KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the Kansas City Chiefs (2-1) visit the Pittsburgh Steelers for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff of Sunday night football, one Pro Bowl running back definitely makes his 2016 season debut and another one certainly could.
The Steelers (2-1) know they have back Le’Veon Bell, who returns after serving a three-game suspension for a second violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. But the Chiefs (2-1) may counter with their own returning star, Jamaal Charles.
The Chiefs listed Charles as questionable for the Steelers game, and coach Andy Reid labeled Charles as day-to-day after Friday’s practice.
“It’s been good,” Reid said of Charles in practice this past week. “He’s done a little bit of (starting) team, a little bit of scout (team). He’s mixed it in and out and looks like he’s getting better all the time.”
The return of Charles would add to the Chiefs depth at running back heading to Pittsburgh. The team already ruled out running back Charcandrick West for the game with an ankle injury. That just leaves the team with backs Spencer Ware and Knile Davis.
Bell’s return also give a new look to the Steelers offense, which posted sluggish performances without him through the last three weeks. The Steelers rank 18th in the NFL with 100 rushing yards per game and 14th in passing with 254 yards per game.
The Chiefs know the damage Bell can afflict. He picked up 121 yards on just 17 carries last year at Arrowhead Stadium in a 23-13 Chiefs win. Reid’s defense has struggled against the run so far, tied for 24th while allowing 123 yards per game.
“I think we’ve gotten better with that from the first game,” Reid said. “But again every week is a different challenge. You’ve got to really be gap sound against this crew or you’ve got problems.”
Pittsburgh carries a reputation for defense, but the offensive triumvirate of Bell, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown powers the current generation of Steelers.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton remains wary of the challenge Roethlisberger presents his defense.
“He has the unique ability to extend the play for it seems like months when you’re on defense,” Sutton said. “He stays back there and finds guys. He has great vision when he’s scrambling, when he has people hanging on him.”
But Roethlisberger has struggled so far in 2016, averaging almost 50 yards less per game than a year ago and a completion percentage down almost nine points along with four interceptions.
That could play into the strength of the Chiefs defense, which thus far has thrived on turnovers and ranks 11th against the pass while allowing just 225 yards per game through the air.
CHIEFS SECONDARY INJURIES
The Chiefs hope to have their entire secondary intact Sunday night to face Roethlisberger.
Cornerback Marcus Peters, who received AFC defensive player of the week honors for his two interceptions against the New York Jets, missed two practices this week with an illness. Phillip Gaines, the right-side starting cornerback, is listed as questionable after tweaking his knee against the Jets.
If Gaines cannot play, Reid said Steven Nelson likely slides from his role in the nickle offense to assume more playing time. That likely means increased looks for cornerback D.J. White and safety Daniel Sorensen in the team’s nickle and dime defenses.