On late Sunday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Steelers will travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the NFL’s lone unbeaten team, the Kansas City Chiefs. It will be a rematch of last season’s AFC Divisional playoff matchup won by the Steelers 18-16. The Chiefs have the league’s top scoring offense averaging over 32 points per game, rank second in total yards and third in passing yards per game. The Steelers, however, have the NFL’s top ranked pass defense and third ranked overall defense as far as yards given up per game. This will be as a matchup of strength versus strength when the Chiefs on are offense.
The Chiefs explosive ball control offense has not committed a turnover since Kareem Hunt’s fumble on the very first offensive play from scrimmage of the season. Alex Smith has the league’s best completion percentage (76.6 percent) and has gone 158 passing attempts without throwing an interception.
The Chiefs will try to deploy their usual strategy of using different formations to keep Keith Butler’s defense off balance. They’ll try to get the ball to Hunt, the NFL’s leading rusher, and Tyreek Hill in the open field who have combined for five plays of 50 plus yards this season. The Chiefs however, have given up 17 sacks already this season after only giving up 28 last season. The Chiefs also have lucky bounces with the football, as they recovered all six of their fumbles after the fumble in their season opener against the Patriots.
One player to keep an eye out for is Travis Kelce, who took a hit to the head in last weeks game against the Texans and left the game, but is expected to play. The presence of Kelce is important because the Kansas City wide receiving corps have a significant drop-off after Hill. The next leading wide out, Albert Wilson, has only 16 catches on the season and Chris Conley is on season ending IR with a torn Achilles tendon.
The Chiefs have not been quite as strong defensively this season, partly due to the loss of All Pro safety Eric Berry from an Achilles tear and cornerback Steven Nelson to a sports hernia. However, Justin Houston, despite battling injuries, seems to be rounding back into his 2014 All Pro form with 5 1/2 sacks so far this season and he will have his pass rushing partner in crime, Dee Ford, back after missing the last two games due to a back injury.
The Chiefs game plan on defense is to primarily stop Le’Veon Bell, who rushed for 170 yards in last season’s playoff game. They will also try to use Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters to shadow Antonio Brown throughout the game. I would expect for the Steelers to try to maintain balance in this week’s game, unlike last week against the Jaguars when the pass to run ratio was 55 to 16. If the Steelers maintain balance on offense they may be able to make big plays in the passing game.
Bob Sutton’s defense has given up seven plays of 40 or more yards, which is the most in the NFL. Moreover they are only 20th in the league in rushing defense, so the Steelers will have opportunities to move the ball against the Chiefs. It is just a matter of converting touchdowns instead of field goals, unlike in January’s playoff game.
Special Teams Notes
Hill leads the NFL in punt return average (12.5).
Dustin Colquitt ranks next to last in net punt return average with (37.6).
Harrison Butker has made seven straight field goals after missing his first career attempt.
The Steelers will have a more inspired effort against the Chiefs, however they have not truly been tested defensively this season like they will on Sunday. I feel that the Steelers will make their share of plays, but the Chiefs will bend but not necessarily break. This is not only a payback game for the Chiefs, but a chance to make a statement that they are the top dog in the AFC in 2017. Kareem Hunt will make the key run to put the game away in the fourth quarter for the home team. Chiefs will hold off the Steelers 28-20.