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Next Gen Stats tell the tale of the Steelers’ demise vs. the Chiefs

The Pittsburgh Steelers couldn’t hang with the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Next Gen Stats show a lot of why it happened.

NFL: AFC Wild Card Playoffs-Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season ended in a difficult fashion by way of 42-21 defeat in Arrowhead Stadium to the Kansas City Chiefs. During the Wild Card matchup in the AFC Playoffs, there were several moments which saw the true ebb and flow of the game.

The Steelers’ defense came out and certainly made a name for themselves by stopping the Chiefs’ high powered offense in five consecutive drives, but with the Pittsburgh offense struggling to even gain first downs, let alone add to the point total, the dam finally broke on the defense and the Chiefs’ offense exploded in the eventual dominant win.

After the game, ESPN’s Next Generation (Gen) Stats, with Zebra Technologies, highlighted several aspects of the Chiefs’ win, and many told the tale of how the Chiefs eventually punched their ticket to the Divisional Round.

Let’s take a look at the stats:

The Chiefs secondary aligned in press coverage on 68% of routes against Steelers slot/wide receivers, the highest press coverage rate by a team over the last 6 seasons. Kansas City had the highest rate of press coverage alignment in the regular season (40%).

When you see a statistic like this, you realize just how little the Kansas City offense cared about the Steelers beating them over the top. They dared the Steelers to do it, and they couldn’t for a variety of reasons. Pass protection, receivers getting separation and accurate passes all made the Chiefs’ defense look like geniuses last Sunday night.

The Chiefs gained 269 of their 405 receiving yards after the catch, the 2nd most YAC in a playoff game since 2016. Jerick McKinnon had 106 YAC (+33 YACOE), Travis Kelce had 66 YAC (+25 YACOE) and Mecole Hardman had 37 YAC (+12 YACOE).

Want to know how the Steelers’ defense eventually met their demise, it starts and ends with speed. Something the Chiefs have an abundance of, and the Steelers lack. This was highlighted by our own KT Smith in a film room article Wednesday. See below:

While the Chiefs utilized their athletes, and speed, in space, it wasn’t as if that was the only way they moved the ball. For instance, Tyreek Hill’s 31-yard TD catch was his longest on a go route since Week 1 of the 2021 regular season.

Tyreek Hill’s 31-yard TD which had an air distance of 46.3 yards was his first TD on a go route since Week 1 vs. Cleveland.

What might be the most interesting aspect of this playoff game was just how phenomenal Patrick Mahomes was, yet people just sort of shrug their shoulders and consider it just to be another day at the office for the Super Bowl champion quarterback. But look at the stat below and you might change your tune.

Patrick Mahomes went 4 of 5 for 111 yards and 2 TD (+31.3% CPOE) targeting vertical routes (go, corner, post and wheel). His 2 TD passes on vertical routes were the most first since Week 12 in 2020.

Were you someone who thought Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t aggressive enough when throwing the football? Especially when pushing the ball downfield? It might have been the case at times in 2021, but certainly not in the Wild Card game.

Ben Roethlisberger was the most aggressive passer in Super Wild Card Weekend, as he threw into a tight window on 25% of his passes.

Speaking of speed, just look at some of these players and how fast they were moving at different points in the game. This being T.J. Watt after his fumble recovery, and Mecole Hardman on his 48-yard punt return.

T.J. Watt reached 17.49 mph on his 26-yard fumble return TD, his 2nd fastest speed on any play this year.

Mecole Hardman reached 21.07 mph on his 48-yard punt return, the fastest speed in Super Wild Card Weekend and for him as a ball carrier this season.

These statistics certainly do shed some light on the game last Sunday, and one of the reasons why the Chiefs are preparing for another preseason game, while the Steelers are in full offseason mode. Either way, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they press on throughout the 2022 offseason.