Friday, November 9, 2012

Steelers Game Day 9 Preview - vs. Kansas City Chiefs

If there is something that should pump you up it is Monday Night Football in Pittsburgh. The Steelers are great on MNF and they are even better playing Monday night when they play in Pittsburgh. Add in the Chiefs and you have…OK, I can't do it anymore. That won't add anything. While a Monday night game with Baltimore would be ideal for this game I guess the Chiefs will have to do.

The Chiefs, are bad. Like 1-7 bad. It really wasn't a fun time doing the preview because there isn't much substance to the team. They do have some playmakers on the defensive side but just not enough to make up for ineptitude of the offense.

So, the Chiefs, um, yea, lets just get into the preview:

The stats:

Last Week:

Pittsburgh 24, NY Giants 20
Passing: Roethlisberger: 21-30, 216 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Redman: 26 car., 147 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Wallace: 3 rec., 66 yards, 1 TD

San Diego 31, Kansas City 13
Passing: Cassel: 19-29, 181 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Charles: 12 car., 39 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Bowe: 8 rec., 79 yards, 0 TD

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 367.3 yards/game (13th)
Kansas City: 357.5 yards/game (16th)

Pittsburgh: 262.4 yards/game (10th)
Kansas City: 207.6 yards/game (t25th)

Pittsburgh: 104.9 yards/game (21st)
Kansas City: 149.9 yards/game (3rd)

Pittsburgh: 23.9 points/game (13th)
Kansas City: 16.6 points/game (30th)


Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 262.6 yards/game (1st)
Kansas City: 347.5 yards/game (17th)

Pittsburgh: 174.0 yards/game (1st)
Kansas City: 221.5 yards/game (t11th)

Pittsburgh: 88.6 yards/game (t7th)
Kansas City: 126.0 yards/game (22nd)

Pittsburgh: 20.5 points/game (9th)
Kansas City: 30.0 points/game (29th)

All-Time Record vs. Kansas City: 18-9-0 (0-1 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings
November 27, 2011 - Pittsburgh 13, Kansas City 9
November 22, 2009 - Kansas City 27, Pittsburgh 24
October 15, 2006 - Pittsburgh 45, Kansas City 7
September 14, 2003 - Kansas City 41, Pittsburgh 20
October 14, 2001 - Pittsburgh 20, Kansas City 17

Hit the jump for the rest of the preview


To say that the Chiefs have problems at the quarterback position might be a slight understatement. Looking at the guys who have taken snaps for Kansas City this year and you leave a lot to be desired. Those two guys are Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn. So, yea. Combined those two guys have anvearged just over 207 yards of passing a game and threw for six touchdown passes and 14 interceptions while completing just 60% of their passes. They aren't stretching the field with a 6.3 yard per attempt (YPA) average and haven't been helped by being sacked 17 times.

Now, on to the starter who is Cassel. He was brought to the Chiefs following the 2008 season when he led the Patriots to 11 wins and throwing for almost 3,700 yards and 21 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. Since then Cassel has really only played one good season in Kansas City and that was in 2010 but for the most part it has ben pretty brutal. Last season Cassel was limited to only nine games and didn't even complete 60% of his passes throwing nearly as many interceptions (nine) as touchdown passes (ten). In 2010 Cassel was good throwing for over 3,100 yards and 27 touchdowns but it seems to be an aberration as he is only completing 60% of his passes and has thrown six touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Not good.

Cassel has just been beaten down by the advanced statistics from Football Outsiders. He has a defensive-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) number of -360 which gives the value of the players performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. That ranks him dead last among qualified quarterbacks which there are 34 of them. He also has a defensive-adjusted value over average (DVOA) of -34.3% which represents value, per play, over an average quarterback in the same game situations. The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player's performance. Negative DVOA represents below-average offense. The simple version of the two is that DYAR represents a player with more total value and DVOA represents a player with more value per play. Manning ranks seventh in terms of DVOA. Cassel is dead last in DVOA. Basically this tells you that Cassel really is a below a replacement level quarterback and when I say below I mean really below.

In terms of a game-by-game look in what Cassel has done this year it isn't very inspiring. He has more games where he hasn't thrown a touchdown pass (three) than he does with multiple touchdown games (two). The first couple of games this season he really wasn't all that terrible when he threw for 245 yards or more in his first three games of the season but he wasn't putting the ball in the end zone. In those three games he threw three touchdowns and four interceptions and his best game probably was the first game of the season. He went 21-of-33 for 258 yards, a touchdown and two picks in a loss to the Falcons but the past three or four games that he has played it isn't great. Against the Chargers on Thursday night he completed 19-of-29 passes for 181 yards (6.24 YPA) and a pick.

It is no secret that this is a quarterback driven league and when you look at the Chiefs offense it pretty much closely resembles the quarterback play. Overall the Chiefs offense ranks dead last with a -29.7% DVOA and the passing game ranks dead last with a -38.2% DVOA. Yes, these numbers suggest that the Chiefs passing attack is worse than Jacksonville.

Running Back

If there is anything that is positive about the Chiefs offense it is the running game. They have a bonafide stud in Jamaal Charles and despite the team not performing well the running game is not dead last in the league. Overall the rushing attack for the Chiefs rank 24th in the league with a -12.5% DVOA and in the raw numbers (that you saw above) the Chiefs are actually running for almost 150 yards a game.

Leading that charge is Charles. Charles has been a monster in the running game in his fifth season and was one of the best in the league in 2010 when he rushed for 1,467 yards on only 230 carries which was a healthy 6.4 yard per carry average. He scored only five touchdowns but he was one of the most feared runners in the league. He went on to blow out his knee in the second game of the season last year and is back this year healthy and running well. So far through eight games Charles has gained 634 yards and two touchdowns on 132 carries and it very productive getting 4.8 yards per carry. While Charles is outstanding in the running game he is also dangerous through the air. In 2010 he caught 66 passes for 468 yards and three touchdowns and this year he is continuing to do that with 28 catches for 158 yards and a score.

Much like his quarterback, Charles did a bulk of his damage at the beginning of the season led by a 33 carry, 233 yard effort against the Saints but when you think about how bad the Saints are historically bad defensively. Charles followed that up with an 88 yard performance against San Diego then a 140 yard day against the Ravens but since then it has been pretty bone dry. Following the game against the Ravens Charles has combined for 83 yards on 29 carries against Tampa Bay, Oakland and San Diego (part two). It has been slow going for Charles recently and I hope that continues.

Charles up and down season hasn't really led him to look favorable in either his DYAR or his DVOA. He is right at the break even point with a -7 DYAR and that is good for 22nd in the league while he also ranks 22nd with a 10.0% DVOA. While that isn't necessarily great it does show that he has consistency in his game. He doesn't have a very strong success rate which only sits at 44% and that ranks 26th in the league and that represents the players consistency which is measured by successful running plays based on down and distance. A little higher DVOA than success rate generally means that Charles is getting a few big plays but he mixes that up with getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage. So, if the Steelers can stave off the big play they might be able to hold Charles down like he has been recently.

Behind Charles there really isn't a whole lot of anything going on. The next guy close to Charles is Shaun Draughn who is the rookie from North Carolina. So far this season he has gained 183 yards on 48 carries and two touchdowns but that is over eight games and over the last three games he only has 14 carries for 24 yards and a score. His game high was 56 yards on five carries against the Bills, but that was, well, the Bills.

The third leading rusher is Cassel with 133 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Oh yea, Peyton Hillis is on the team and he has 130 yards on 32 carries. Oof.


As you probably can guess from my write up on the Chiefs quarterback situation the receiving core that Kansas City has at its disposal is less than ideal. Actually, it is pretty bad. Last week the Steelers had to deal with the likes of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks and this week they are going to face off against Dwayne Bowe and Dexter McCluster. Not exactly the same thing but as you know this could possibly go the wrong way but I feel a lot better about the chances of Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Ike Taylor than I do of Bowe and McCluster.

Bowe is putting together a sort of a weird season if you are just looking at the numbers. So far this year he has 45 catches for 571 yards and three touchdowns and has pulled in seven passes of 20 or more yards. I know you might not think of this as weird because, well, he is the top receiver and these aren't exactly big time numbers. The weird part is that while most player get their catches and yards in different types of game situations a lot of Bowe's production is coming when the game is already out of hand. It is no secret that the Chiefs are typically out of the game late and while Bowe has some catches early in the game he feasts late. In the fourth quarter of games Bowe has made 11 catches for 147 yards and has scored all three touchdowns later. Not saying that Bowe can't be productive earlier in the game, because he can due to the 16 catches for 235 yards in the second quarter of games alone but clearly his touchdown passes come late in the game and in the first and third quarters combined he has 16 catches for 163 yards.

Bowe has a pair of 100 yard days under his belt but those came in the first four weeks of the season. The last two games against the Raiders and Chargers Bowe has caught three and eight passes, respectively, for 65 and 79 yards. Not eye popping numbers but not terrible either.

Bowe ranks 55th in the league with a 27 DYAR and ranks an even worse with a -8.7% DVOA (60th). Bowe also boasts a rather low catch rate of 55% which is exactly what you think it is, the percentage of passes to the receiver that are complete. An interesting note when looking through the stats is that Bowe has coaxed five defensive pass interference calls from defensive backs for 80 yards which is both near the tops in the league. Bowe is a big receiver at 6'2 220 pounds so I would imagine that Taylor is going to get the call as he is far and away the most physical corner on the team. I think we might see a little throw it up and try to draw a PI call which is made famous by Joe Flacco. Those five PI calls against opposing corners are the only five calls that the Chiefs have earned, so, there's that.

McCluster isn't necessarily a receiver but that is what he is basically being considered. The Chiefs drafted him a few years ago and he was actually a guy that I wanted the Steelers to look at. He came out of Mississippi as a running back but has really morphed into a do-it-all player and is dangerous due to his extreme athletic ability. He is playing more as a receiver nowadays with 29 catches for 258 yards and a touchdown and has rushed for 37 yards on seven attempts. He isn't going to wow you are a receiver but he will play out of the slot and cause some problems if he is matched up against a linebacker. McCluster only ranks 69th with a +1 DYAR and ranks the same in DVOA at -12.6%.

The other receiver of note is Pitt product Jon Baldwin. Baldwin has been with the Chiefs for his entire career and finished last season with 21 catches for 254 yards and a touchdown and he has nearly outdone that this season with 15 catches for 213 yards. The only reason I am talking about Baldwin is because he is a Pitt product. In eight games this season Baldwin has only two games with more than 50 yards receiving and the last three games he has combined for four catches for 39 yards.

Offensive Line

From left to right the Chiefs read Branden Albert, Jeff Allen, Ryan Lilja, Jon Asamoah and Eric Winston. It is a fairly experienced offensive line with Allen the only player with less than three years experience as he is a rookie this season out of Illinois. Albert is in his fifth season, Lilja his fifth, Asamoah his third and Winston the elder statesman in his seventh season.

Despite nearly leading the league in rushing the Chiefs do not perform very well because of the offensive line according to Football Outsiders measurement of adjusted line yards (ALY). While the Chiefs running backs average a 4.59 yard per carry average, which is sixth in the league, their ALY of 3.49 is only good for 29th in the league.

ALY 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. Finally, we normalize the numbers so that the league average for Adjusted Line Yards per carry is the same as the league average for RB yards per carry.

Kansas City really isn't great running the football overall but they really aren't terrible either. They rank 17th in the league with a 63% power success rate which 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. While they are good in the short yardage situation they can not say the same about their ability to not get the running back hit close to the line of scrimmage or worse. They have a 23% stuffed rank which simply put is the percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. That is good for only 28th in the league. When you couple the stuffed percentage with the Chiefs excellent ranks in second level yards (1.32, 11th) and open field yards (1.27, 4th) you can see why their ALY is so low. Second level yards are yards which this team's running backs earn between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries while open field yards are yards which this team's running backs earn more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries. ALY is broken down by giving the offensive line more credit for the yardage closer to the line of scrimmage because that is the place where you can more directly relate the offensive line's job at getting the running back yards. Once the back gets into the second and third level it really doesn't have as much to do with the line as it does with the running back being able to create those yards. As we saw before Charles has been more of the home run hitter this year and thus is the reason they are not ranked very highly in ALY and while their second level and open field rankings are higher.

In terms of where they run the football the Chiefs really aren't successful at many places. They rank 11th in the league when they run off the right end as they have a 4.79 ALY when they run to that area. Despite the success at that area Kansas City has only run 9% of their 221 running back carries to the right end which is the lowest directional run that they use. The Chiefs are a run up the middle team with 47% of their running back carries going up the middle or off the guard and while they run there with a little more frequency they really struggle. They rank 25th in the league running up the middle with a 3.77 ALY. The second biggest run area is off the left end where they rank 23rd with a 2.85 ALY. Not good.

In terms of pass blocking Kansas City has been good, not great, at pass blocking this year. Chiefs quarterbacks have been put down 17 times so far this season which isn't a whole lot and that translates into a 6.9% adjusted sack rate which is the sacks and intentional grounding combined divided by pass attempt and is adjusted by down, distance and opponent. To put that in a little more context they rank 22nd in the league which is one spot below the Steelers.


The Chiefs defense is pretty much the same as their offense if their offense didn't have anything good about them. I know that might sound a little harsh but really the defense doesn't have a lot of meet on the bone. They have a couple of nice players but on a whole they aren't a team that really scares you and a team that really hasn't done a very good job this season of shutting teams down.

As a whole the Chiefs ranks 27th in football with a 14.6% DVOA. While positive DVOA's are good for offense they are not good for defense. If you remember up top I outlined what DVOA was and that positive was good for the offense and therefore negative is good for the defense. Kansas City has a very high DVOA for defense and to put that in a little better context they rank a spot lower than Jacksonville. Yea.

Against the pass Kansas City ranks 26th in the league with a 21.3% DVOA and they don't really do a particularly good job against any of the pass catching options on the field which includes tight ends and running backs. Against the opposing top receiver the Chiefs ranks 23rd in the league with a 15.3% DVOA which could bode well for Mike Wallace. With Antonio Brown likely out of the game with an ankle injury this will most certainly give Wallace more looks and with the below average play of the defensive backfield against number one receivers Wallace could be in for a big day. With Brown out you would assume that Heath Miller is going to be more of a pass catching option and against opposing tight ends the Chiefs rank 20th in the league with a 4.5% DVOA while they are even worse against running backs that catch the ball with a 26.4% DVOA that ranks near last in the league (30th).

Against the run the Chiefs rank 29th in the league with a 7.7% DVOA. They have given up over 120 rushing yards five times so far this season and they have done so in each of the last four games. They actually started the season with a decent run defense giving up yardage of 84, 201, 83 and 104 and outside of that 201 yard outlier the run defense wasn't too bad. Well, not anymore. Kansas City is giving up 4.69 yards per carry to running backs and actually do a better job by having a defensive ALY of 4.19 which is ranked 18th.

Kansas City is especially good in short yardage situations where they rank third in power success stopping short yardage situations 50% of the time while they rank 14th in the league stuffing opposing runners 14% of the time. Where teams can have success against the run is to the offensive left side. When opposing teams run to the offensive left end they gain a 5.20 ALY which is 30th in the league and running off the right tackle gets you a 5.26 ALY which is dead last in the league. The Steelers mostly run up the middle or off the guards and Kansas City is about league average in those situations where opposing teams have a 4.06 ALY which is 14th in the league. It is interesting to see where teams attack as of the 198 running back carries 63% of them go up the middle or off the guard. Interesting even more is that is where the Steelers are getting nearly all of their rushing yards during this three game running streak where they have a back that has at least 100 yards. Opposing teams don't run more than 10% in any other area except the offensive left end which is run to 12% of the time.

In terms of players the Chiefs have a few playmakers that could give the Steelers a bit of trouble and those come in the fashion of pass rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Houston leads the team with six sacks and also has an interception while Hali is quickly becoming one of the best in the game and has five sacks. Derrick Johnson leads the team with 65 total tackles and a sack while Brandon Flowers is the teams top corner with a pair of picks and seven passes defended. Some other interesting names are rookie Dontari Poe who was a guy that many thought might be a Steeler after lasts years draft. Glenn Dorsey is a cog for the Chiefs run defense but will most likely be out of the game with a calf injury.

Game Thoughts:

-If there is one phrase that is pretty overused in sports today it is the notion of a trap game. Pretty much every time a team that isn't very good comes into a game against an average team or better then the better team is said to have be in a trap game situation. I guess you can consider this a trap game for the Steelers considering they are coming off a big win over the Giants last week but I dunno, I guess I am not really sure. The Chiefs are all kinds of bad. They are 1-7 on the season and have yet to hold a team in regulation of any game. Literally. The one win they have is against the Saints in week three and they won that game in overtime. They didn't hold a lead until they kicked the game winning field goal in overtime and haven't had any kind of lead in any game this season. With that being said this isn't the worst team that the Steelers have faced in the last few years and they have lost to worst teams. That is not saying that the Steelers can't lose, because they most certainly can, but I think this game being played on Monday Night Football really takes those chances down a little bit considering they are also playing at Heinz Field where they are outstanding.

-The Steelers want to do something good to start. They want to end this game by halftime. I know that doesn't really seem possible because a lot can happen in a quarter of football but if they can get a three score lead going in to the half then it is going to be next to impossible for the Chiefs to come back. The Steelers are going to want to break the will of Kansas City and that starts from the first drive. A couple three and outs and a couple early scores and you have to imagine that the game might come a little easier for the Steelers. This year the Chiefs rank 31st in the league averaging 5.5 points in the first half of games. The Steelers rank 11th in the league scoring 13 points in the first half of games. On the opposite side the Chiefs are near the bottom of the league giving up 13.9 points to opponents in the first half of games while the Steelers give up 10.1 opponent points in first half. While the Steelers defense has given up its fair share of points in the first half of games you have to see these trends going in Pittsburgh's favor in terms of getting a lead.

-It is pretty widely known that the Steelers are the best of the best when it comes to converting on third down's but the Chiefs have actually done a nice job themselves on third down. Looking at their record and their offensive success (or lack thereof) you might not think of this but they rank seventh in the league converting 44.25% of their third down chances. I talked about the Steelers needed to get out in front and putting this game away early and a good way to do that is to stop the Chiefs on third down and force them to punt the ball away to their talented returners. The Steelers are on of the worst defenses on third down letting up a 41.50% conversion rate (24th in the league) but are doing an outstanding job in their last three contests with a 28.57% conversion rate (fourth in NFL). Get the Kansas City offense off the field and get Ben Roethlisberger on the field.

-The big storyline in this game is Todd Haley going against the team that fired him in the middle of the season last year. If you don't remember Haley and the Chiefs really didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things and at one point Haley actually accused the organization of bugging his phone and listening in on every conversation at the facility. There is a lot more that went on there but Haley seems like a guy that would want to get the last laugh in and even though this was almost a year ago I could see him really putting it to Kansas City if he has the chance. This could backfire as he could get too geeked up for the opportunity so it will be interesting to see if he chooses to go for the big play a little more this week. I doubt it but I could see it happening.

PREDICTION - There isn't much else to say about this game. I mean when I sat down to do the game thoughts I try and get out and look at some different things and talk about those but there really isn't much interesting about the Chiefs. I mean this team hasn't lead in a game all season in regulation and the Chiefs actually think that Brady Quinn can be a better quarterback than Matt Cassel. Yikes. I think the Steelers are going to get out front of this and I really think they are going to run away with this game. I know the Steelers typically play down to their competition but playing on MNF at home is something the Steelers do really, really, well. I think they come out and maybe give up a couple of points early but get rounded into form. One thing you don't want to do is give a bad team the feeling that they are in the game. I don't think that will be a problem. Steelers 27, Chiefs 13.

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