Saturday, November 26, 2011

Steelers Game Day 11 - @ Kansas City Chiefs

Well, that was a long time wasn’t it? It feels like forever since the Steelers have played football but that is what we get every year when we come back from the bye week. This year they will have to go on the road and play in the historic Arrowhead Stadium and go against a pretty below average Chiefs team as the Steelers are playing for a spot in the postseason, a AFC North title and possibly home field throughout the playoffs.

I think it is actually pretty probable that the Steelers get into the playoffs this season with the way the games have gone down but their chances of winning the AFC North took a hit with the Ravens winning over the 49ers on Thanksgiving night. The 49ers were one of the few good teams the Ravens play down the stretch run and it is going to be increasing hard to win the AFC North if the Steelers don’t win out since the Ravens hold the tiebreaker over the Black and Gold.

So far this season the teams coming off a bye week haven’t had much success with a lot of laziness and missed tackles so hopefully this isn’t the case for the Steelers. The Chiefs are not a very good football team and maybe that is a break that the Steelers caught although I am sure Arrowhead is going to be rocking for Sunday Night Football.

After this Sunday night game the Steelers get the Bengals next Sunday and have a really quick turnaround as they will play the Browns on Thursday night football so it will be an interesting stretch of games before they go out west to play the 49ers on Monday Night Football then coming back on another short week to play the Rams on Christmas eve. Really weird scheduling for the last couple of weeks. I guess this was a great time for the Steelers to be on the bye to set up for the last six games.

Let’s look at the stats:


Last Week:

Pittsburgh 24, Cincinnati 17 (Week 10, Bye in week 11)
Passing: Roethlisberger - 21/33, 245 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Mendenhall - 16 carries, 44 yards, 2 TD
Receiving: Brown - 5 rec, 86 yards, 0 TD

New England 34, Kansas City 3
Passing: Palko - 25/38, 236 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Jones - 8 carries, 48 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Bowe - 7 rec, 87 yards, 0 TD

All-Time Record vs. Kansas City: 17-10 (0-1 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings

Nov. 22, 2009 - Kansas City 27 Pittsburgh 24
Oct. 15, 2006 - Pittsburgh 45, Kansas City 7
Sept. 14, 2003 - Kansas City 45, Pittsburgh 20
Oct. 14, 2001 - Pittsburgh 20, Kansas City 17
Dec. 18, 1999 - Kansas City 35, Pittsburgh 19



Team Stats

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 383.0 yards/game (9th)
Kansas City: 309.4 yards/game (26th)

Passing
Pittsburgh: 273.2 yards/game (7th)
Kansas City: 185.5 yards/game (28th)

Rushing
Pittsburgh: 109.8 yards/game (17th)
Kansas City: 123.9 yards/game (9th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 22.0 points/game (19th)
Kansas City: 14.4 points/game (29th)


Defense

Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 280.1 yards/game (2nd)
Kansas City: 365.9 yards/game (23rd)

Pass
Pittsburgh: 183.2 yards/game (3rd)
Kansas City: 229.6 yards/game (14th)

Rush
Pittsburgh: 96.9 yards/game (6th)
Kansas City: 136.3 yards/game (28th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 17.9points/game (4th)
Kansas City: 25.2 points/game (25th)


Hit the jump for a closer look at the Kansas City Chiefs



Quarterback



Well, after thinking we might be playing against Matt Cassel things changed for the better for Pittsburgh. Cassel is going to be out for the season with an injury which leaves the Chiefs with backup Tyler Palko to lead them to…to…well, whatever they are trying to get to he will lead them there. Yes, this is the same Tyler Palko that quarterbacked the Pitt Panthers and also the one who gave us one of the best sound bites ever when he dropped the f-bomb on national TV after defeating Notre Dame.

To be honest there really isn’t much to say when talking about Palko. He only started one game this season and has participated in three of them. Overall he is 30-of-45 on the season for 283 yards but has yet to throw a touchdown pass. His first start was the Monday night game against the Patriots when he went 25-of- 38 for 236 yards and three interceptions. Needless to say I don’t think that Tyler Palko is ready to be a starting QB in the NFL but he is thrust into action for a bad team and well, what do you expect.

Overall Palko is a guy that can be very good throwing the underneath pass and is more of a timing quarterback rather than someone that is going to drop back and let the ball fly down the field. Being a young quarterback he is pretty prone to locking onto targets and not really knowing what to do after that so I am not really concerning myself with him beating the Steelers by himself.

It is hard to put a statistical value on Palko but right now he checks in with a -40.1% DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. This number represents value, per play, over an average player in the same game situations. The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player's performance. Negative DVOA represents below-average offense.) which would rank him lowest in the league if he had enough qualifying passes. Blane Gabbert has the worst DVOA in the league with a -36.7% which gives you an idea of where Palko stands, albeit with a limited number of plays.

Running Backs



Not only did the Chiefs starting quarterback go down for the season but Jamaal Charles, the team’s top running back and one of the best in the league, in the first game of the season. For a team that predicates its play so much off the run game this was just the beginning of the end for the Chiefs this season. Charles had only 12 carries this season for 83 yards and he was done.

The running game is now in the hands of a lot of players which include veteran Thomas Jones and youngsters Dexter McCluster and Jackie Battle. Battle is a four year pro who leads the team in rushing with 436 yards on only 95 carries.

Battle hasn’t carried the ball a lot but has got most of the work over the last five weeks. Through the first four games he only accounted for 10 carries but has carried the ball 14 or more times in four of the past six games. His highlight of the season was in a 28-24 win over the Colts when he carried the ball 19 times for 119 yards. Although he is the team’s leading rusher he only has one touchdown on the season as the Chiffs only have three rushing touchdowns as a team. An upside here is that he is averaging 4.6 yards per carry although he isn’t a guy that is going to beat you long. He has three rushes of 20 yards or more and to put that in perspective Jamaal Charles had two rushes of 20 yards or more in 12 carries before he got hurt.

Battle actually checks in with the third best DVOA in the league at 17.4% and is 11th overall in DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This gives the value of the performance on plays where this RB carried/caught the ball compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage) with 93. Battle also fills in respectably with a success rate of 46% which measures the player's consistency, measured by successful running plays (the definition of success being different based on down and distance) divided by total running plays. He ranks 17th in the league. What this basically means is that Battle is more prone to break off longer runs and isn’t really as consistent as he has a high DVOA and a lower success rate. Still we see that Battle is a decent player that will have to be accounted for.

Dexter McCluster is the team’s second leading rusher and is the do-it-all guy on the team as he can fill in at running back or wide receiver. McCluster is a dynamic player and is someone I wanted the Steelers to look at getting in the draft but he ended up going a little higher to the Chiefs. He doesn’t do one thing great but he is unreal athletic and can also return kicks on special teams so he is a threat in three different positions. On the rushing portion of his talents he has 22- yards on 71 carries for a healthy 4.6 yard average while catching 31 balls for 152 yards. The interesting part about his passes is that he has only been targeted 40 times. So of the 40 times the ball has came his way it has been a completion 31 times. Pretty impressive. Overall McCluster has four or more catches in four games with a high of six catches for 48 yards against the Broncos two weeks ago while he only had one game of 10 or more carries when he had exactly 10 carries for 38 yards against the Raiders in a win. Overall you are going to see about 3-4 catches and 7 carries from McCluster in a game. He isn’t going to get a ton of touches so you need to make sure he doesn’t get into the open field and make huge plays on those touches.

Thomas Jones is the other main ball carrier, basically the only other ball carrier. He has a lot of experience and some really good years but those are well behind him now. This year he has only 252 yards on 78 yards (3.2 ypc) and has only reached the end zone twice. He doesn’t catch the ball out of the backfield so there isn’t much to worry about here.

Receivers



The receivers for the Chiefs are pretty underwhelming but with that being said it could be a lot worse for them. Dwayne Bowe is the guy that is going to get a lot of the pub on this crew and with some good reason. So far this season Bowe leads the Chiefs in receptions (48), yards (750) and touchdowns (4). Bowe has also been targeted 30 more times than the receiver with the second most targets and is the only receiver with a double figure amount of catches of 20 yards or more with 13 of them.

Bow is a big receiver standing at 6’2 and 221 pounds so we will most likely see Ike Taylor on him because he can match the physicality that Bowe plays with. One thing you really don’t have to watch with Bowe is run after catch yards. This season he only has 194 YAC yards which is 12 more yards than the next closest receiver but when you look at how many catches he has it really isn’t that great. Most of the yardage Bowe gets it pitch and catch with him not being able to advance the ball much after the catch.

While Bowe is talked about as the top pass catcher when you talk about them he really doesn’t rank out as being the best receiver on the team when looking at his DYAR and DVOA. He ranks 47th in the league with a 61 DYAR and ranks 53rd in the league with a -4.0% DVOA. His catch rate of 54% is very average among receivers so he really has regressed from a season ago when he finished 8th in DYAR (255) and 18th in DVOA (11.9%) but still held a pretty low catch rate of 54%.

Despite not being as productive as last year he is still playing some good football. He has caught for 80 or more yards in five games this season and broke the 100 mark three different times. He hasn’t scored since week five though so he is in somewhat of a scoring drought. That is OK by me.

According to advanced stats former Arizona Cardinal and Woodland Hills standout Steve Breaston has been the most successful receiver for the Chiefs. Breaston is second on the team in most categories and has 556 yards on 29 catches and two touchdowns. He nearly has as many yards after the catch (182) as Bowe with nine less catches. Breaston is a speedster that can break a play if he gets to the open field. Breaston has a pretty impressive DVOA (12.9%) which ranks 26th in the league and has a catch rate of 67%.

Breaston has caught four or more passes in six of his 10 games played and has six or more catches in two of his last three which includes a seven catch, 115 yard performance against the Miami Dolphins in week eight. He had six catches for 73 yards in a loss to New England so he is becoming very involed in the passing offense after a slow start to the season when he had six catches though the first three games and didn’t have more than five until week six against Oakland.

Dexter McCluster, as I eluded to before, is also very active in the passing game as he is third on the team with 31 catches for 152 yards. He isn’t breaking any long plays through the air but that doesn’t mean he can’t.

Former Pitt star Jon Baldwin is on the team. He has made some pretty nice catches this season but only has 11 catches for 139 yards and a touchdown despite being targeted 29 times.

Leonard Pope is the pass catching tight end. He has 19 catches for 141 yards and a score. He ranks 31st among tight ends with a -7.3% DVOA. I am not concerned about Pope.

Offensive Line



Left to right for the Chiefs is Branden Albert, Ryan Lilja, Casey Wiegmann, Jon Asamoah and Barry Richardson. The right side of the line has a combined five years of experience while Wiegmann has 12 years and Lilja has eight years. Together this line has given up 25 sacks this season which is tied for ninth in the NFL but is pretty decent in the run game with a 4.2 yard per carry average as a team.

Kansas City ranks 22nd in the NFL with an adjusted line yards of 3.92 which Based on regression analysis, the Adjusted Line Yards (ALY) formula takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on the following percentages: Losses: 120% value, 0-4 Yards: 100% value, 5-10 Yards: 50% value, 11+ Yards: 0% value. These numbers are then adjusted based on down, distance, situation, opponent, and the difference in rushing average between shotgun compared to standard formations.


Kansas City has been pretty successful with their power success where they ranked ninth in the NFL at 67% which is well above the NFL average of 61%. Power success is the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. However the Chiefs are not as good getting their running back positive yards on a majority of the carries as they rank 21st in the league with a stuffed percentage of 20% which is just below the NFL average but still in the bottom half of the league. Stuffed percentage is the percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage.

The Chiefs, much like the Steelers, are very successful running off one side of their line more than the other. When they run from the left tackle and out they are one of the best teams in the league but anything up the middle and to the right and they are as good as dead in the water. When running off the right tackle they rank tops in the league with an ALY of 5.84 yards while ranking 10th when running off the left end with a 4.71 ALY. Both are well above the NFL averages but when they run up the middle or off the guards they rank 30th in the NFL and only rank 24th when running to the right tackle and right ends.

Defense



Now let’s not get it twisted, the Chiefs are not only a bad football team because the offense sucks but it is also because the defense has not played well at all. They rank 25th in the league giving up over 25 points a game and give up over 365 yards of offense a game. That isn’t going to win you a lot of football games when your offense has a hard time putting the ball in the end zone. Four times this season they have given up 30 or more points and two other times they gave up 28 points. The defense can be had and the Steelers will most likely try to push the ball down the field.

Linebacker Derrick Johnson leads the Chiefs in tackles with 83 (62 solo) and also has a sack on the season. Fellow linebacker Jovan Belcher is second on the team with 60 tackles and doesn’t have a sack while Brandon Flowers leads the secondary in tackles with 42 to go along with a team-high four interceptions.

The Chiefs do not get after the quarterback, at all, with only 12 sacks on the season former Penn State lineman Tamba Hali having seven of those sacks. Besides Hali the Chiefs only have one other player, Wallace Gilberry, who has more than one sack (he has two). The Chiefs don’t cause very many turnovers either as they have recovered only three fumbles but have intercepted 13 passes. Along with Flowers’ four interceptions Kendrick Lewis has three of them which is the team’s primary way of getting the ball to the offense.

Kansas City ranks 24th in the league with a 10.6% DVOA (remember negative is good for defense) where they rank 26th against the pass (21.8% DVOA) and 21st against the run (0.7% DVOA). Not very good overall for the defense so it seems as if the Steelers will have a good chance to open up the offense coming off the bye week.

It might be another tough week for Mike Wallace as the Chiefs are surprisingly good against the top receiving target on the opposing offense. Football Outsiders does a nice job to break down the defense on each receiver and the Chiefs have a -13.5% DVOA against the #1 receiver which ranks sixth best in the week and is much better than the NFL average of 7.8%. There is a steep drop off against the #2 receiver where they rank 22nd in the league with a 15.3% DVOA. Running backs have also had a good year against the Chief linebackers with a 26.4% DVOA, 28th in the league so we will see how the Steelers might be able to take advantage of this.

The Chiefs rank 27th in the league with a 4.35 adjusted line yards against while are near the bottom of the league (30th) in stuffed percentage (14%). The Chiefs actually are pretty good in power running situations as they rank 8th in the league with a power success of 56% which is below the league average of 61%.

There really isn’t one way that team’s are attacking the Chiefs as they are able to be beat at almost any part of the line. They rank 26th in the league when teams run to the left side of the offensive line, 17th to the left tackle, 20th up the middle, 29th to the right tackle and 21st to the right end. Kansas City can be had when teams run against them so it will be interesting to see if the Steelers can take advantage of that.

General Thoughts

-Going into this season this was a game that I was somewhat worried about. Playing at Arrowhead is not something that is easy to do and if the Chiefs can get a little something going that place can be deafening. I am not going to lie though this has gone from a game I really worried the Steelers losing to one that I think they can win pretty handidly. Matt Cassel is no longer the quarterback and right now they are thinking about bringing Kyle Orton in to start after they signed him like two days ago. Bad times for the Chiefs. Arrowhead is still going to be a tough place to play and you can imagine that the Chiefs will be up for this game on national TV but I think Ben and the offense is going to be able to take advantage of the below average safeties and Orton or Palko is going to get hit.

-Speaking of Ben Roethlisberger we will get to see him for the first time this season with a busted up finger. After the Steelers win against Cincinnati it was learned that he had a fracture in his throwing hand. Ben has played with this injury before in year prior so this isn’t anything I would worry about too much but it will affect his accuracy and touch that he has on the football. You would have to think because of this the Steelers will utilize more shotgun formations so that Ben isn’t taking snaps off that fractured thumb but it could be a lot worse as he got a week off with the bye to let the thumb heal and figure out a way to incorporate a splint into the glove for him to throw. He will be fine.

-I talked about the pass rush earlier but really the Steelers are going to have to put their focus on Tamba Hali. He is the only guy that gives you a remote possibility of disrupting passing plays as he has seven of the 12 sacks for the Chiefs. The Steelers have been sending out the tight ends on more pass patterns because of the improved play from the tackles but it would probably be a good idea to at least get a chip on Hali when they are going out into the pattern. I would also imagine that running backs will get set up on Hali’s side on obvious pass plays so hopefully they will not completely ignore him.

-Typically coming off the bye a lot of teams don’t really look that good. Through the season and watching the teams the week after a bye there are a lot of mental mistakes and missed tackles and if the Steelers want to make a run at the AFC North then they need to come out strong and focused in this game. Giving the Chiefs even a sliver of hope would be a mistake and if they get a chance to end the game early they need to do so.

-ESPN’s AFC North blog did a really nice final word yesterday and gave us some really good numbers on the Steelers. One of the points talked about Roethlisberger and how good he has been this season while “under duress.” This is defined as situations when defensive pressure forced players to throw early, off-balance or when they were getting hit. The league average completion percentage while they are under duress is 38.5%. Roethlisberger’s completion percentage when he is under duress: 60%. They also talled up some impressive numbers on Antonio Brown who has been very good in the recent weeks. Brown has been targeted 39 times since Week 7, which is 10 more than any other Steelers player. During that time, Brown has averaged 6.5 receptions (second-most in the NFL) and 91 yards receiving (fourth-most in the league). He's also produced seven catches of over 20 yards.

-The Chiefs have a tough time covering the deep ball and gives up big chunks of yardage. They rank 29th in the league giving up 7.8 yards per attempt this season and from the Stats Inc. they are tied for third in the NFL with the most passing plays of 20 yards or more given up with 42. The Steelers have been pretty productive getting the ball down the field this season through the air so it would not surprise me at all to see this a little bit more this season.

Prediction: At the beginning of the season I thought this might be one of the Steelers losses. Not anymore. Steelers 27, Chiefs 13

Hit it.



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