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Scouting Report: Chiefs’ Defense Completing In-Season Turnaround

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, Tom Mead and I will cover the opposing team’s defense. I will focus on scheme, Tom on the players.

For the first time this postseason, our scouting report on the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense.

ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT

CHIEFS’ RUN DEFENSE

A run defense that on paper, doesn’t look very good, the same thing we mentioned prior to that Week 16 matchup. They finished 31st in the league allowing 4.8 yards per carry. Only the Steelers, at 5.0 were worse. But they seemed to allow a steady flow of decent runs, not a smaller number of chunk ones. They finished the second allowing 43 runs of 10+ yards, tied 23rd most, and 11 runs of 20+ yards, tied 19th most. Not great numbers but far from the bottom. Some of that came via QB scrambles, like Denver’s Drew Lock last week, which won’t be a concern when facing Ben Roethlisberger.

Statistically, their leading tackler is rookie LB Nick Bolton leads the team and the only Chief with over 100 tackles. Anthony Hitchens is second on the team followed by a bunch of DBs. Tyrann Mathieu and L’Jarius Sneed are tied third on the team with 72 tackles and two other DBs have 60+ tackles. So those guys get involved quite a bit. As a team, they have forced a whopping 18 fumbles this year with CB Mike Hughes leading the team with four. Unusual to see a CB lead a team in that category.

They run a 3-4 front that can be multiple and versatile out on the edges. Overall, I found them to be a pretty good run defense, at least in recent weeks, that mix up their approach to playing run D. Some one-gapping and slanting, usually with DBs coming off the edge as extra run help and old-school two-gapping two up front with lighter box numbers. Against Denver in particular, they did a great job of making RBs bounce and not be able to get one-cut and run downhill. Occasionally, that led to some decent runs, Melvin Gordon hit a “bend” read on a zone run for a long gain (with a couple broken tackles) but it forced the backs off their path and out of the run scheme.

Couple examples of 1 gap vs 2 gap being effective. I like their pursuit on the second example too. This team runs hard to the ball.

 

The Chiefs played a fair amount of two-high which means running the ball should be easier but I saw less of it against the Broncos and the Steelers struggled to run versus it in Week 16. So it may still be tough.

Like Pittsburgh, they will shift around their front, especially their EDGE rushers. Check out former Steeler Melvin Ingram lined up over C gap inside shade of the LT with an OLB next to him setting the edge.

Some other stats. 18th ranked third down defense at 40.2% and the 16th ranked red zone defense at 57.1%. Neither great numbers. As we mentioned before, they are the 8th best scoring defense allowing 21.4 PPG. But that stat doesn’t tell the whole story. Over their first eight games, they allowed 27.5 points per game. Over the last nine, they allowed 16 points per game, including just ten to the Steelers in the first meeting (including a garbage-time TD).

CHIEFS’ PASS DEFENSE 

Not great numbers here either. They’re allowing 7.3 YPA, 24th in the league while allowing 27 passing touchdowns, square in the middle in the NFL. Their pass rush also hasn’t gotten home with just 31 sacks, 29th in the league. They have been aggressive on the football though with 15 interceptions, just outside the top ten.

DT Chris Jones leads the team with nine sacks with DE Frank Clark second on the team with 4.5 sacks. They’re an aggressive, blitzing defense with their DBs combined for three sacks this year. Their blitz and pressure rate are each in the top ten, 28.1% blitz (8th) and 26.4% pressure rate (6th). Good numbers on both fronts. The Honey Badger leads the team with three INTs.

From a big-play standpoint, the Chiefs have given up 52 passes of 20+ yards, 17th in the league. Where they struggle the most are on the double-chunk plays, giving up 13 of 40+ yards, 29th in football. One area they excel is tackling. According to PFR, they’ve missed only 95 tackles, tied fifth fewest in the NFL. The Steelers are on the other end with among the highest missed tackles in the league at 125.

Schematically, they match route combinations well. Heavy mix of zone match. On paper, this might look like Cover 6 but to the trips side, the CB is matching #1 vertical as #2 runs up, too. Two examples.

 

They play zone on early downs and play man, Cover 1 and Cover 1 Lurk, on third down.

One other thing. Dave and I have discussed on the podcast is the possibility of trick plays. To lay it all out on the line. Denver had a similar line of thinking in Week 18, throwing – and completing – a pass with WR Courtland Sutton for a first down.

 

It’s good to see it work. But it might be bad in that the Chiefs gave that up and are probably working and thinking about those things more now.

TOM’S INDIVIDUAL REPORT 

The Steelers were able to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs and are rewarded by travelling to play the Kansas City Chiefs.  The first meeting earlier this year did not go well but anything goes in the playoffs.  They Chiefs defense is coming in healthy but after that first meeting over the last two weeks of the season they did give up 58 points. Let’s look at who the Pittsburgh offense will have to face.

Interior Defensive Line

Jarran Reed (90) and Derrick Nnadi (91) are the tough anchors on the inside.  Reed is tough to move off of his spot, plays with good pad level and controls blockers.  He can give you a push inside versus the run or bull rushing and don’t be surprised to see him drop in coverage. Nnadi uses active hands and good hand placement and is tough for a lineman to block one on one.  He too is hard to get off his spot and can be disruptive using swipes and chops while rushing the passer. Tershawn Wharton (98) is the primary backup inside and he is built a little different.  He is a quicker, undersized, high motor player who can shoot gaps to disrupt the run and is slippery as a pass rusher. He uses his hands, quickness and agility to get around blockers and pursues the ball well.

Nnadi (91) uses hand placement and play strength to stand up the center while he slides with the block before shedding, getting low and stopping the runner

 

Defensive Ends

You’ll see a lot of Chris Jones (95) inside and his combination of length and strength makes him very disruptive.  He will mix up his pass rush and uses his hands well to remove blockers from his path. He’ll use a quick swim move and make the night difficult for whoever lines up across from him. Frank Clark (55) will usually start on the right side and has good athleticism.  He has good snap quickness, is strong setting the edge and has an effective push/pull move when rushing the passer. Melvin Ingram (24) is often on the left but can play on both sides and is primarily a pass rusher.  The veteran can still get off the line quickly and can bend around the edge.  He’ll throw a plethora of pass rush moves at the tackles including power and speed rushes but look for him to try to win on counters to the inside.

Mike Danna (51) is a promising young defender who uses good pad level, hand placement and play strength to set the edge against the run.  His pass rush is developing and includes a good bull rush getting under the blockers pads and a chop/rip combination. Alex Okafor (97) is a technically sound edge player who uses his length well.  He’s a high motor player who uses his hands well and will use a stab as well as a speed to bull rush and also will be used in coverage in the flat.

Clark (55) will use a push/pull on the tight end trying to block him to get in for the sack.

 

Inside Linebackers

The linebackers are an athletic group and based on the personnel they are in there will be different players on the field.  Anthony Hitchens (53) is the MIKE linebacker in base will also play in nickel. He’s a smart processor and flows to the ball well.  He can fill gaps and takes solid angles to the outside and is smooth mover in Zone coverage. Ben Niemann (56) is the SAM linebacker and is also the lone linebacker in dime personnel. He plays with an aggressive style and is willing gap filler while also displaying solid abilities in coverage. He a solid processor but will get wide with his angles to the outside.

Nick Bolton (54) is the WILL linebacker in base, is a physical tackler and attacks the line of scrimmage. He reacts quickly and will chase to the sidelines. He has good change of direction, accelerates quickly when blitzing and displays solid awareness of routes in coverage. Willie Gay (50) will come in on nickel personnel and is quick twitched when attacking in the running game or accelerating to the ball in Zone coverage. He is a smooth mover, has the physicality to take on blockers and the quickness to hit gaps as a blitzer. Dorian O’Daniel (44) is a core special team player who plays with physicality, has good athleticism and tackles well.

Gay (50) will read the play, attack the gap and make a quick stop.

 

Corners

This group plays aggressively and they all have ball skills.  Charvarius Ward (35) is the left cornerback and has good size, is an aggressive defender and is solid in Man coverage. He is a willing player against the run and uses good physicality and hand placement to get off of blocks. L’Jarius Sneed (38) is an in-your-face defender and is strong in Press coverage.  He is physical at the line of scrimmage, attacks the ball in the air and supports the run well.  He will also play inside in the slot in nickel/dime.

Mike Hughes (21) is a former first round pick by Minnesota who plays primarily in the slot.  He is a quick twitched, agile player with size and physicality to be disruptive in Press. He is good at staying in phase, has good ball skills and returns punts as well. Rashad Fenton (27) can play in the slot or outside. He is sticky in Man coverage and plays aggressively through the catch point. He has good change of direction, accelerates well and is a solid tackler in space. DeAndre Baker (30) is another former first round pick and has good speed. He has struggled in Man coverage but like the rest of the group has good ball skills and plays a physical style.

Ward (35) at the bottom of the screen will jam the receiver and then recognizes the run coming his way and controls and sheds the blocker to get in on the stop.

 

Safeties

Juan Thornhill (22) is the young free safety who helps the defense in many ways.  He can play the single high safety, in the box or in Man coverage on tight ends.  He has good range, tackles well in space and is a willing participant against the run but will give up the edge to allow runs to the outside. Tyrann Mathieu is the jack of all trades and will align everywhere.  He’ll play deep or in the box and has good athleticism to be a play maker. He will also play the slot in dime and will be used to blitz.

Daniel Sorenson (49) is the third safety and will play in dime usually in the box or as a split safety deep.  He’ll cover tight ends, be uses like a linebacker in goal line situations and is and aggressive tackler. Armani Watts (23) is primarily a special team player and is a good tackler. He has played sparingly on defense but has good mobility, shows awareness in coverage and is good tackler. Rookie Zayne Anderson (39) has been playing on special team the last three games and is a high motor player with good size and range playing as the deep safety.

Sorenson (49) will read and react to the play and make the tackle short of the goal line.

 

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