By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report WriterFollow @GZSports_ZM
After a dominant victory over the Dolphins, the Steelers will have their hands full with the Kansas City Chiefs. The two teams met Week 4 in primetime, which resulted in a 43-14 Steelers victory at home. At that point in the season, the Chiefs hardly looked like a playoff-caliber football team and the Steelers were struggling to find an identity on defense.
Fast-forward three months, and both football teams look completely different than they did in October. The Steelers have relied heavily on Le’Veon Bell and a balanced offensive attack. On defense, the Steelers have been one of the best teams in the league at getting after the quarterback and have appeared to be a much stingier unit that earlier in the season. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have been one of the hottest teams in the league over the second half of the season, largely to the emergence of rookie all-purpose phenom Tyreek Hill and a suddenly dynamic offense. But what do the Steelers need to do to slow down the Chiefs and punch their ticket to the AFC Championship game?
Take Advantage of the Chiefs’ Porous Run Defense
This is no secret: Le’Veon Bell has been arguably the best running back in the NFL over the Steelers eight-game winning streak. He has the ability to single-handedly take over a game and will look to do much of the same against the Chiefs. The Chiefs have the NFL’s 26th-ranked run defense, averaging a whopping 121.1 yards per game. Even if the Chiefs are able to lock up the Steelers passing attack, Bell is more than capable of getting the job done on the ground. Look for the Steelers to expose the Chiefs’ porous run defense and rely heavily on Bell, especially with the bad weather in Kansas City.
Contain Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce
Tyreek Hill has been one of the breakout stars of the NFL during the second half of the season. Hill poses a threat as a receiver and a running back, but more importantly, he is one of the most electrifying return men in the league. With three return touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns, and six receiving touchdowns, Hill has the potential to break off a big play anytime he has the ball in his hands. The Steelers have given up a number of big plays this season, especially on special teams. To have a chance against the Chiefs, they must find a way to slow down Hill and prevent the big plays. Travis Kelce, on the other hand, has been one of the best tight ends in the NFL this year and shares the same big-play ability as Hill. The Steelers have struggled against tight ends in recent memory, and Kelce will provide another challenge for them this week. Expect Ryan Shazier and Sean Davis to see a lot of Kelce over the middle and deep down the field. The Steelers’ defense can demonstrate how much they have truly developed by shutting down the Chiefs two biggest playmaking threats, instantly making their offense (and special teams) much less dynamic.
Protect the Ball on Offense
This season has been a very up and down season for Ben Roethlisberger. It is no secret that he hasn’t been great on the road and the numbers show that. At home this season, Roethlisberger has completed nearly 71% of his passes, has thrown 21 touchdown (vs. only 7 interceptions), averaged over 260 passing yards, and had over a 115 passer rating. However, on the road Roethlisberger has thrown just nine touchdowns with eight interceptions, completed under 60% of his passes, averaged under 240 yards passing, and had a passer rating of just 78. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have forced 18 interceptions this season (tied for 1st in the NFL) and have 15 fumble recoveries (1st in the NFL). The Chiefs have been the most opportunistic defenses in the league and the Steelers cannot afford to give up the ball on offense, as every drive will be critical for the Steelers. If Roethlisberger can protect the ball and not turn the ball over, the Steelers will greatly increase their chances of success.
Prediction: Steelers 27, Chiefs 21
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