A close friend of Andy Reid’s once suggested to me that if you show the average football fan a picture of the Kansas City Chiefs’ head coach, they will either:
A) Think it’s a picture of actor Wilfred Brimley.
B) Think it’s a character from an old cowboy movie.
C) Think it’s a picture of Brimley in an old cowboy movie.
D) Have no idea WHO it is.
Compared to the daily scrutiny most NFL coaches - including Reid, when he was with the Philly Eagles from 1999-2012 - are forced to deal with, Reid has flourished in blissful pseudo-anonymity in Kansas City.
All but the most rabid fans who live outside of the KC area code neither know or, for that matter, care much about Reid. He’s quiet, his team plays in a small, midwestern market where national media coverage is sparse, and the Chiefs have been a team relatively free of off-field controversy.
Suddenly, however, Reid is Steelers Nation Public Enemy No. 1. Black and Gold fans want to know everything about Reid, one of the league’s most successful coaches over the last 17 years, and his Chiefs.
First, the bad news:
Andy Reid is a good coach with a remarkable 16-2 record in games played after a regular-season bye week.
Wait, there’s more:
Andy Reid has a perfect 3-0 record in playoff games his team played after receiving a first-round bye.
Yes, Kansas City had a bye last week.
No, it won’t mean a thing this Sunday.
Unless you’re a Fantasy Football Fanatic, statistics mean almost nothing. Whatever a coach, a player, or a team, did yesterday, or last week, or last season, is yesterday’s or last week’s or last season’s news.
What DOES matter is what will happen this Sunday, January 15, 2017, at Arrowhead Stadium, in Kansas City, beginning at 1 PM, EST, when the Chiefs host the Steelers in an AFC Divisional playoff game.
No one knows all of this better than Andy Reid. And he knows what his Chiefs must do Sunday in order to win.
First, and without a doubt foremost, the Chiefs MUST control the ball and keep the “3 Bs” on the bench as much as possible.
Reid knows that containing Ben, Bell and Brown is only possible by limiting the Steelers’ time of possession. The more they’re on the field, the more they’re going to beat you.
It all starts with RB Le’Veon Bell. Reid knows his defense won’t stop Bell completely; he’s just that good. His innate ability to wait for his blockers to open holes, then find those holes and exploit them, clearly has established Bell as one of - if not the best - running backs in the league.
If you can’t stop him, slowing him down is the obvious strategy. The Chiefs cannot let Bell pick up five or six (or more) yards on first down. Second-and-short is, as Don Shula once told me, offensive heaven.
Lots of second-and-shorts will give QB Ben Roethlisberger a heavenly advantage - and the Chiefs defense a hell of a migraine.
It will result in a longer time of possession and a shorter path to the AFC Championship game for the Black and Gold.
You can bet Reid and his defensive coordinator, Bob Sutton, have spent most of the last 10 days game-planning how their pass-rushers - Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Dee Ford - can pressure Ben and help keep Bell under 100 yards. Not an easy assignment - especially since Houston missed the first half of the regular season with a surgically repaired knee that acted up again and caused him to miss the last two regular-season games with recurring swelling.
He’s listed as questionable Sunday. He says he’ll play.
It’s the playoffs.
The question is, how will the injury affect his quickness and mobility? Expect the Steelers - and Bell - to look for an answer to that question immediately.
If the Steelers are successful on the ground, and they should be since the Chiefs were able to hold only four teams under 100 yards rushing all season, it will be “AB Time.”
Expect WR Antonio Brown and the Steelers’ supporting cast of young receivers to give a Chiefs secondary, led by S Eric Berry and CB Marcus Peters, a very busy afternoon. It won’t be pretty. It’s just not possible for any defensive back to hesitate on his drop for an extra second to watch Bell, and not get torched by Brown.
What is abundantly clear - especially to Reid - is that the Chiefs cannot play shootout with the Steelers offense. The KC offense is not designed for that. Which brings us to the game’s second key.
(See Number 1)
That’s right. Ball control, again. Time of possession. Low scoring game. The Chiefs offense has to sustain long drives and that starts with QB Alex Smith.
In 2015, Smith rushed for almost 500 (498) yards. This year he picked up only 138 on the ground.
Maybe the Chiefs were worried about protecting their investment in the quarterback? That may be good for the Chiefs’ balance sheet, but it does not bode well for their chances of advancing to the AFC title game.
If the Chiefs are to have any chance, that “protect Alex Smith” strategy has to change this week. Smith has to make it clear to the Steelers defense that he can - and will - run the ball.
Beyond Smith, the Chiefs offense has its share of legitimate threats, led by rookie WR Tyreek Hill, who finished fourth in the league in all-purpose yardage. Despite his short-stature, he not only makes the tough catch, he can run with the ball after he grabs it.
TE Travis Kelce has been a star both on reality TV (“Catching Kelce") and the football field, where he led all tight ends in receiving yards this season.
WR Jeremy Macklin gives Smith another hard target.
Expect the average Chiefs possession to look something like this...
First and 10: RB Spencer Ware (who should get the bulk of KC’s carries) will find the line of scrimmage an impenetrable wall. Expect the Steelers defense to stop Ware like it stymied Dolphins’ star Jay Ajayi, setting up…
Second-and-long: Smith will look for Kelce underneath. Sometimes that will work. Mostly, thanks to a surging Steelers linebacking corps, it will result in…
Third-and-long: Smith will look for Hill and Maclin, hoping one or both can find holes in the Steelers’ coverage to sustain the drive. More often than not, this will result in -
All of this points to a Steelers’ victory over the Chiefs on Sunday IF (and this is a HUGE if) they can avoid...
The Chiefs led the NFL with 33 takeaways and four pick-sixes this season.
This is NOT debatable. The Steelers MUST hold on to the ball.
That includes Roethlisberger, who simply CANNOT make bad decisions. He MUST NOT force the ball into tight places, where it doesn’t find an open Steelers receiver.
However, barring turnovers, the Steelers will control the clock and put up some pretty good numbers on the scoreboard and the stat sheet.
Look for a score of 27-10, earning the Steelers a spot in the AFC Championship game and sending Reid back to his anonymous ongoing task of figuring out how to win the Super Bowl.