KC vs. Pittsburgh: How Good Was the Defense?

Kansas City vs. Pittsburgh:

How Good Was

the Defense?

Frank Leggio

Based on some recent exchanges on our comments section and after reading many other articles, I decided I wanted to review the defense from the Pittsburgh game. It seemed there were some differences of opinion, varying from… the Chiefs defense did a great job against the “high powered Pitt offense”… to some that were more critical of the performance. I think I fell closer to the latter than the former.

As I remembered, K.C. was pretty vanilla and ran the ever-popular Bend-But-Don’t-Break — BBDB — defense. I couldn’t recall a lot of attacking the Pittsburgh offense. Instead, I felt like the Chiefs approached every play with an attitude of… let’s keep the play in front of us and don’t give up the big play.

While I do think it is quite an accomplishment to take a team that hung five touchdowns on you in the first meeting to… six field goals, that obviously wasn’t enough.

Since I am more of a data-driven kinda guy, I watched every defensive snap again to try and capture some information that was a little more quantifiable. For each play, I focused on the defensive line and noted the following:

Passes– number of plays and where they went, number of rushers, whether I thought K.C. created any pressure, and anything that stood out

Rushes– number of plays and where they went, whether we held gaps, got pushed back, and again… anything that stood out

First: the Big Picture Numbers

The Defense was on the field for 34 minutes, created 1 turnover, gave up 20 first downs, wasn’t flagged for anything, gave up 389 total yards (218 passing & 171 rushing), gave up 0 touchdowns and 6 field goals.

The Defensive line (Houston, Poe, Jenkins, Reyes, Ford, Jones, Zombo, Nunez-Roches) made a total of 23 tackles on the 66 plays. I know that Houston, Ford, and Zombo are technically linebackers, but they were basically lining up at defensive end all night, so I am including them here.  Considering that there were 34 rushes, that means 11 of them got beyond our lineman.

On the 28 pass plays, the Chiefs generated a grand total of 2 quarterback hits and 1 sack, but also generated 4 passes defensed. Poe, Zombo, and Jones tipped some balls, one of which was intercepted.

From the high-level there were definitely some good things (no touchdowns or penalties and a turnover) and some not so good things (six field goals, 34 minutes and 1 sack).

Breaking Down the Plays: a Spray Chart

I also wondered if Pittsburgh was attacking any particular area more than others, so I charted where all the plays went against K.C.

Below is the table, and you can see they ran and passed about even, but almost 38% of the plays were runs up the middle for a total of 118 yards. After that, there was a concentration of pass plays, short left and right, for a total of 36% of the plays and 119 yards. Other than those groupings, there were a few shots down the middle and a few rushes to the ends.

This isn’t really surprising, considering the Chiefs were weak against the rush up the middle. I’d also say that they took advantage of the short passes, since we were in BBDB mode.

Play by Play Review

Like I did with the Chiefs last week, here is the Pittsburgh offense, so we can see how the defense did.


  • Bold and italics are incomplete passes
  • Grey are negative or zero yard plays
  • Dark red highlight is a turnover
  • Bold and larger are scores
  • Teal is a penalty
  • Other yellows and reds break out the series

Some higher level observations:

K.C. created 6 negative plays (excluding the kneels), 10 incompletions, 1 interception, and no touchdowns. We also gave up six field goals, and 4 plays over 20 yards.

This next table shows the plays again, but with my observations next to them.  I have excluded the field goals, punt, delay of game, and kneel downs.

I colored cells green where I thought we did something well and Blue where I thought we played poorly.  The uncolored cells were just as expected.

First Half

Second Half

What I repeatedly saw on rushing plays was the Chiefs D-line getting pushed back on running plays with just enough of a seam for Bell to get through. When they rushed to an end, it was typically at Ford and he was fairly easily taken out of the play.

On the 32 passing plays, K.C. rushed 4 players 22 times, 3players 5 times, 5 players 3 times, 6players 1 time, and 2 players 1 time.  However, during those plays, I think I only observed two blitzes. I rarely saw Hali involved and Houston seemed to drop into coverage more than rush the QB. That left our only real threat for a pass rush to be Dee Ford. He was repeatedly man handled and ridden out of plays.

When the Chiefs had good plays, you could see a push from the line and some hands up in throwing lanes. Those plays weren’t frequent enough to get Pittsburgh off the field though.

In Summary

It really seemed like in addition to the Chiefs weakness against the rush from injury, we created a weakness against the pass by not dialing up blitzes and basically relying on Ford to create the pressure.

During the regular season, we saw enough aggressive play calling to create pressure and force turnovers. Here it looked like they wanted the defense to play it safe against the big play and let the offense and/or special teams put up points. The problem with this is… the defense only forced one punt, the kickoff return team forgot how to block, and the offensive execution wasn’t up to the challenge.

The conservative play calling took away the area the Defense excelled at during the year – turnovers. Many of these turnovers were also accompanied by points in Pick-Six and the first ever Pick-Two fashion. I realize it is in hindsight, but the way they approached fixing the problems from the big loss early in the season seem pretty flawed.

A big credit goes to the Pittsburgh play calling and the job their offensive line did in winning the battles. They kept Ben Roethlisberger pretty clean and gave him time to work.

What do you guys think? See any other things in my notes?

Until next week, there’s The Rub!


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Frank Leggio
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Frank Leggio

Frank Leggio is an operations director living in the Columbus, OH area.He has two sons and a couple of Beagles.He was born in Germany, went to high school in KS and college in CO.
Frank Leggio
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  • freshmeat62

    Couldn’t read the notes. Print too small.

    In the 2 weeks Sutton had to come up w/ a defense, it looked like he spent all of 30 minutes coming up w/ this less than vanilla defense. It was exactly as you say, BBDB. The Steelers had 6 scoring drives, and despite each ended in a FG, 6 drives in a game is kind of alot. I would have thought they had the ball more than 32min. In his defense, he was dealing w/ a lot of 2nd string players because of injuries thru the year. But in 2 weeks I would have thought he would have thought of something …Romeo would have.

    I said before the game that 2 things needed to be done, shadow/mirror Bell w/ a LB or S, I was thinking Alexander or Sorensen, and put pressure on Roethlisberger. Pressure on Roetlisberger also takes Brown out of the game. They did neither. Seeing Houston gasping and grasping chasing after Brown was mind numbing. Honestly, despite the fact I wanted to strangle Sutton as I watched that play, I was actually impressed that Houston was keeping up and as close as he was to Brown…bad knee and all. And then that critical 3rd down play at the end of the game, Houston was once again covering/chasing Brown.

    Oh well, it’s over, and the Chiefs have a lot of work to do and some deep soul searching of who stays and who goes. Laddie wrote yesterday about several ‘come back’. It seems to me that we’re counting on a lot of ‘come back’ players that really aren’t that good, or are old and injured. That’s not good!

    • berttheclock

      I thought I was back at the VA visit yesterday with my final followup to cataract surgery.

      • Frank Leggio

        Two words for you guys. Zoom.

        Kidding. I know it was small, but I couldn’t figure another way to show all the info. You can just look at the color coding to get a picture of how I saw the drives.

        Ford sucked.
        They played away from Houston a lot.
        Houston was repeatedly dropped into coverage instead of rushing the QB.
        Secondary actually did pretty well.
        Defensive lines gat man handled a lot.

        That is the gist.

  • mnelson52

    The 3 people that had the ability to beat us and should have been accounted for on every play, did beat us. Ben, Brown, and Bell. To me that’s partly on Sutton for scheme and partly on the players for not executing. A lot of the not executing was due to the strong O-line of Pittsburgh. We held Pitt to 18. NE held them to 17. The difference was that NE had an offense that executed well against Pitt’s defense. As we said too many times this year, our offense sucked except the 1st and last drive.

    • Frank Leggio

      Ben and Brown weren’t that stellar. Bell was though. Ben had an awful QBR, a sack, an INT, about 65% passing, and 224 yards. Brown did have 108 yards, but almost half was on the one play where Houston was covering him (dumb scheme by Sutton). However, they did have 17 more plays than we did, or about a third more than we ran. Bell contributed immensely to that stat. It is hard for the offense to score when they are on the sidelines. Not saying it was the fault of the defense, just that it isn’t solely the offense. We scored 2 TDs and a FG on 9 series. Pitt scored 6 FGs on 10 series. If we assume a PAT instead of going for two to tie the score, we were getting 1.89 points per drive and they were getting 1.8 points per drive.

      In the end I see it as offense and defense were both a bit short of where they needed to be and Special Teams wasn’t in the game at all.

      • mnelson52

        I agree Ben and Brown were not stellar, but they did connect on key third downs to keep some drives alive where KC definitely needed a stop.

  • berttheclock

    When the Chiefs were demolished in October by the Steelers, the great Cameron Heyward, their DE, led the way as he had 7 tackles and 3 sacks. His play even helped Jarvis Jones, the supposed bust of a first round OLB, who had 3 tackles and one INT. In that game, James Harrison only had 2 tackles.

    However, after Heyward went down with a season ending injury, Jones’ game fell off to the point he was benched and James Harrison had to be moved up to play off their journeyman DE. If you look at the box score of the playoff loss, you will see 3 of the four top tacklers and sackers for the Steelers came from their LB crew with a safety, Mitchell trailing in 5th place. The Steelers were able to have a defensive front push which allowed their LBs and Harrison being moved up to play on the outside edge of the line a chance to hit the Chiefs before they were able to get any steam up in their running game. Also, this allowed far more pressure on Smith and caused him to have to scramble far too early.

    By comparison, if you look at the box score of the Chiefs, you will find Ramik Wilson led the Chiefs in mostly tackles past the LOS. The other top tacklers were Houston playing off his regular position and Berry, Peters and Nelson. This meant there was no defensive front push by the Chiefs which did not allow the LBs any space to pass rush.

    Controlling the LOS begins up front on both sides of the ball. Without Bailey and Howard, the Chiefs did not really have anyone to push offensive lines backwards and allow their LBs to have lanes. Without having great road graders in the middle of the Chiefs’ offensive line, plus solid pass protectors, the Chiefs offense often stalled.

    • sidibeke

      I’d like to think good play calling can overcome some of that, but there is no way around the fact that KC lost the game on both lines. Period.

  • berttheclock

    Interesting thoughts by Dan Kadar of Mocking the draft concerning the Chiefs’ draft in April. He, now, is leaning toward taking a top CB from The Dub to match with Peters. He has taken this position slightly over his other view of taking a quality ILB.

    • tm1946

      We jumped pretty deep into the CB pool last year with mixed results. As I recall we did this in the past on the DL, year after year.

      Between cap issues and veterans needing to move on, not sure CB can be for more than depth, late in the draft or problem child.

      To me, depends on our injured. Anyone who cannot return to the level they played unhurt, those positions need consideration. In fact I am leaning to suggesting the Chiefs get out the ace bandages and try to get one more year out of Hali

      • Frank Leggio

        The tough thing on some of the players is that cutting them doesnt help us. It is an interesting decision making process.

  • tm1946

    Pretty sure we lost the game anyway. The fix is something not a single person here will sanction considering. Get rid of Reid, no no no. Replace DJ and Houston and Poe and Berry…. sure, just pick out the wall you want the bullets to bounce off.

    The defense did what it could with what was available. Someone will review the film and decided who did not execute Sutton’s plan and cut the sob…..not going to happen – they were that stars were left.

    We lost the game, if the offense had done more than pick it nose, things might have been different. Oh yeah, hate the OC and QB but required to love Reid and his guy, Ale. Doesn’t really work – turns us into Jeckle and Hyde (sp) and wives tend to get a little short tempered.

    • Frank Leggio

      Not really sure where you are going with this?

      I don’t agree that the defense did what it could with what was available. We just paid a man a massive contract to be the best pass rusher in the league and then barely had him rush the passer. Instead we thought it was a good idea to have hime cover Brown. One time Brown picked up 52 yards on a pass. The other he caught the pass that sealed our fate in the game. Maybe Poe would have been better covering Brown. The defense had a piss poor scheme. They were trying to not lose the game instead of winning it. They were trying to be too smart about doing the unexpected and got burned. Send Houston on the rush. Blitz more than 2 times in 66 plays. Put Wilson on Bell. Put Peters on Brown. Put Berry on James. Have Houston and Ford find Bell in the backfield. Any or all of those would have been better than Houston covering Brown and everybody hangin back giving up 5.9 yards per play.

      The offense scored on 1 out of 3 drives. The defense stopped 4 out of 10 drives. And really, one of the 4 stops was one play at the end of the first half and one play they didn’t really stop since it was the end of the game and Ben kneeled it 3 times. So really, it would be more accurate to say they stopped 1 out of 3 drives. So, I don’t think the defense did much more than the offense.

      If anything, ST didn’t show up. They were awful.

  • ladner morse

    Chiefs Draft Preview: RBs Jeremy McNichols, Samaje Perine & Curtis Samuelhttps://t.co/rQVBrHxPzG pic.twitter.com/IdIiEGqvUr— Ladner Morse (@Laddiemorse) January 31, 2017

  • Laurels and limitations

    Looks to me as though Pitt. was keeping the line clean by utilizing the short pass to the edges in order to keep the edge rushers honest. Even though the KC rushing attack had been pretty meh all season long Haley did a fine job of making sure that on that day the pass rush never got started. Short passes to the outside keep the OLBs honest and an efficient run game up the middle keeps the d-line in their lanes.

    • Frank Leggio

      Agree. Passes came out quick. Play action froze the rush some too.

      Also, it was interesting how series would be almost all run or all passes, but evened out to 50/50 over the game. Haley would call 5 or 6 rushes or passes consecutively. I guess if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Unless you are the KC OC/DC, then definitely do change whatever we have had success with previously.

      • Laurels and limitations

        that last line is soooooo apt.