Steelers’ Efficient Red Zone Defense Matches Up Perfectly With Inefficient Alex Smith

Once again, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ red zone defense played a heavy hand in yet another victory Sunday. James Harrison’s strip sack of Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore in the red zone was just as important to the Steelers’ victory as the multiple touchdowns scored by Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell. The strip sack by Harrison was just the latest chapter in the story of the Steelers’ daunting red zone defense. With the latest chapter set to be written Sunday about the Kansas City Chiefs, the Steelers defense could be licking their chops at the opportunity of facing an inefficient Alex Smith.

While Smith has enjoyed a fine season, throwing for 3,502 yards, 15 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions, he has had his share of struggles in the red zone. Smith has thrown three interceptions and completed just 46-percent of his passes in the red zone during the regular season. It seems that while Smith has enjoyed an efficient season in general, this efficiency turns into inefficiency once Smith’s Chiefs sniff the 20-yard line.

Smith’s struggles in the red zone play right into the favor of the Steelers’ defense, who have been the opposite of inefficient during red zone trips this season. According to Team Rankings, the Steelers defense is first in the AFC and fourth in the NFL for Red Zone Scoring Percentage. The Steelers allow a touchdown on 45.75-percent of opposing red zone attempts and are just one of five teams to be under 50-percent.

If the Steelers’ defense can contain Smith in the red zone as well as they did in the first matchup, their journey to victory can become much easier. The Chiefs were faced with a fourth and goal in two of their three red zone trips during their earlier meeting with the Steelers at Heinz Field. One resulted in a turnover on downs and the other – a garbage time touchdown with eight seconds remaining in the game.

The Steelers defense will have a prime window of opportunity to repeat their red zone efficiency against Smith and the Chiefs on Sunday. Just as Harrison’s strip sack of Moore in the Dolphins game helped take the air out of a Miami comeback bid, a red zone turnover on the road would be a huge boost at overcoming the Chiefs.


About the Author

Daniel Valente

Steelers fan from birth, spending majority of my free time looking up statistics. Had the honor of meeting Mike Vanderjagt shortly after his infamous missed field goal in the 2005 Divisional Round. Currently pursuing a Journalism degree. Follow me on Twitter @StatsGuyDaniel

  • PaeperCup

    Don’t take anything for granted. I am more worried big plays.

  • Jason Vancil

    We just can’t lose a 17-13 game. The offense has to score points. If we score 24-27 points we win.

  • Gizmosteel

    Good Ben vs Evil Ben will determine that. I sure hope good Ben shows up. No stupid interceptions!

  • What was the scoring percentage of the defense/ST? like 45% of their total points. That says 2 things. Look out for their defense and big play special teams. But it also says that their offense isn’t that great. Living in NJ, I didn’t get a chance to see too many Chief games (even at the sports bars either I’m focused on the Steelers or the Chiefs weren’t playing), but that stats clearly show they had a lot of total team wins and short field from the league leading 18 ints and league lead 15 fumble recoveries. That’s right they lead the league in both!

    This tells me two things, don’t turn the football over and corral Hill on special teams and we should win.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Very basic and correct.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Let’s hope BB gets the message

  • Kevin artis

    Stop them before they get in the red zone. We need to get off the field on 3rd down.

  • Mister Wirez

    I’m most worried a Ben and his flippant road game throws.

  • steelburg

    I agree it’s that simple. But we need to corral Hill anywhere he goes not just on special teams. This guy catches the ball, they now line him up at running back and hand it to him he is all over the place. I if we stop and and don’t turn the ball over like you said it should be a impressive win IMO. I don’t predict a blow out again but if we do those 2 things I think we will win convincingly.

  • PaeperCup

    Road Ben hasn’t been as good as Home Ben, but maybe since he had a “bad” game this week at home it means he’ll have a good game on the road.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Just win! Just go out and show out!

  • Dubb Betts

    I think Artie matches up well with hill

  • PaeperCup

    as long as he doesn’t bite on any pump fakes

  • thomas hmmmm

    This defense has quietly put together a top 10 defensive effort this season. Way better than anyone would have expected and better than the top 15 that I thought the D had to be in order to compete in the SB.

    points allowed the D is 10th with 20.4 a game
    total yards allowed a game is 9th with 315.3 a game
    rush yards allowed per game is 6th with 85.6 a game
    pass yards allowed per game is 15th with 229.8 a game
    Int’s and FF’s are middle of the league with 13 and 14.
    Sacks are 9th in the league with 38.

    The only issue with this is NE is the #1 scoring D in the league and 3rd in the league versus the run.

  • LouisLippsSinksShips

    I think if we punt every ball out of bounds and Ben throws every ball out of bounds we should win this one going away.

  • Sam Clonch


  • StrengthOfVictory

    Please no turnovers, please no turnovers, please no turnovers…

  • Paddy

    If this game was at home the Steelers would be favored by 9-10 points. On the road it’s an even game. I think the defense will be great and Bell to run wild.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    I agree with this. KC is the absolute worst type of opponent to spot points to or leave hanging around late in games. The Steelers need to score touchdowns early and hold the Chiefs to field goals. Keep a comfortable lead. And control the pace of the game (hopefully by running the ball successfully).

  • SilverSteel

    I bet the stats get wayyy better if you are only looking at the last 8 games.

  • Pretty much sums up the path to victory

  • Take care of the ball Ben. If it hits you in the hands Brown you catch it

  • Xclewsive

    Alex Smith is more than formidable in the playoffs. 60% 11/1 Td:int

  • thomas hmmmm

    Yea I imagine they do also.. I imagine top 5 if not top 3 then.

  • RickM

    Appreciate the red zone stats, but they don’t seem to lessen my worry. Last week seemed a given win at home. This week K.C. is 10-2 in their last twelve games and Reid is 19-2 off bye weeks. Wish it was in Pittsburgh, or we faced Houston and N.E. faced K.C. Oh well, winning a SB isn’t supposed to be easy. I just hope we come out with a W, no matter how we do it.

  • Rotten Sircus

    Andy Reid likes those underneath crossing patterns similar to what Doug Peterson did to us early in the year. Alex Smith is no deep throw threat & doesn’t have the WR’s to beat us with the big play but the crossing patterns with Tyreek Hill might present problems !!!