The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday night at Heinz Field on and it will be their second home game of the 2016 regular season. Below are seven things that I believe the team will need to do in order to come away with their third win of the season.
Screen, Screen, Screen! – We have seen the Steelers defense give up chunks of yardage to running backs out of the backfield for two consecutive weeks now and it is now time to finally defend those kinds of passes properly. It’s no secret that Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith will be looking to get the football in the hands of running backs Spencer Ware and Jamaal Charles via quick swing passes and dump-offs out of the backfield in addition to quick screen passes to his wide receivers in this game and the yardage gained after those catches needs to be minimized. in other words, tackle the damn catch and do it quickly.
3rd & Alex – Smith, who is no stranger to playing the Steelers, has two main weaknesses. First, his deep passing hasn’t been very accurate for his entire career. Second, he’s been known to throw short of the chains on 3rd downs. He also likes to hold the football in the pocket on third downs and has taken several sacks so far this season on that key down. The Steelers defense would be wise to blitz Smith on third and longs in this game and hopefully force quite a few of those throughout the night.
Ring the Bell early and often – The Steelers will finally have starting running back Le’Veon Bell back on the field Sunday night and they need to use him quite a bit not only in the running game, but the passing game as well. Expect offensive coordinator Todd Haley to also use Bell in the slot in order to get him matched up against either a linebacker or a safety. Bell is primed to have a great 2016 debut against the Chiefs. The Chiefs defense can also be run on up the middle so expect Bell to get quite a few opportunities to do that via split-zone and counter plays.
Business should be Boomin’ for AB – While the Chiefs do have a great cornerback in Marcus Peters, it’s unlikely that he’ll follow Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown around Sunday night. additionally, the Chiefs other starting cornerback, Phillip Gaines, enters the game listed as questionable with a knee injury. If Gaines plays, he’ll certainly be worth picking on even if the Chiefs roll a safety to his side to help out with Brown. While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t need to force the football to Brown Sunday night, he should be able to feed him quite regularly nonetheless. Both of the Chiefs starting cornerbacks missed a considerable amount of practice time this past week as well so that needs to be taken into consideration.
Take away the short stuff early – Smith likes to get to get the ball out quickly as part of a short, rhythmic passing game that comes with the Chiefs west coast offense. In other words, Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler must let his cornerbacks play press more than he usually likes to in order to force Smith to do something he doesn’t like and that’s throw the football vertically down the field. Butler has to dare Smith to go deep on early downs.
Protect the edges – The Steelers offensive line struggled last Sunday in pass protection and especially on the edges. Tackles Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva need to rebound this week in order to give Roethlisberger time to go through his progressions if his first read is not open. While the Chiefs will be without premier pass rusher Justin Houston Sunday night, they still have quite a few players who can get after Roethlisberger from the edge in the form of outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Dee Ford.
Gilbert happy returns – While cornerback Justin Gilbert is expected to make his defensive debut Sunday night for the Steelers, it’s time to let him return kickoffs as well. If him being back deep forces the Chiefs to kick the ball deep for a touchback, then so be it as at least the offense will start at the 25-yard-line.