Nine months ago the Kansas City Chiefs were coming off of a round one playoff bye, defending Arrowhead Stadium, and poised to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers. Suddenly, in the brisk winter weather, the Chiefs found themselves on the bitter losing end of a matchup where their defense constrained an explosive offense, but the Alex Smith led offense floundered like a fish out of water. Not only was the loss embarrassing for Andy Reid, but the loss raised questions about how functional the team would be moving forward.
Fast forward to the present and the Steelers are heading back to Arrowhead. Although the rosters remain untampered, the schematic use of those players has dramatically changed. Smith is more precise, Kareem Hunt is shredding defenses, Ben Roethlisberger is questioning the meaning of life, and Le’Veon Bell is struggling to find pep in his step. The Chiefs week six scheme is dependent on defeating a mentally down foe by starting fast, and administrating control.
Kansas City Chiefs Week Six Scheme Breakdown – Redemption Week
Running to Freedom
The foolish temptation is to put up immaculate deep passes onto the Steelers defense and stick it to the team that ended the Chiefs’ season nine months ago – such action would be detrimental. Fortunately, one of the biggest advantages in Smith and Reid is their intelligence and understanding of schematics. Thus, the biggest point to beat the Steelers will be setting up the offense by running.
Running to freedom is how the Chiefs have been winning, and how the Jacksonville Jaguars Leonard Fournette and the Chicago Bears Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen scorched and ultimately rose victorious against the Steelers.
An aggressive secondary will make this a challenging passing game for the Chiefs, especially if Travis Kelce does not pass concussion protocol come game day. Demarcus Robinson will have the responsibility of stepping up as the physical downfield receiver with Chris Conley out. Tyreek Hill will line up as the deep target, with Kelce partaking in his usual seam routes.
Part of the problem is without Conley or Kelce, Steelers safeties Sean Davis and Mike Mitchell can cheat up in the box. Merely having the presence of Kelce demands honesty from safeties. His health is paramount to the bevy of concepts possible. As one of the smartest secondary coverage schemes in the NFL, Reid needs to be on point to subvert the rotating scheme.
The Steelers premise entirely relies on shutting down the vertical routes, and subsequently intercepting passes and forcing poor throws by using free fire blitzes. Rookie T.J. Watt and veteran Cameron Heyward have both epitomized this schematic attack with three sacks apiece. They are not the only attackers – Anthony Chickillo has three sacks, while Vince Williams and Javon Hargrave have two sacks a piece.
Ferocious speed is the subsequent point for the Steelers pass attack. The secondary and linebackers play with on demand smarts, they often cover up what the other is doing by misdirection. As the quarterback is aligning for the blitz, he will fail to account for the corner or safety rolling over a certain part of the field. The result has been five interceptions in the short part of the field, the exact high percentage zone Smith adores for the safety it provides.
All being said, the Steelers can be beat with a unique approach from the Chiefs passing staff, but, the focus demanded is insane. As mentioned before, Hunt will take the onus of setting up the run and jaunting past over pursuing linebackers.
Over pursuit is a problem with a creative blitz scheme; most of the linebackers are pass rush first, run defense second. Ryan Shazier is one of the most powerful run defenders in the league, but after that, the Steelers will give up runs in the middle and exterior of the field.
Eric Fisher and Demetrius Harris will have the responsibility of sealing the left edge for Hunt, and letting him run free on outside and counter lanes. On the right side, Mitchell Schwartz ought to continue dominating his blocks to create explosive plays. Charcandrick West can also have tangential success as a change of pace back.
However, the middle of the field and pounding the rock behind Mitch Morse will set up the play-action passing game. That aspect of the Chiefs passing attack will allow Hill to run garnish separation down the sideline to set up the rare deep ball opportunity. Keeping safeties honest on the mere possibility of the deep ball will then open up the high percentage slant and out routes.
No matter the way the Chiefs attack the Steelers, they need to do so carefully with precision in route timing. Reid will need to plan a variety of secondary plans to create constant success no matter the field position or down in this week’s chess match.
Setting the Mental and Physical Edge
Last week against the Houston Texans, the Chiefs offensively controlled the ball for 38 minutes of the game. The Chiefs ushered Deshaun Watson off the field by playing aggressively early and not letting up. In the same manner, Roethlisberger needs to be disrupted in passing so the offense has more opportunities to score.
Analytically, the Steelers offense is on a downward slide. Yet, those same analytics show a crew of highly talented athletes that can (and in previous seasons have) scored with ease. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley incorporates deep passing with a mix of running and short routes. Contrary to the mix that ought to be sought after, the Steelers have been force feeding wide receiver Antonio Brown, and have been unsuccessful in doing so.
Waking up to the reality of the problems they face is center point for the Steelers to get back on track. As they do wake up, the ideal attack starts with Bell carrying over 20 times a game for well over 100-yards rushing and a multitude of explosive plays. A strong running attack is composed directly by throwing pulling guards and pinching tight ends at linebackers.
Showing strength is right in process with the Steelers up-front plan of attack. Relying upon Bell’s vision and Maurkice Pouncey’s leadership from center, the running game is intrinsic on itself. As the power builds throughout the game, Bell creates explosive runs, which consecutively stresses out defenses, and provides for an efficient passing attack.
From the run-game, Haley options to slant routes, over routes, then lets Roethlisberger see the field on five-step drops. The system is not overly complicated, and comes at defenses fast. Haley knows he has talent on the offense, and flaunts Brown, Juju Smith-Schuster, and other targets by letting their talent speak on its own precedent.
However, power is not how the Steelers have operated through the beginning of the 2017 season. Instead, they have not created scoring opportunities and puttered up and down the field half asleep. Far too often Roethlisberger has been found under pressure, and his mentality has taken a beating.
Exposing the Steelers by hitting them with a pass rush from Dee Ford, Chris Jones, and Justin Houston will be point one to defeating the Steelers scheme. For Mike Tomlin’s team, games are as much about emotion and mentality as scheme. Their grinding athletic attack relies upon perfection in mental amplitude.
The Chiefs highly aggressive corners can also take a chunk out of Haley’s plan. Brown aside, who will be blanketed by Marcus Peters, the Steelers don’t have the physical fighting specimen. Hence, Ron Parker and Daniel Sorensen will be turning around the clock in their zones for an opportunity to intercept and cause chaos.
Parker plays a deeper zone, thus will need to delineate the speed of Eli Rogers and Smith-Schuster, with the latter being a bigger threat. Sorensen will be playing up in the box more, and thus have the responsibility to negate slant routes to tight ends and the slot.
Using the bait and switch to their own advantage, if Roethlisberger feels enough pressure on the exterior of the pocket, he will start to look toward the middle of the field for targets. Thus, Sorensen, or even inside linebackers Derrick Johnson or Reggie Ragland could come up with an interception.
Middle field, however, rings a Bell for the Chiefs defense. The last time the two teams played, the passing attack was marginal, but the running attack gave the Steelers enough position to kick their way for a victory.
The power run game mentioned earlier attempts to put Bell outside of the box of defenders, in the zone of contain for Houston or Ford. Therefore, the Chiefs will need to have their linebackers string out plays and take proper angles to mitigate Bell’s explosive runs.
Bennie Logan will be key to shutting down the middle running lanes, and letting Ragland or Ramik Wilson arrive to ring Bell’s bell. Those heralded explosive plays given up late in games throughout 2017 may come back to haunt the Chiefs less they are more careful.
Summarizing the Plan of Attack
Head coach Hank Stram established the legendary Chiefs run game during the team’s inception, and he would be proud of Hunt’s performance so far. The old-school Stram strategy will once again return to the forefront to allow Reid’s offense to set up a linear play progression. The run sets up play-action, which sets up deep passes, which sets up the efficiency routes. Yet, everything begins and ends with the battle at the line of scrimmage.
The Steelers are toying with one of the most explosive offensive rosters in the NFL, yet have failed to capitalize on such explosiveness. The Chiefs can ensure Haley’s poignant attack remains dormant by forcing Roethlisberger into poor choices. The more Johnson and the run defense strings out Bell on runs, the better opportunities Parker and Sorensen can get to create turnovers with solid tackling. The game plan may not be exotic, but fundamentals of contain ought to give the Chiefs an edge.