The Pittsburgh Steelers will be heading into Arrowhead this week to take on the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC Divisional playoff matchup. These teams last met up in Week Four on Sunday Night Football. The Steelers jumped out to an early lead and piled on, finishing the game with a 43-14 win. Kansas City had no answers for Pittsburgh’s offense, but that was over three months ago. This time around the game will take place in Arrowhead, in frigid temperatures, during an ice storm. It’s shaping up to be the best matchup this weekend.
Kansas City Chiefs Divisional Round Keys to Victory
Keep Le’Veon Bell in Check
In order to control the pace of Sunday’s game, the Chiefs will need to dominate time of possession. Pittsburgh’s offense is one of the most explosive in the league, so limiting their opportunities needs to be a top priority. Utilizing Spencer Ware early and often will keep the clock running and more importantly keep Le’Veon Bell on the bench.
It’s no secret that the Chiefs run defense has been sub-par this season. The losses of Allen Bailey, Jaye Howard, Justin March-Lillard, Ramik Wilson, and Derrick Johnson, have left a gaping hole, as opponents average 120.4 yards a game on the ground against them. Pittsburgh will undoubtedly try to exploit this giving Bell a heavy workload. The obvious counter to this for Kansas City would be to stack the box with seven to eight players. Bob Sutton may drop linebackers into zone or spy coverages instead of the usual blitz packages we see.
Bell is a very patient runner who doesn’t drive head first into the designated hole. Instead, he sits back and reads the offensive line in order to determine where to go. Blitzing the holes and gaps is a real gamble with a runner like that. You have the chance of getting to the ball carrier before a hole develops, but you also run the risk of over pursuing one way. By leaving linebackers in zone coverages over the middle, they can adjust to wherever Bell decides to take the run. Limiting Bell’s effectiveness will be key, since it will force Ben Roethlisberger to throw the ball more.
Force Ben Roethlisberger to Throw
This may seem counter-productive, especially after Ben Roethlisberger threw for five touchdowns the last time these two teams have met. However, this time around there are some key differences, the first being the weather. Kansas City is projected to be dealing with an ice storm, rain, and high winds, all of which are difficult conditions to throw the long ball in.
Secondly, Roethlisberger has not been played well on the road this season. At home, he has 20 touchdowns, with only five interceptions and a quarterback rating of 116.7. On the road is a different story, as he only has nine touchdowns and eight interceptions, with a 78.4 passer rating. It’s a pretty stark contrast.
Thirdly, Roethlisberger is still nursing an injured ankle. More importantly, it is on his plant foot. An injury like this could limit the strength behind his throws, as well as hamper his ability to move within the pocket. The Chiefs pass defense has really improved as the season has gone along. At the end of the season, they ended up ranked seventh overall in pass defense. With all this considered, I’d much rather have Roethlisberger throwing the ball than Bell running it.
Negate the Blitz
In Week Three the Steelers defense was picked apart by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles head coach Doug Pederson (Kansas City’s former offensive coordinator) essentially runs the same offense as the Chiefs. The Steelers spent most of the game in zone coverage and gave cushions to receivers, which gave rookie quarterback Carson Wentz time to let routes develop and coverages break down.
The next week the Steelers hosted Kansas City and turned a 180, blitzing early and often, while jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. It’s likely the Chiefs will see plenty of this on Sunday. One of the scarier parts of the Pittsburgh pass rush is inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, whose exceptional speed and instincts allow him to make an offensive line pay for even the slightest mistake.
Enter Travis Kelce.
The best way to negate this speedy pass rush is to send Kelce into the gaps left by blitzing linebackers. Due to Shazier’s speed, he would probably end up covering Kelce if necessary. That’s one less pass rusher to worry about. I’d expect to see plenty of two-back sets as well, to either provide extra protection for Smith or quick outlets if the blitz gets through. If Kansas City wants to move to the AFC championship, sacks and negative yardage plays will need to be kept to an absolute minimum.
Sunday’s match-up is going to be a tough, grind it out game. Don’t expect the blowout we saw earlier this season. These are not the same teams we saw 15 weeks ago. Factoring in the cold, a boisterous crowd, and an elite defense heading up against an elite offense, there’s not much more you could ask for in a football game. Viewers should all be in for a real treat this weekend.