead one day after Christmas, they have to face off against one of the top QBs in the NFL who is finding his game once again in star quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes went through a rather rough stretch in the middle of the season that led to some unfound panic from regarding the young star quarterback potentially being solved by the rest of the league.
That never happened, and now Mahomes looks like himself again, leading a high-flying Chiefs’ offense that has put up 48 and 34 points in the last two weeks, capping off a stretch in which the Chiefs have won seven straight games dating back to 27-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
It hasn’t always been pretty for the Chiefs offensively throughout the winning streak, but now that the Chiefs are fully healthy…look out.
Mahomes makes magic happen with the football through the air, especially when targeting his top two weapons in wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce.
Hill is a legitimate jitter bug, one that can absolutely kill defenses in space. His change of direction skills are otherworldly. It’s unfair watching him zip around the field with his speed and precision in his cuts.
He’s nearly impossible to defend one-on-one, and this route against Los Angeles in Week 15 was absolutely absurd.
How do you defend that?
Hill is a legitimate home run threat that can take the top off of defenses, but what makes him even more dangerous is the threat of him getting deep, which causes defenses to stress it, allowing him to stop on a dime downfield and find himself wide open in the middle of the field, leading to an easy pitch and catch from Mahomes like this one here in Week 14 against the Las Vegas Raiders.
He can stop on a dime and give nine cents change.
With Kelce, he doesn’t run any sort of extravagant routes like Hill can, but what Kelce does is serve as the underneath option that can make plays after the catch, which is rather rare for tight ends.
He’s not the fastest player on the field, but his vision and feel for where defenders are around him allows him to truly excel with the football in his hands.
The Chargers learned that the hard way in Week 15.
Kelce is a matchup nightmare, much like Hill. The Steelers wil have to pick and choose their spots to try and limit the dynamic duo, because you can’t take away both.
It helps that the Chiefs’ complimentary pieces aren’t true threats that scare defenses.
Mecole Hardman has insane speed, but he’s so incredibly inconsistent catching the football, as is Demarcus Robinson, who is more of the physical receiver of the group. Mahome has started to trust Byron Pringle a bit more, so keep an eye on him on Sunday afternoon. He’s a physical receiver who can make plays after the catch.
Josh Gordon caught a touchdown in Week 15 at the goal line against the Raiders, but that’s about all he’s done this season for the Chiefs.
In the backfield, Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s return has given the Chiefs a spark. He’s a good running back with outstanding vision and footwork. The Chiefs don’t run the ball well overall, but he is able to hit it up in between the tackles and give the Chiefs some semblance of balance offensively.
The same goes for Daryl Williams, who is a strong No. 2 option that fits the Chiefs’ offense perfectly. He doesn’t need a ton of touches but brings a good combination of speed and power. He’s a strong receiver too.
I loved this design against the Raiders in Week 14, leading to a touchdown for Williams on a swing route out of the backfield.
Motioning Kelce down into the box gives him the opportunity to land a pick on Raiders’ linebacker Cory Littleton, who is supposed to be covering Williams in the flat.
He can’t get there and it’s an easy touchdown. One could argue Kelce should have been flagged here, but credit to the Chiefs for dialing this up. They’ll certainly attack Devin Bush, Robert Spillane and Joe Schobert on plays like this on Sunday.
Up front, the Chiefs did an excellent job rebuilding the offensive line on the fly, trading a first-round pick to Baltimore for All-Pro tackle Orlando Brown, while spending third-round and sixth-round picks on center Creed Humphrey and right guard Trey Smith, not to mention spending more than $80 million in free agency on left guard Joe Thuney.
Now, this is one of the best line’s in football. Here’s how I expect them to line up left to right on Sunday:
LT — Orlando Brown Jr.
LG — Joe Thuney
C — Creed Humphrey
RG — Trey Smith
RT — Lucas Niang
(Ed Note: Niang is currently on the COVID list)
Brown Jr. and Niang have struggled at tackle at times this season, especially when trying to learn how to protect a mobile Mahomes. They’re both mammoth humans though and can swallow up pass rushers.
Inside, this is one of the best interior trios in football, which I’m sure makes Steelers fans sick to read, knowing Humphrey and Smith were right there for the taking in the draft.
Humphrey looks like on one of the top centers in football for years to come, while Smith shook off some medical red flags leading up to the draft to develop into a potential Pro Bowl guard right away. He’s a mauler in the run game and is a perfect complement to Thuney’s more technical style at left guard.
On special teams the Chiefs will be without All-Pro kicker Harrison Butker on Sunday after the kicker tested positive for COVID and is one of the unvaccinated players on the Chiefs’ roster. Elliot Fry will kick for the Chiefs.
Fry has bounced around the league and has attempted just one field goal — a 23-yarder — with the Atlanta Falcons in 2020, an attempt he made. Fry went 1-for-2 on extra points with the Falcons. Not much tape on him.
Punter Tommy Townsend is having a career year, averaging 48.0 yards per punt, which is an improvement of 3.0 yards from his rookie season. He has a massive leg and does well with hangtime, which makes him a real weapon. He’s also an athletic punter that the Chiefs have called on to run fake punts, completing a 16-yard pass already this season to convert a fake punt.
Pringle has handled the kick return duties. He’s safe back there, rarely making mistakes. He takes what’s there and dishes out some punishment at the end of his returns. Hardman and cornerback Mike Hughes have shared the punt return duties.
Hardman has one punt return for touchdown in his career and is averaging a career-high 10.5 yards per return this season with a long of 31 yards, while Hughes is averaging 13.6 yards per return with a long of 37 this season.