KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The first AFC divisional playoff game in Kansas City since 2004 shared a disturbing characteristic with that game for Chiefs fans — they home team could not find a way to get its defensive off the field.
The Pittsburgh Steelers controlled much of the first half in building a 12-7 halftime lead. The Steelers controlled the clock for 20 minutes, 15 seconds in the first half. That echoes back to the divisional playoff game between the Chiefs and the Indianapolis Colts. The Chiefs failed to force a punt in that game, falling 38-31 to the Colts.
Andy Reid’s game plan opened up with a series of plays built around misdirection. A full house formation with Spencer Ware, Tyreek Hill and De’Anthony Thomas lined up in the backfield resulted in a 7-yard gain for Hill on a sweep to the right side. The Chiefs returned to that look four plays later, but this time Smith faked the handoff and rolled to his left, finding Albert Wilson for a 5-yard touchdown pass.
The Steelers used no trickery in moving the ball in the first half, relying simply on the combination of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Bell and Brown each chipped in 101 yards — Bell with 101 yards rushing and Brown with 101 yards through the air. The Chiefs defense did succeed in keeping the Steelers out of the end zone, however, limiting the damage to four field goals.
Pittsburgh finished the first half with 275 yards on 42 offensive plays, compared to 106 yards on 20 plays for the Chiefs.
Smith finished the first half 10-of-14 passing for 78 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Spencer Ware led the team in rushing with 13 yards on three carries. Travis Kelce led Kansas City receivers with two catches for 34 yards.
Keys to the second half for the Chiefs:
CONTAIN LE’VEON BELL
The ability of Bell to pick up first downs and prolong drives allowed the Steelers to dominate time of possession in the first half. The Chiefs defense cannot stay on the field for 20 minutes or more again in the second half.
Eric Berry and Ramik Wilson both laid big hits on Bell in the first half, but the patient running back frequently found space between the tackles to penetrate the Chiefs defense and rack up yards. The front seven needs a better performance in the send half to close the gaps and provide Bell less running room.
KEEP UP THE OFFENSIVE CREATIVITY
Reid’s initial game plan took the Steelers by surprise, but the following drives didn’t fool the Steelers as much. The Steelers generated a turnover on a familiar play-action pass, and nearly found another on a wide receiver screen pass.
The Chiefs need a sustained drive to open the second half to set the tone. Another creative drive would go a long way toward putting the Chiefs back in the driver’s seat.
FORCE A TURNOVER
The Chiefs are the NFL’s best team at creating turnovers, and Berry did produce one big interception that stopped a Steelers drive in the end zone. That pick helped erase a Smith interception on the previous drive.
Kansas City needs to generate another turnover or two to overcome the Steelers. The defense hasn’t found a way to force the Steelers to punt, so getting off the field with a turnover may be the only solution.