The Chiefs’ goal Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) at Heinz Field is actually pretty simple – emerge victorious to keep postseason hopes alive.
That is easier said than done, of course, if considering the teams’ history against each other.
The Chiefs are 10-19 against the Steelers and 4-9 overall in games played in Pittsburgh, including 0-2 at Heinz Field.
The Chiefs’ last win in Pittsburgh was almost three decades ago, a 24-19 win on Dec. 21, 1986 at Three Rivers Stadium.
Still, the Steelers are far from invulnerable this season, evidenced by losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-12), New York Jets (3-11) and New Orleans Saints (6-8). Of note, Pittsburgh’s losses to the Buccaneers and Saints came at Heinz Field.
Kansas City is capable of winning Sunday’s road game if the Chiefs accomplish these four tasks:
The Chiefs’ issues against the run are well-documented through 14 games leading to ranking 28th in the league against the run (132.6 yards allowed per game).
Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell offers arguably the biggest test of all the rushers the Chiefs have faced this season given how Pittsburgh utilizes the second-year pro.
Bell ranks second in the league in rushing with 1,278 yards and second in yards from scrimmage with 2,043 yards, which, of course, includes 765 yards receiving on 76 catches.
In a game of “pick of your poison” when it comes to facing the league’s No. 1 offense, limiting Bell’s effectiveness on the ground tops the list of what the Chiefs must do.
Kansas City should mirror what happened in Week 15 when it limited the Oakland Raiders to 78 yards rushing on 17 carries and forced the Raiders to throw the ball 56 times.
Duplicating that effort will make the Steelers a one-dimensional offense, which plays to the next section.
STRENGTH ON STRENGTH
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is on a hot streak the past eight games, passing for 2,822 yards, a healthy average of 352.8 per game, with 21 touchdowns against five interceptions. Roethlisberger currently ranks second in the league with 4,415 yards passing and leads the NFL’s second-best aerial show (306.7 yards per game).
The Chiefs, however, haven’t allowed a 300-yard passer on the season, a remarkable statistic considering the team has faced the likes of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers.
The Chiefs rank second in the league against the pass, allowing 199.2 yards on average per game, and the team’s 38 total sacks, anchored by outside linebacker Justin Houston’s 17, are tied for seventh.
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, the league’s leader in receptions (115) and yards receiving (1,498), presents an obvious problem. And running back Le’Veon Bell will remain active in the passing game.
But the Chiefs are better equipped to deal with Pittsburgh’s passing attack if the defense has success in limiting Bell on the ground.
TAKE THE SHOTS
The Chiefs showed a willingness to throw deep in Week 15, highlighted by a 48-yard pass completion from quarterback Alex Smith to rookie wide receiver Albert Wilson down the middle of the field.
That attack mentality should have opportunities Sunday against a banged up Steelers secondary, which ranks 28th in the league against the pass (252.9 yards allowed per game).
The Steelers could be without safety Troy Polamalu (knee) and cornerback Ike Taylor (shoulder, forearm), both of whom are listed as doubtful.
Polamalu didn’t practice the entire week, while Taylor was limited.
MAKE MOST OF OFFENSIVE SNAPS
The Chiefs once ranked among the league leaders in third-down efficiency, but have slipped to 15th (41.1 percent) in the league based on dismal performances since Week 12.
Kansas City is a woeful 12-of-50 (24 percent) on third-down efficiency during that span.
The Steelers lead the league in time of possession (33:11), and the Chiefs must return to early season form when sustaining drives, which includes converting on third-down opportunities, was the norm.
Keeping the ball on offense allows the defense to rest. And more importantly, controlling possession keeps the Steelers’ high-powered offense on the sidelines.