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.
For the first time this postseason, our scouting report on the Kansas City Chiefs.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT
CHIEFS’ RUN GAME
An underrated element of their offense. They’re averaging 4.5 yards per carry, tied 7th best in the league while their 16 rushing scores are slightly above average. The offense runs through the pass game but they can run the ball too. Darrell Williams and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are the top two backs on the team. Williams leads the team with 144 carries, CEH with 119, though the latter has dealt with injury, including missing the second half of the Week 16 matchup. When healthy, Edwards-Helaire is their top guy and is outproducing Williams in the run game, a 4.3 YPC to 3.9.
Neither back has been very explosive though with long runs of 21 for Williams and 17 for CEH. That’s reflected in their explosive run-game metrics though they are a bit better than those numbers would suggest. 16th in runs of 10+ yards (53) and 20+ yards (nine). Much of the latter comes from Patrick Mahomes and their WRs, speedy players like Mecole Hardman and Tyreek Hill.
Overall, they do take care of the football as a team with just two fumbles from their running backs, both from Edwards-Helaire.
Schematically, it’s a good mix of zone and gap principles. They pair inside zone with their gap and counter runs. They like to use jet motion on their zone runs to move the LB’s eyes and potentially create an arc block out in space.
And they run a lot of counter power runs pulling the backside guard and tackle, an old-school looking sweep. First one is a RPO with Mahomes throwing it while the second is “Bash” out of Wildcat with WR Mecole Hardman.
They will run some read option with Mahomes though it’s usually a RPO with a passing element too. The key for the EDGE player, if the Steelers don’t mesh charge (attack the QB/Mesh point) is to use a “surf” technique and not commit to the keep or the give. Slowly squeeze down and try to take both away. Here’s an example from The Athletic’s Ted Nyguen.
Jaguars run zone read but Clowney does an excellent job with his surf technique and chases down Shenault.
Luckily the 1T goes inside which opens up the outside. Also, no edge defender on LOS. Good awareness by the RT finding work.
Also nice TRUCK by Shenault pic.twitter.com/TfDDi7wqoy
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) September 22, 2020
One last component of the run game. We think of the Chiefs as a wide-open offense and make no mistake, they can be. But they will go heavy too and bunch things up with extra tight ends and fullbacks. And use those guys in the short-area run game, as they did with FB Michael Burton who had a short-yardage conversion.
Get this. Combined, Burton and TE Blake Bell (a QB at Oklahoma) have 12 carries this season, all coming on 3rd and 4th and 1. They are 12 of 12 converting. 8/8 for Burton, 4/4 for Bell. FB bellys to Burton and Bell will get over center with Mahomes in shotgun and sneak over the bubble (vacant gap left by the d-line). An interesting, important stat but it’s tough to stop.
Some other offensive stats. They finished the year averaging 28.2 points per game, fourth best in the league. They’ve scored 20+ points in six straight games and 30+ in four of their last five, returning to their potent self after mid-season struggles. Their third down offense continues to be elite, finishing #1 in football by a wide margin at 52.2%. Second place was a distant memory at 47.1%. KC’s third down offense this year is the best in a decade since the Saints’ converted at a 56.7% clip back in 2011. They are the only two teams since 2009 to finish a year converting at least half their first downs. As we mentioned in our first report, they excel 3rd and 6 or closer, moving the sticks an incredible 71.2% of the time. That’s exactly ten points higher than the next closest team and nearly 20 points higher than the Steelers. Remarkable stuff.
Their red zone offense is considerably cooler, 17th at 59.4%. It’s a number that surprises me for how good their offense is but the smaller sample size and mid-year struggles may skew the data a bit.
CHIEFS’ PASS GAME
Led, of course, by Patrick Mahomes for Sunday and the next 15 years. He got off to a slow start this season and his overall numbers don’t look quite as good as usual. Completing 66% of his passes for 4800 yards, 37 TDs, and 13 INTs. Great numbers for virtually any quarterback not named Mahomes. But just average for him.
However, he and this offense got back on track the latter half of the year. Here’s how his numbers stack up (and I’m mad about the 17 game season because I can’t split these games evenly anymore).
Mahomes First Nine Games: 65.2%, 7.0 YPA, 20 TDs/10 INTs, 17 sacks
Mahomes Last Eight Games: 67.6%, 7.8 YPA, 17 TD/3 INTs, 11 sacks
Much more like Mahomes the latter half of the season. Not good news for Steelers’ fans. Mahomes, of course, was excellent in their blowout win over the Steelers in Week 16.
He’ll also have one of his top weapons he was without in that matchup, TE Travis Kelce. He and Tyreek Hill are having fantastic seasons. Hill has a 111/1239/11.2/9 line while Kelce finishes in at 92/1125/12.9/9 line. But they’re not the only two weapons. WR Byron Pringle has the best yards per catch on the team at 13.5 and had two TDs against the Steelers while Hardman is a burner who put up respectable numbers.
Overall, the Chiefs get everyone involved. Five players have 40+ receptions while eight players have at least a pair of touchdown receptions. 11 players in total found the end zone at least once this year (Pittsburgh by comparison, has just six).
From an explosive play standpoint, they rank 11th in completions of 20+ yards with 58 and tied for the fifth most receptions of 40+ yards with 11 of them.
We noted in our previous report but punter Tommy Townsend threw a pass earlier this year, 4th and 7 from his own 47 early in the 4th quarter against the Raiders where the Chiefs led 27-14. I’m not expecting a fake punt Sunday night but you never know. Good to note it.
Schematically, I noticed the Chiefs mirrored their routes a lot in Week 18 against the Denver Broncos. Check out these examples.
They use spacing routes well, divide routes and curl/flats to spread defenses out, put guys in conflict, and force 1v1 matchups.
Separately, watch out for the Chiefs’ receivers running double-moves. Out ‘n ups. Couple examples of their guys trying to bait CBs, who will need to play with great discipline, especially given the speed KC has on the outside. If they’re even, they’re definitely leavin’. Both of these are defended well, though.
Finally, they like to run 2×2 looks out of 12 personnel with the two tight ends to one side and two receivers stacked to the other. Gives them a clear run and pass strength and is useful on RPOs. Runs + WR screens.
JOSH’S INDIVIDUAL REPORT
Welcome to the Wild Card round, Steelers fans!
Hopefully this year’s matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs on the road at Arrowhead Stadium than last season’s Wild Card matchup went against the Cleveland Browns, let alone the Dec. 26 matchup in Week 16 inside the same venue between the Chiefs and Steelers earlier this season.
Not much has changed with the Chiefs from Week 16 to now ahead of Sunday’s Wild Card matchup at 8:15 p.m.
Patrick Mahomes remains one of the best — if not the best — quarterbacks in football, the Chiefs get back tight end Travis Kelce, and still have a solid rushing attack behind one of the best offensive line’s in football.
Alright, see you Sunday.
Just kidding, I couldn’t leave you all hanging like that ahead of the biggest game of the season.
In the last matchup, Mahomes had far too much time in the pocket to pick apart the Steelers’ soft zone defense. Three weeks later, with a healthier TJ Watt the Steelers should be able to apply more pressure to Mahomes than they did in Week 16.
The concern with that though is that Mahomes can really use his legs to kill defenses when they pressure him. He’s able to slip out of the pocket and has great mobility overall. In the Week 18 finale on the road against the Denver Broncos, Mahomes crushed the Broncos’ defense in key spots.
Look at the way he’s able to manipulate defenders in space, slipping right past the Broncos’ linebacker to pick up 25 yards and a key first down.
When he’s not using his legs to pick up easy yardage, he’s extending the play behind the line of scrimmage and making explosive plays happen. He did just that against the Steelers in Week 16.
Mahomes does a great job getting out of the pocket here to create the broken play, flattening out near the line of scrimmage to draw the eyes of Steelers’ cornerback Joe Haden, who loses Chiefs’ running back Derrick Gore down the right sideline, resulting in the 50-yard pass play.
Make no mistake though: Mahomes is a deadly passer in the pocket, especially when he’s allowed to stay on time. He throws a terrific deep ball, and a guy like Mecole Hardman with his speed on the receiving end is quite the combination.
That’s an outstanding route from Hardman out of the slot on Bengals’ cornerback Mike Hilton, and an even better ball from Mahomes, who leads Hardman to the sideline where only he can get it, leading to the explosive play.
Of course, Mahomes still has the likes of Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Demarcus Robinson and Steelers’ killer Byron Pringle to work with on the receiving end. Hill is dealing with a heel injury that could limit him on Sunday, but if the Steelers can’t slow down Pringle again it could be a really long day.
Kelce adds an entirely other problem to try and resolve for the Steelers’ defense, especially after the catch. Kelce is an underrated route runner from the tight end position and is just absurd after the catch.
Quietly, the backfield is loaded for Kansas City as they’ll be able to roll four guys at the Steelers on Sunday.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire is technically the No. 1 on the depth chart, but Darrel Williams is the true No. 1 in this offense. He’s a power back with great vision and great hands out of the backfield.
He’s decisive, gets north in a hurry and consistently falls forward.
He had a ton of success against the Steelers in Week 16 and appears to have emerged as the Chiefs’ top choice right now.
Gore is a guy that has made plays down the stretch on the ground and through the air, as shown above, but the one guy who could really provide a spark is Jerick McKinnon.
McKinnon missed a bunch of time this season but returned in Week 18 against the Broncos with a bang, showing off his elusiveness in space on a simple swing route in the red zone, forcing two missed tackles on his way to the end zone.
If the Chiefs get him more involved in the passing game out of the backfield, look out.
Up front, this Chiefs’ offensive line remains terrific. I don’t expect any changes up front, but here’s how I expect them to look Sunday just to be safe:
LT — Orlando Brown Jr.
LG — Joe Thuney
C — Creed Humphrey
RG — Trey Smith
RT — Andrew Wylie
Brown and Thuney are outstanding on the ground on the left side, as is Smith on the right side. The Chiefs can really move people on the ground. Humphrey is already one of the best centers in football as well, which I’m sure is painful for Steelers’ fans to read again.
On special teams, kicker Harrison Butker returns after missing the Week 16 matchup while on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. He’s consistently one of the top kickers in football and has range from 50+ with ease.
Punter Tommy Townsend has a big leg and can really flip the field, setting up the defense in ideal position. He also is athletic enough that the Chiefs have asked him to do some work on fake punts, whether that’s throwing it or using his legs.
Hardman will handle the punt returns, while Pringle handles the kick returns. Pringle had an 89-yard kick return called back against the Bengals in Week 17, so he certainly has the ability to get loose in a big spot.