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Red-zone success and failure, it makes all the difference in Steelers vs. Chiefs

The Pittsburgh Steelers red-zone offense and defense will ultimately make all the difference as the team attempts to advance to the AFC Championship game.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

In a recent article/podcast, I talked about how the red-zone could very well decide the outcome of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs Divisional round game at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday.

The Steelers possess a very good red-zone offense, and both teams’ defenses typically stand tall in the red area. Even with the Chiefs’ red-zone offense not being highly ranked, something has to give in the red-zone, and the team that converts touchdowns and not field goals ultimately will be advancing to the AFC Championship game.

With that said, we decided to look back at the Wild Card game against the Miami Dolphins. The Steelers were 2-3 in the red-zone, and held Miami to 1-2 in red-zone conversions. Time to look at what worked and what didn’t, for both the offense and defense, as the team prepares for the biggest and toughest test of the 2016-2017 season.

Le’Veon Bell up the middle for the TD. 2nd & goal; 2 quarter 12:48 left. The play challenged but it is reversed it to a TD.

Ah, the patience of Le’Veon Bell. This wasn’t one of the more impressive runs for the Steelers on the day, but it showed the versatility of Bell to get the tough yards. The Dolphins defensive font does a tremendous job clogging up the running lanes and preventing Bell from being able to waltz into the end zone.

The Chiefs’ defense certainly is capable of duplicating this type of situation, and it will be up to both the offense line and Bell to show the ability to win these “and goal” situations to put six points on the board.

Le’Veon Bell left guard for 8 yards, TOUCHDOWN. 3rd & 5; 3rd quarter 2:15 left.

Want to see the Red Sea part? Just watch the play above a couple times. From the 8-yard line the Steelers run a play they love to deploy from the shotgun. With 3-wide receivers, defenses can’t load the box to stop the run, especially with Bell in the backfield and a threat as a receiver. Pulling right guard David DeCastro creates a perfect crease for Bell to literally walk into the end zone.

This type of play is what distinguishes the Steelers’ red-zone offense in 2016 from the unit in 2015. Last year Pittsburgh was entirely too pass-happy in the red area and it killed their overall percentage at the points where it mattered most. This year, they have stayed balanced, if not leaning more on the run, and it has paid off in a big way. They will have to continue this trend against the Chiefs to punch their ticket to the conference championship game.

Shotgun formation Matt Moore pass short right to D. Williams for 4 yards; Touchdown. 3rd & goal; 4th quarter 6:02 left

Now we flip to the defensive side of the football. Miami’s lone score was a play you can expect the Chiefs to run on Sunday...a lot. The Steelers are running their usual red-zone zone coverage schemes, and you have to watch William Gay at the bottom of your screen to see where things went amiss.

Ross Cockrell clearly has the back portion of the end zone, and Gay carries his man too far inside before passing him off. When he does this, he gets caught up in the proverbial “wash” and before he can recover to pick up the running back out of the backfield, it is too late and the Dolphins have scored an easy touchdown.

Before putting all the blame on Gay, there is also a possibility Bud Dupree was supposed to pick up the back out of the backfield. Dupree hesitates at the line of scrimmage, before going after Moore, leaving the back alone and able to walk in for six points.

Regardless of blame, this was a blown coverage. It often gets overlooked, because the Steelers won easily, but if the red-zone defense doesn’t improve heading into the Divisional round, expect a lot of these plays from Alex Smith to Tyreek Hill and company.

Conclusion:

The Steelers red-zone offense and defense have to be at their best on Sunday if they want to advance in the postseason. At home, the Pittsburgh red-zone defense is tremendous, but on the road they are 26th in the NFL. If they can force the Chiefs to kick field goals, all while the offense is putting touchdowns on the board, there’s no doubt the Steelers will be punching their ticket to New England to play the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.