So the Kansas City Chiefs played the Steelers again, and once again in the history of KC vs. Pitt football, the Kansas City Chiefs were defeated. Overall, if you look at the history between these two storied franchises. The Chiefs have lost to the Steelers 12 out of 23 times, including breaking even in the post season.
Games with the Steelers are maddening. We all remember the playoff game a few years ago where the Steelers beat us without even scoring a touchdown. I don’t care what anyone says, we scored on that two point conversion. That should have tied it up and allowed the Chiefs a chance to win it before time expired. Nevertheless, that’s been how Chiefs post season football has gone in and out of Kansas City.
Recently the Chiefs lost a football game to the Steelers in the preseason. The score ended up being Chiefs 7, Steelers 17. It was a performance that was uninspiring, the Chiefs offense was dependent on back-up QB’s and inexperienced position players. The defense did well in holding the Steelers from racking up too many points. Even their touchdown late in the game was obviously a drop. However, regardless of that the Kansas City Chiefs lost yet another game to the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s almost Colts-like in its mythology. This NFL fan absolutely despises the Steelers organization.
My question is what do young Chiefs fans feel about losing to other organizations. Be it the New England Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts, the Denver Broncos (granted, of old) or those dang Steelers. How do you feel about the Chiefs obvious inability to win against certain organizations versus the Chiefs obvious future of success with Patrick Mahomes navigating their path to the Super Bowl on the gridiron. For the answers, I’ve asked Arrowhead Guys resident football expert and youthful guru, Nate Christensen to dive into the topic like Priest Holmes into the end zone.
With all of that out of the way, what do you think Nate? Why do the Kansas City Chiefs have such a problem with the Pittsburgh Steelers, will they ever overcome it, and what does this preseason loss mean to you?
Ever since I’ve been seriously following the Chiefs during the dreadful 2012 season, they’ve always struggled against Pittsburgh. In the eight match-ups I can remember, the Chiefs are 2-6 against Pittsburgh only beating Ben Roethlisberger once that entire time. The Steelers have always had the Chiefs’ number throughout the years, and Andy Reid has had a hard time shrugging them off. There are three main reasons why the Chiefs have always struggled against Pittsburgh:
1. Bob Sutton.
2. Alex Smith.
3. Lack of a third receiving option.
Starting with Bob, the Steelers have always destroyed us with the running game. Now, Sutton always did a pretty good job defending their passing game, making sure Big Ben never absolutely mauled us. However, Le’Veon Bell absolutely wrecked our lineman for years. As a film analyst, I would say the main reason why this happened for years was because Bell absolutely destroyed us by using his patient running style. Why was this so successful: slow linebackers, poor defensive line play, and horrible tacking.
We saw the prime example of this over the last couple of years with the linebacker unit. Besides Derrick Johnson, our linebackers were slow to attack gaps with way too much to read on the play. Bell would make them pay for being so slow. His rushing style allowed him to stay patient, acting like he was running through one gap while suddenly attacking the backside. Our linebackers have always been confused on his instant directional running, and he would bust out 8-10 (or more) yards per carry because of it.
Next, has been the poor defensive line play. We were good-to-great at setting the edges with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali on the field. Nevertheless, we did a really bad job on the interior of the defense. Sutton’s scheme required them to work up-field, while also playing a two-gap system. This is an extremely difficult thing for defensive lineman to do, you occasionally see guys like Damon “Snacks” Harrison be able to do that, but it’s a rare skill the Chiefs tried to add to the arsenal of every defender. The ugly truth is, the Chiefs never had the personnel to do that. Which unfortunately allowed massive holes to open up for Bell to run through as well as the team struggling to defend countless other teams.
It’s no secret that the tackling has been awful for the Chiefs for years. I specifically remember in the 2017 playoff game, nobody outside of Eric Berry could make a tackle if their lives depended on it (they did), and it caused Bell to nauseously take a 3-4 yard gain for 7-8 more. Bob Sutton seemingly never made an emphasis on tackling, which led to teams destroying them in the running game far too often.
Next on my list, Alex Smith. Smith was never good in one game against Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh sat back in zone coverage running a lot of zone blitzes. This sped up Smith’s clock, making it so he had to deliver bad balls to the flats every play. Smith never could step up and throw them too far consistently, so long 3rd downs would come, and he simply couldn’t convert. I saw this “great” breakdown from Brian Baldinger, essentially he showed 5-6 different examples of where Smith had easy targets down the field, but couldn’t see them because of being pressured.
Overall, if you gave Smith a clean pocket, he could pick you apart–especially with Andy Reid calling plays. But the second you sent pressure after Alex, he was completely ineffective. The Steelers took advantage of this year after year, forcing Smith to be widely effective every single matchup.
When I think about the KC receivers. The problem with the Chiefs in every postseason run prior to this year on offense was the lack of a competent third receiving option. It was either Maclin and Kelce, or Hill and Kelce. Maclin and Hill never got to play with each other in their primes. The Steelers took advantage of this, rolling coverage over to Hill’s side, while doubling and chipping Kelce every snap. They widely made both ineffective in games, so Alex always had to rely on a young Chris Conley, Demarcus Robinson, and Demetrius Harris to catch footballs. To be frank, none of them could do that. So, in games, Alex Smith had no one to throw to that could consistently, and with pressure in his face every snap, he could only throw swing routes to the running back every play. The Steelers feasted by stopping Kansas City on 3rd and 8. So, will the Chiefs ever overcome Pittsburgh? I say yes, and I look at last year as the reason why.
First, getting Patrick Mahomes in instead of Alex Smith completely destroyed the Steelers gameplan. Last season, Mahomes completely destroyed zone coverage against any team, but he never destroyed any zone coverage like he did to Pittsburgh. Regardless of Cover 4 or 3, Tampa 2, Match zones, Mahomes attacked Pittsburgh vertically all day, having more touchdowns than incompletions. It didn’t matter whatever coverage they tried, Mahomes absolutely torched them.
Second, Sammy Watkins being around is enormous. Now the Steelers can’t key in on Hill or Kelce permanently, unless they want Watkins to feast on one-on-one coverage against a 3rd/4th defensive back all-day. We saw this against them last year, Watkins was consistently open, since he had easy matchups all day.
Finally, the part we still need to see is the run defense. The run defense has been terrible for years, but if you have been reading my articles (shameless plug), I have gone into great depth about how Spagnuolo’s scheme is much more beneficial for stopping the run. Also, with Le’Veon Bell out of Pittsburgh, now they have an inferior back in James Connor. Without Antonio Brown as well, Pittsburgh is much less daunting offensively than in years past.
In terms of the preseason game, I was really encouraged with the defense. The front 7 looks really good against the run so far, with our defensive lineman, namely Derrick Nnadi and Chris Jones, showing significant improvement against the run. Alex Okafor and Tanoh Kpassagnon look really good as well. I get the offense looked bad in the preseason, but I trust the offense to succeed. If they look good against the run, then all the issues we have had beating Pittsburgh are gone.
Winning for the Chiefs
CBO: Thanks Nate, wonderful stuff. The Chiefs have been ineffective in dealing with the Pittsburgh Steelers for years. The preseason game was an example of a meaningless exhibition contest. However, a lot of times the stakes are very high for Kansas City and the team can’t figure out how to steal a win against the Steel City. Going into the future, the Chiefs need how to regularly defeat teams like the Steelers. At home, in their house or overseas, it doesn’t matter. The Kansas City Chiefs need to figure out a consistent way to get victories.
In last weekend’s preseason match-up, the Chiefs held their own with roster bodies trying to make a name for themselves. However, the showing wasn’t selling a lot of tickets to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs need to coach up the back half of their roster if they want their “Next Man-Up” philosophy to mean much more than the exhibition contests themselves.
Granted, the Chiefs didn’t have Mahomes. Their best pass rushers and players weren’t on defense and guys like Hill, Kelce and Schwartz weren’t out their dominating the competition. However, it’s going to take a complete team effort for the Chiefs to achieve their goal of winning the Super Bowl. Whether it’s the preseason, the regular season or the playoffs. This Chiefs team needs to find a way to win, not miraculous ways to lose. Blaming the refs is exciting, blaming the rules is a great reason to yell and scream over a few beers. Though, when it’s all said and done, when the clock runs out, the Chiefs need to outscore the other team or they will lose. Just like they have for many, many games now. In order to be the best and be considered winners, the Chiefs must beat teams like Pittsburgh. No more excuses Chiefs Kingdom, nope, what we need is reasons to win the Super Bowl. And those reasons will always start with “W’s”