Chiefs vs. Steelers: 3 questions Kansas City has to answer
The Chiefs have an uphill battle this week against the Steelers in a must-win game that will shape the playoff picture. Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White sees three things the Chiefs will have to do to have a shot.
The Chiefs and Steelers contest this Sunday might as well be a playoff game. The Chiefs, at 8-6, can’t win their division, and they’re sitting behind teams like the Steelers and Ravens when it comes to Wild Card seeding. The Steelers still have a chance to win their division, but if they lose this game they’re more than likely going to be on the outside looking in for the postseason. Needless to say this is the very definition of a must-win game for both teams.
Now, I am going to be honest, because this is the first time that something like this has happened so far with my preview columns. I don’t see a way for the Chiefs to win this game, realistically. I mean I know what they have to do to win the game, I just don’t think they can. I have had doubts before. Hell, I wasn’t sure the Cowboys could get three sacks last Sunday for that matter, but I have never felt this strongly that one team was overmatched in too many areas for them to win.
That probably means the Chiefs will win in a blow out. I’m just telling you what the film and the numbers are telling me. Please try to keep that in mind when you read the three questions I came up with that will be the key to determining the outcome of the game. If the Chiefs can answer these questions correctly, they likely will win. That just happens to be a big “if” this week.
1. Can the Chiefs intercept Big Ben once or twice?
Sometimes numbers tell you weird things. For instance, the Chiefs are the No. 2 defense in the whole NFL against the pass. That’s pretty good, right? But they are also dead last in interceptions, with only four for the whole team. That’s pretty damned pitiful.
So what is the takeaway from those two rankings? You put it alongside the film and you come to understand that the Chiefs play tight coverage most of the time And they do a great job limiting the yardage opposing teams gain through the air each game. At the same time, the defense, particularly the secondary, isn’t doing a very good job of making the big plays that are usually needed to win. Breaking up a pass is nice, but picking it off can be the difference between winning and losing a game. We all know the old adage about turnover ratio and the teams making the fewest mistakes usually winning, well sometimes turnovers aren’t just a plus, they’re a must.
That’s how I see this game playing out. The Chiefs will do a good job in coverage, but eventually Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is going to get them. He always does. The only way to prevent that will be to limit his opportunities by forcing turnovers. If the Steelers throw the ball 30 times, the Chiefs will have to pick off at least one of them if they expect to win this game.
Roethlisberger has only thrown eight interceptions all season. And guess what, the only two games where he threw an interception and his team still won came against the Titans and the Browns, two teams with offensive limitations of their own. Hell, take it a step further. The only two games when Roethelisberger threw a pair of interceptions were both losses. If the Chiefs really want to guarantee a win on defense, just go ‘head and pick off Big Ben twice, and that should be all she wrote.
I do think they will have opportunities to intercept Big Ben. I just hope for their sake that the whole Chiefs’ secondary spent a little extra time with the Juggs machine this week.
2. Will the Chiefs score at least 27 points?
Here is another question that would seem to scream out the answer NOOOOOOO!!! But, I honestly think it’s what the Chiefs will need in order to take down the Steelers. Consider this: the Steelers have scored 27 or more points in seven of their last eight games. That’s what you call consistent production. The one time they only scored 13 during that span was the aforementioned game against the Jets when Roethlisberger threw two interceptions, so, yeah.
Want to know how many times the Chiefs have scored 27 or more points?
Four times all season, including last week’s 31-13 thrashing of the lowly Raiders. One of those touchdowns last Sunday came on an 81-yard punt return by rookie return man De’Anthony Thomas. Technically the offense was still responsible for less than 27 points.
Still, Thomas is an electrifying return man, and the defense can really get after the passer. They do have a chance. I don’t think they can keep up with the Steelers on the scoreboard if they rely only on their offense, but if they can get big returns from Thomas and/or a defensive score, then the Chiefs will have a legitimate shot for the upset. If not, it’s going to be a looooong day. Especially if the best player on that offense, Jamaal Charles, isn’t 100 percent.
3. Are the Steelers going to be able to feed Le’Veon Bell 21 or more carries?
This may be the most damning issue I see for the Chiefs going into Sunday’s game. The Chiefs rank 28th in the league against the run, surrendering almost 133 yards a game on the ground. It just so happens that the Steelers have a running back that is second in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,278. He goes by the name Le’Veon Bell; maybe you’ve heard of him.
Bell has run the ball 21 or more times in seven games this year. Only once did the Steelers lose; and the score was still 32-35 in that one. When the Steelers are feeding Bell he tends to be productive and the whole offense eventually lights up the scoreboard. What sucks for the Chiefs is that being sixth in the league in sacks, 38, adds motivation for the Steelers to feed Bell over and over all game.
However, there is also something bothering me since the Steelers dumped LeGarrette Blount a few weeks back. Lead backs tend to get worn down near the end of the season when the weather gets bad and teams start leaning on their running game more. In the last three games the only Steelers other than Bell and Roethlisberger to carry the ball were rookie running backs Dri Archer and Josh Harris. What happens if Bell goes down this week with an injury that keeps him out a significant portion of the game? That has to be a legitimate concern since the guy has already carried the ball 262 times and caught 76 passes and still has two games left to play. I know they had to dump Blount because of his attitude problems, but man, it leaves them in a tight spot. This would be the absolute worst time for Bell to get dinged up. But with his workload to this point in the season, I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes down at some point during these last two games.
That might be the only way the Chiefs have a real chance to win on Sunday. Sucks, but that’s the reality of the situation.