NFL News & Analysis

NFL Wild Card Game Recap: Kansas City Chiefs 42, Pittsburgh Steelers 21

Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) runs with the ball ahead of Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Derrek Tuszka (48) in an AFC Wild Card playoff football game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

This game played out in an unexpected fashion to start, as the Pittsburgh Steelers took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on a defensive touchdown. But from that point forward, it became the game everyone was expecting to see with the Kansas City Chiefs scoring seven touchdowns to make it a 42-21 drumming by Andy Reid’s squad.

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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 

Quarterback

It was a masterful performance from the Chiefs passing offense. The team as a whole generated +0.5 expected points added (EPA) per play. Patrick Mahomes did his usual thing a thrived on long-developing plays:

Mahomes by average time to throw vs. Steelers
2.5 seconds or less 2.6 seconds or more
23/24 Comp/Att 9/17
220 (9.2) Yards (YPA) 192
4:0 TD:INT 2:1
2:0 BTT:TWP 2:0
144.4 Passer Rating 108.0

Mahomes made several plays outside of the structure of the offense. He completed four of seven such passes for 121 yards and a touchdown with two big-time throws and no turnover-worthy plays. But that’s not to say he didn’t make plays from the pocket in the structure of the offense, too. Mahomes completed 24 of 26 for 254 yards and three touchdowns when clean and inside the pocket.

Running Backs

Jerick McKinnon was the lead back due to the mounting injuries at the position for the Chiefs. He was boom-or-bust as a runner with four explosive runs on 12 carries. Seeing on average 3.3 yards before contact certainly helped. McKinnon’s biggest impact came in the passing game where he caught all six of his targets for 81 yards and a score on 35 routes. He racked up 108 yards after the catch and three 15-plus yard pass plays.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Mahomes was sharing the love, as six different receivers saw at least five targets on the night. Dynamic tight end Travis Kelce was the most productive of the night with 3.00 yards per route run and 67 yards after the catch on five receptions.

Wide receiver Mecole Hardman was an underneath weapon. His average depth of target stood at 0.2 yards as he produced 48 yards after the catch, 37 yards after contact and three broken tackles on five receptions.

Offensive Line

Guard Joe Thuney was the lone clean performer from the Chiefs in pass-protection. He didn’t allow a pressure or lose a single rep on 47 pass-block snaps. Tackles Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie were the main culprits with four and three pressures allowed, respectively.

Rookie phenom Creed Humphrey posted the highest run-blocking grade of the night by any offensive linemen on either team. He led the game in positively graded run blocks, and it wasn’t particularly close. At the same time, though, Humphrey did allow a sack, his second of his rookie campaign.

Defensive Line

The Chiefs pass-rush was taken away because of Big Ben’s 2.03-second average time to throw. The defensive line generated only four pressures as a group. Edge defender Michael Danna and interior defensive lineman Tershawn Wharton were responsible for that with two pressures a piece.

Linebackers

Willie Gay Jr. may have played only 17 snaps, but he was no doubt the most productive linebacker of the night. He gathered a quarterback hit, two passing stops and a forced fumble on that small sample. All of that will give him the highest PFF grade from a defensive player in this contest.

Rookie Nick Bolton also played fairly well with only four yards allowed on 22 coverage snaps while forcing two passing stops.

Secondary

Cornerback Charvarius Ward was the top performer from the Chiefs secondary in terms of PFF coverage grade on first review. While he did allow three first downs, he was the biggest playmaker in the group with a forced incompletion and three passing stops.

L’Jarius Sneed dropped a couple of easy interceptions. Those won’t go against his grade negatively, but the four first downs he allowed will.

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PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Quarterback

This game was the epitome of what Ben Roethlisberger has become. The soon-to-be 40-year-old has become a dink-and-dunk passer, getting the ball out swiftly while hardly threatening the secondary downfield. Roethlisberger completed only one pass after 2.6 seconds from the snap. He recorded two turnover-worthy plays for the game, both of which were his other pass attempts after 2.6 seconds. Big Ben completed only five passes over 5.0 yards downfield while completing 16 under 5.0 yards.

Running Backs

Najee Harris on average saw negative yards before contact. Consequently, it was difficult to do anything on his 12 carries. Harris only had one run result in a gain of 5 or more yards. Things were even worse in the passing game where Harris picked up -1 yards and saw his no fumble streak come to an end with his first of the season — regardless of it being a run or pass.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Diontae Johnson’s drop issue got better in 2021, but it popped back up again in Pittsburgh’s biggest game of the year in the wild-card round. He dropped two targets and generated less than 1.0 yard per route run (0.83) despite seeing 10 targets on 41 routes.

JuJu Smith-Schuster returned to the field but was largely ineffective. He saw eight targets and dropped one while failing to convert significant yards after the catch. Smith-Schuster’s average depth of target stood at 4.4 yards due to the limitations at quarterback, but he only picked up 13 yards after the catch on his five receptions.

Offensive Line

The offensive line’s job was significantly easier thanks to Big Ben getting the ball out as quickly as possible. As a result, the group combined for only four pressures allowed: Dan Moore Jr. had two, John Leglue one and Trai Turner one.

Defensive Line

T.J. Watt was once again the star of the Steelers defense. He was gifted a scoop-and-score touchdown, but he made one of the best plays of the night from the Steelers on a batted pass that Devin Bush plucked for an interception. Along with that, Watt generated five total pressures, one being a sack.

Linebacker

There were few positives from the Steelers linebacker room. The six off-ball linebackers who played combined for only three defensive stops and three missed tackles. Robert Spillane (34 snaps) and Devin Bush (33 snaps) are likely to finish with two of the lowest PFF grades of the night on final review.

Secondary

It was a rough night for the Steelers secondary. The lone defensive back who will likely come out with an average coverage grade is cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who allowed only 2 yards in coverage. Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton and Terrell Edmunds all allowed 49 yards or more in coverage in addition to at least one touchdown apiece.

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