The Pittsburgh Steelers have a ton on the line in their home game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. The team’s chances of clinching a playoff birth largely rest on their ability to stop or at least slow down Kansas City’s potent rushing attack featuring the two-headed monster of Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis. Keeping Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith contained and limiting explosive plays from tight end Travis Kelce are tough orders but make no mistake, stymying the Chiefs running attack is the top priority.
If the Steelers can stifle the Chiefs’ running game they can win this ball game. The Chiefs passing attack is not potent enough to carry the offense. Alex Smith doesn’t turn the ball over but the Steelers defense has to take the run away in order to force him into some third and longs and get this offense off the field.
One player who will need to step up big in order to stuff the run is nose tackle Steve McLendon. McLendon has performed admirably over the last couple years but is still a fan favorite as team whipping boy along with cornerback William Gay. Many Steelers fans still seem to pine for the days of “Big Snack” Casey Hampton, but in reality McLendon is exactly what this defense needs.
McLendon has been crucial in efforts to stop the run and will be even more of a linchpin this week against a heavy zone running team featuring two dangerous backs. Jamaal Charles is averaging 5.2 yards per carry and his backup Davis is averaging 3.6 yards per carry.
The Steelers linebackers are going to have a tough time keeping Charles from bouncing outside and outrunning them. Maintaining gap discipline on the defensive line will be crucial in making sure Charles and Davis don’t gash the Steelers up the middle. McLendon’s presence is also beneficial to rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
If defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau uses Ryan Shazier more heavily this week to cover Travis Kelce, McLendon’s performance will be even more important because the defensive line will have to make sure he’s covered up.
Much like former backup defensive tackle Chris Hoke, McLendon is one of the Steelers’ best defenders against the zone-blocking scheme. McLendon has the lateral agility and vision to move down the line and not allow holes to develop. He also does a great job of keeping his body square against the offensive line. If the Steelers can stuff the run in any way, shape, or form against the Chiefs it will be because of Steve McLendon.