KC Chiefs vs. Steelers: Snap counts show some defensive surprises

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 05: Willie Gay Jr. #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts after his tackle on fourth down against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium on December 5, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 05: Willie Gay Jr. #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts after his tackle on fourth down against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium on December 5, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images) /

The final results of the Kansas City Chiefs win in the Wild Card round over the Pittsburgh Steelers wasn’t surprising to anyone who watched K.C.’s first victory over Pittsburgh back in Week 16. Both games were lopsided affairs, and the Steelers showed that playoff expansion wasn’t the best idea.

Still, there were some surprises within the game even if it had nothing to do with the final score. The game’s snap counts were one facet that held a lot of surprises based on who got playing time and how much.

Here’s our look at the Chiefs snap counts from the Wild Card round and what it revealed about the team.

Zayne Anderson is playing more

Given the serious miscues from Zayne Anderson in the not-so-distant past, it felt safe to say that the Chiefs were going to quickly end the experiment of keeping the rookie safety on the active roster. There are other such players (fringe defensive backs who can contribute via special teams) already on the practice squad a la Devon Key (and certainly there are others the Chiefs could sign to produce similar results).

However, on Sunday night, the Chiefs not only kept Anderson in the game for his typical load on special teams—a role he’s played since Week 16—but the team also gave him six defensive snaps against the Steelers as well. Note that Anderson didn’t play a single defensive snap for the entire regular season and now, even after some late-season mistakes, the Chiefs are leaning into more playing time.

This isn’t a judgment call on the Chiefs. The truth is that mistakes can’t be allowed to define a burgeoning player, and the Chiefs coaches are clearly seeing something they like in Anderson in terms of what he can offer here and now as well as later. However, it is surprising and Chiefs fans will have to make sure not to place the wrong label on Anderson too early if the Chiefs are pressing him for more.

Willie Gay goes missing

Willie Gay is exactly the sort of do-it-all playmaker at linebacker that the Chiefs have been missing on previous runs through the postseason, which is what makes his development in 2021 so exciting. However, we’re also scratching our heads wondering why Gay played fewer snaps on Sunday than any other single game this season.

On Sunday, Gay played a total of 17 snaps (or 25 percent) of all defensive snaps. He was behind Nick Bolton, Anthony Hitchens, and even Ben Niemann, but there wasn’t any announcement (we can recall) of an injury for Gay. Nor did Andy Reid even address any concern for him in his post-game remarks. It just looks like Gay played the least of any linebacker just because.

Coming into the game, Gay was listed on the injury report with a wrist injury but he was a full participant all week (and didn’t even have a designation coming into the game). Maybe it’s worse than what the Chiefs let on, but either way, it’s a concerning point to watch.

Turk Wharton leads tackles

Speaking of odd amounts of playing time, Turk Wharton led all defensive tackles in total snaps for the Chiefs on Sunday—even more than Chris Jones (51 percent) and Jarran Reed (50 percent). Wharton had 40 total snaps (or 59 percent) which made him the lineman with the second-most playing time on Sunday.

Wharton certainly came up big on a number of plays and his uncontested sack of Ben Roethlisberger was fun to see. There was also the leaping grab when he dropped in coverage that could have been an impressive interception. The deficit of the game likely kept Wharton in the mix more than most, but that didn’t stop Frank Clark from playing more than Wharton. Perhaps the Chiefs were wanting to rest Jones with such a lead. Not a bad move but we just didn’t expect to see Wharton here.

Playing it safe with Darrel?

Given Jerick McKinnon’s incredible display as a well-rounded back on Sunday, no one is going to complain at all about the level of playing time for any running back. However, it’s interesting to note that Williams was healthy enough to play on Sunday yet only got a few more snaps than Derrick Gore.

On the day, McKinnon had 51 offensive snaps compared to 8 for Williams and 6 for Gore. If the Chiefs were wanting to play it safe with Williams given his recent toe injury, then why play him at all? Clearly, McKinnon was dominating and Gore would have been good for a few more reps. Then again, was Williams being punished for his fumble on the T.J. Watt touchdown?

The backfield was already going to be interesting enough when Clyde Edwards-Helaire is ready to return. Given the snap counts from the Steelers’ game, however, this unit will be tough to project. Hopefully, they will also be tough to stop.

Next. Six encouraging signs from Chiefs over Steelers. dark