Keys to the game: Steelers @ Chiefs

Dec. 21, 2014; Pittsburgh; General view of the line of scrimmage in the Week 16 game between the Chiefs and Steelers at Heinz Field. (AP Photo/Tom Puskar)

Dec. 21, 2014; Pittsburgh; General view of the line of scrimmage in the Week 16 game between the Chiefs and Steelers at Heinz Field. (AP Photo/Tom Puskar)

Here are the offensive, defensive and special teams keys for the Kansas City Chiefs (1-5) in Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) at Arrowhead Stadium.

OFFENSE

The first key to winning for any football team is to score one point more than the opponent.

Scoring points has become a problem for the Chiefs offense, as they have just two touchdowns in the last three games.

In losing to Cincinnati, Chicago and Minnesota, they averaged 16 points per game. Overall they are averaging 21.2 points per game; that ranks No. 22 in the league at this point in the season.

That’s a problem when the opponent, in this case the Steelers is ranked at No. 8 in scoring, averaging a field goal more per game.

As it has every week during the 2015 season, the offensive focus must fall on the big guys up front and their ability to protect Alex Smith and open up some sort of running room for Charcandrick West and Knile Davis.

Smith has taken a pounding and has been taken down 23 times, the second-most sacks in the league right now behind Seattle’s Russell Wilson with 26. Pittsburgh is tied for sixth in the NFL in sacks with 17.

The poster boy for the underachieving Chiefs offense so far in 2015 would be Travis Kelce. Much was expected from Kelce this season and he has produced 29 catches for 416 yards and two touchdowns over six games. But in the last three games, he has 13 catches for 172 yards, an average of 4 catches for 57 yards per game.

And, Kelce hasn’t grabbed a touchdown pass since the season opener against Houston.

There’s no discounting the fact Kelce has spent more time blocking this seasons than expected because of the poor pass protection. However, that doesn’t explain a fumble (Cincinnati), silly penalties (Minnesota for slamming his helmet to the ground) and dropped passes (Green Bay for one example.)

The Chiefs offense needs more from Kelce. Opposing tight ends have had minimal success this season against Pittsburgh; New England’s Rob Gronkowski (5 catches for 94 yards and 3 TDs) and San Diego’s Antonio Gates (9-92-2) are the only tight ends that produced much of anything against the Steelers.

DEFENSE

The Chiefs aren’t sure if they’ll see Ben Roethlisberger or Landry Jones running the Steelers offense on Sunday and that presents a wide spectrum of possibilities for their defensive preparation.

Obviously, if Roethlisberger returns from his injured knee then the level of competition takes a big leap forward. Jones did a good job replacing the injured Michael Vick last week in Pittsburgh’s victory over Arizona, but those were the first 27 snaps of his NFL career.

Whether it’s Big Ben or Sooner Landry, the Chiefs defense must put pressure on the quarterback. The Steelers are without their best offensive lineman in center Maurkice Pouncey and last week lost left tackle Kelvin Beachum. They’ve allowed 16 total sacks, placing them tied for No. 23 in sacks allowed.

One man the Chiefs know they’ll see is running back Le’Veon Bell, as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield. Last Sunday, they had success keeping the lid on a similar back in Adrian Peterson of the Vikings (just 57 offensive yards.) Near the end of last season, Bell had just 72 total yards (63 rushing) on 21 touches against the Chiefs defense at Heinz Field in a Pittsburgh victory.

In recent weeks, the Chiefs have been giving up big plays in the passing game, 20 completions in the last four games of 20 yards or more.

That includes four catches of 50-plus yards.

Pittsburgh has big-play potential among their receivers in Antonio Brown and the recently returned Martavis Bryant. In his first game back after serving a four-game suspension, Bryant had six catches against Arizona last Sunday with two touchdowns, including an 88-yard play.

How Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton handles the coverage with his top cornerbacks will be interesting to see. Rookie Marcus Peters has the foot quickness and reactions to best handle Brown, even when Pittsburgh’s leading receiver is in the slot. Sean Smith has the size (6-3, 218) to handle Bryant (6-4, 211), but does Smith have the speed?

SPECIAL TEAMS

This should be one area where the Chiefs need to gain an advantage, enough to make up for their haggard offensive point-production.

Statistically there are no glaring difference between the teams in the kicking game with the exception of punter, where Dustin Colquitt gives the Chiefs an edge over Jordan Berry. Kickers have been a problem all year for the Steelers, as they are on their fourth, with two on the injured-reserve list. Chris Boswell has come in and hit all five of his FG attempts.

In the return game for the Chiefs appears to be all De’Anthony Thomas, not only the punt returns, but also kickoffs with Knile Davis getting more attention in the offense.

Thomas is still waiting for a big return. Pittsburgh uses Brown as their punt returner and he’s scored three times on punts, with another on a kickoff. Dri Archer handles the kickoffs but he did not find the end zone as a rookie last season.

It’s now been eight games since the Chiefs have reached the end zone on a punt or kickoff return. That’s the longest stretch in the Andy Reid era without a return score on special teams. The Chiefs need one against Pittsburgh.

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Bob Gretz is the senior editor for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @BobGretzcom.

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