Two down and 14 to go for the Chiefs after a road win against the Steelers, KC’s first win at Pittsburgh since 1986.
First-year starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ record-setting performance has garnered much national attention — he set an NFL record with 10 touchdown passes in the first two games of the season — and the defense weathered the storm unleashed by Steelers All-Pro quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers.
Here are some observations/thoughts on what we might glean from the snap counts from Sunday’s game. Those figures are tracked by the NFL.
Do not panic: The gamebook put out by the NFL Stats and Information System listed right tackle Mitchell Schwartz as having played 98 percent of the offensive snaps or having missed one out of the 58 snaps while the rest of the linemen were listed as having played 100 percent.
The reason this is significant is that Schwartz has a consecutive snaps streak that dates back to his first season in 2012. A 6-foot-5, 320-pound California native who played his first four seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Schwartz has started every game of his career and played every snap. Well, until now?
Schwartz replied to a tweet on Monday from a person asking about the end of his streak. Schwartz replied, “The sky is not falling, it was a clerical error and is being corrected.”
Tight end Travis Kelce, who played every snap of the opener, was also listed as having played one shy of every offensive snap.
Spreading them thin: The Steelers’ offense shelved the running game after the first quarter and started going with empty backfield, multiple-wide receiver sets and forcing the Chiefs secondary to reach deep in order to match up. Not to mention the Steelers took 82 offensive snaps. Basically, it was the football equivalent of trying to wear down a starting pitcher in order to get into the bullpen.
“We had to start scoring points,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said after the game. “When you get in a hole like that, you have to find ways to score and you’ve got to score quick. It makes you run the no-huddle and it makes you throw the ball every play, pretty much.”
While safety Ron Parker and cornerback Steven Nelson played 99 percent of the defensive snaps (81 snaps each), Eric Murray, Kendall Fuller, Orlando Scandrick all played at least 90 percent of the snaps. Defensive backs Armani Watts (20 percent, 16 snaps), Tremon Smith (six percent, five snaps) and Jordan Lucas (1 percent, 1 snap) were also on the field for defensive snaps. Charvarius Ward was inactive for the game, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry remains out because of a heel injury that sidelined him the entire preseason.
Inside linebacker Anthony Hitchens (94 percent, 77 snaps) was the only front-seven player to play 90 percent or more of the defensive snaps against the Steelers.
Welcome back: Tight end Demetrius Harris played 29 percent of the offensive snaps in his regular-season debut. He sat out the season opener as he served a suspension for a violation of the NFL substance abuse policy. The Chiefs went into the first game without a third tight end, and they pressed fullback Anthony Sherman into double duty to fill that role as well as his usual fullback responsibilities.
Harris did not have a target in the passing game, but he gave the Chiefs some flexibility as far as personnel groups. They even went three tight ends a few times late in the game as they attempted to run out the clock and protect the lead.
Alex Ellis, the third tight end on the depth chart, played one offensive snap against Pittsburgh after having played 18 percent (10 snaps) of the time in the opener.
Get in there young fellas: Even with Hitchens playing more than 90 percent of the time on defense, the linebacker group also had to rely on its depth on a humid day in Pittsburgh.
It’s also worth pointing out that even in the first quarter, when the Chiefs built a 21-0 lead, their three scoring drives lasted a total of 13 plays, which meant the defense kept going back onto the field. Pittsburgh forced the issue with its spread offense out of the shotgun and with multiple receivers and, at times, wide receiver Ryan Switzer lined up in the backfield. The absence of versatile running back Le’Veon Bell (contract holdout) may have changed how the Steelers approached spreading the Chiefs out. Bell is a dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield or split out wide.
Reggie Ragland missed some time because of what was called a stinger, but he did return. Ragland finished having played fewer snaps (30 percent, 25 snaps) than starting outside linebackers Justin Houston (85 percent, 70 snaps) and Dee Ford (79 percent, 65 snaps) as well as backup inside linebacker Terrance Smith (52 percent, 43 snaps). Smith played 45 percent (37 snaps) in the season opener. Ford played just two more snaps than the previous week, while Houston played seven more.
The stinger contributed to Ragland coming off of the field, but against a pass-heavy offense the Chiefs will likely get Smith time on the field in clear coverage situations.
Rookie Breeland Speaks played 24 percent of the snaps (20), which was similar to his playing time in the season opener. Second-year outside linebacker Tanoh Kpassagnon also got onto the field (13 percent, 11 snaps). Rookie Dorian O’Daniel also had one snap after not getting on the field, defensively, in the opener.