If you thought the offensive matchup for the Steelers was problematic last week in Philadelphia against the Eagles, then don’t expect it to be much easier against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday night at Heinz Field.
Given the expected absence of starting strong safety Robert Golden (hamstring) and inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee), the duty will fall to Jordan Dangerfield and Vince Williams to step in and try to limit quarterback Alex Smith and the Kansas City offense, but that might not be as easy of a task as it sounds.
The Steelers defense has forced four turnovers in three games, facing an offense that has committed five in the same span. But only one of those turnovers has been a Smith interception, and he has thrown only 21 picks as opposed to 64 touchdowns in 49 games since becoming the Chiefs’ signal caller in 2013.
More specifically, in four career games against the Steelers, Smith has thrown three touchdowns and only one interception, logging a passer rating of 86 or higher in each of the last three. Expecting another performance of that quality wouldn’t be out of the question given the Steelers’ injury situation and an already underperforming pass rush.
Both teams have dynamic running backs making their 2016 debuts as Le’Veon Bell returns to the starting backfield for the Steelers after serving a three-game suspension and Jamaal Charles will play in his first game for the Chiefs since tearing his ACL last October. Both are explosive, versatile, yardage-gaining gluttons who can exploit the weaknesses of a defense in the running and passing game.
Add up these factors and the expected result could be a high scoring game, provided the Steelers keep the Chiefs’ pass rush quiet, having logged only three sacks of their own in their first three games. It becomes even more imperative to keep Ben Roethlisberger clean since left guard Ramon Foster is out with a bruised sternum, leaving B.J. Finney to replace him while making his first NFL start.
As potentially dangerous as it sounds, a high-scoring game might be the best possible scenario. Despite slot receiver Eli Rogers being out with turf toe, getting Bell back at least gives the Steelers a semblance of the offense we’ve expected them to have, but we haven’t seen much of for the past few seasons.
For a better idea of that potential, think about the pre-season game in New Orleans where the Steelers’ offense moved the ball with relative ease in the first few drives. Roethlisberger spread the ball around evenly between Bell, Antonio Brown, DeAngelo Williams and Jesse James. Even more so, that version of the Steelers offense made moving the football look easy, and it will have to do the same thing again to avoid back-to-back losses.
Likewise, the Chiefs will have their offense as close to complete as they could hope for with Charles returning as one of their centerpieces. If Smith is able to continue his M.O. of making simple plays and avoiding mistakes, along with healthy doses of Travis Kelce in the red zone, it could be problematic and create a back-and-forth battle of the 90-combined-point variety.
Two potentially efficient offenses plus two relatively toothless defenses? You do the math; and hang onto your abacus because you might have to do a lot of it before this one is all said and done.