Welcome to the second installment of chiefStats, where we cover five stats to watch regarding the upcoming Kansas City Chiefs game.
This week we’re tackling stats surrounding the upcoming game between the Chiefs and the Steelers.
1. Steelers’ weakness?
After watching the Chiefs drop 38 points on what should be an above-average Los Angeles Chargers defense in the opening week, it is starting to look more and more like we were right about the Chiefs.
What were we right about specifically? Well, it could be the Chiefs will finish the year with a top-five offense. In fact, after watching the game against the Chargers, I’d say the safe bet is on the Chiefs finishing the season with a top five points per game offense.
Which made me wonder, how have the Steelers done against teams with top five points per game offenses in the past?
The Steelers are 1-6 in the past three seasons when facing a top 5 PPG offense.— Gary McKenzie (@Super_G_Chiefs) September 10, 2018
So the Steelers have gone 1-6 against teams who finished the season with a top five points per game offense since 2015.
For comparison, the Steelers are 33-7 during that same time period against all other teams.
Let’s take a deeper look at the games:
- 2015 @ Patriots - L (21-28)
- 2015 vs Cardinals - W (25-13)
- 2015 @ Seahawks - L (30-39)
- 2016 vs Patriots - L (16-27)
- 2016 vs Cowboys - L (30-35)
- 2017 vs Jaguars - L (9-30)
- 2017 vs Patriots - L (24-27)
For starters, I know all you haters out there are going to say, “OK, Gary, that’s three games against the Patriots... they don’t count because they’re the Patriots.”
And I get your sentiment, I do. But after the Chiefs’ success against the Patriots during Reid’s era, I don’t think it’s fair to just assume the Patriots can play the Steelers better than the Chiefs can.
I think the Chiefs’ issues with the Steelers were due to another reason that we’ll discuss later in the article.
Regardless, the Steelers have given up an average of 30 points per game against top five offensive teams. The Steelers have also given up an average QB rating of 108.1 against the same offenses.
If you go back over the years, the Steelers have beaten the Chiefs in a grueling ground-and-pound style where they control the clock.
It’s awfully hard to ground and pound against great offenses. If the Chiefs start putting points on the board on Sunday, the Steelers will be forced to leave their comfort zone. I like the Chiefs’ chances if they turn the game into a shootout in Pittsburgh.
2. Wake (the Steelers) up when September ends
Bonus points to those of you who got the Green Day reference.
Anyway, the Steelers have a history of starting slow. I went back through each of Ben Roethlisberger’s starts for the Steelers in September and was able to find the following:
During Ben Roethlisberger's career, the Steelers have a .512 win% in September.— Gary McKenzie (@Super_G_Chiefs) September 13, 2018
For all other months, the Steelers have a .740 win% with Big Ben.
Takeaway - The Steelers, historically, start slow.
I guess if you’re going to face the Steelers, you’re better off seeing them in September than later in the year.
3. What in the Bell is going on?!
We’ve all probably heard about Le’Veon Bell choosing not to sign his franchise tender and play with the Steelers so far in 2018. The question is, how much does that hurt the Steelers?
Over the course of Bell’s career, he has missed 20 games. In those 20 games the Steelers are 12-7-1 (excuse me while I laugh about the Steelers’ tie with the Browns last week). That record equates to a 0.600 win percentage.
With Bell playing, the Steelers are 42-20 with a 0.677 win percentage. So you can see the Steelers fare slightly worse whenever Bell is unable (or unwilling) to play.
In games in which Bell is present, the Steelers average 5.0 yards per carry against the Chiefs. In Bell’s career, he averages 135.4 yards per game against the Chiefs (including playoffs.) When you exclude playoffs, Bell averages 126.8 yards per game against the Chiefs.
With a minimum of four starts, Bell averages the most yards against the Chiefs, and it’s not even close. The next closest team is the Browns, who give up an average of 89.8 yards per game to Bell.
Needless to say, not having Bell is a good thing for the Chiefs.
However, James Conner ran for 135 yards on 31 attempts last Sunday against the Browns. I believe Conner isn’t at the same level of talent as Bell. At the same time, PFF graded Conner as an above-average running back after the first game of the year.
At this point in time, I’m calling Bell’s absence an important part of this game, but the Chiefs will need to respect Conner.
4. Time keeps on slippin’
The last two times the Chiefs played the Steelers, Pittsburgh dominated time of possession.
In Week 6 of 2017, the Steelers allowed the Chiefs to possess the ball for only 23 minutes and 21 seconds.
In the divisional round game in 2016, the Chiefs held onto the ball for 25 minutes and 47 seconds.
The Steelers were able to do this because they ran the ball over, and over, and over, and over again. In the 2017 game, the Steelers had 37 rush attempts, and in the 2016 divisional playoff game, the Steelers ran the ball 34 times.
If the Steelers are looking to contain Patrick Mahomes, they are going to try and have success running the football. Over the years, the Steelers’ strategy against the Chiefs has been something along the following:
- Play tight zone defense (more on that later)
- Stop the run on defense
- Run the ball on offense
- Work the clock
This is why it’s so important for the Chiefs to come out firing against the Steelers and not stop shooting until the last second of the game is finished. The Chiefs can disrupt the Steelers game plan if they put points on the board quickly.
5. Zoning out
Through the years, the Steelers have established themselves as having a zone-heavy defensive scheme.
Man vs Zone – who ran each coverage scheme the most in 2017?https://t.co/HuhQHJMmwi pic.twitter.com/MFhf2GN4xm— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 25, 2018
As you can see, the Steelers ran 70.1 percent of their defensive snaps in zone defense. This brings me to Mahomes:
#SomethingSpecial You knew we were talking about this. Mahomes beat a free rusher from an awkward platform, with a 3/4 release. Still more than enough zip. Derwin James doesn't think this ball is getting popped behind him. pic.twitter.com/MLoF24Risg— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) September 12, 2018
In this play, Mahomes zips the ball through a tight window of two or three Chargers defenders. This is exactly the type of throw which is needed to beat zone defenses.
If Mahomes plays like this, the Steelers defense will have a very difficult time stopping Mahomes from absolutely picking apart their defense. Of course, I don’t know for sure what will happen, but that won’t stop me from running this little experiment:
My hypothesis: The Chiefs struggle vs the Steelers because Alex Smith would not throw the ball into tight zone windows (PIT plays 75% zone defense).— Gary McKenzie (@Super_G_Chiefs) September 10, 2018
Test Scenario: Let's see what Mahomes does against that zone shall we?
Check back late Sunday.