The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium in a Divisional Round playoff game that will feature some very cold and rainy weather. The Steelers will look to repeat their Week 4 win over the Chiefs and move on to play the New England Patriots next weekend in the process. Below are seven things that I believe the Steelers will need to do Sunday night order to come away with a road playoff win and advance to the AFC Championship game.
Alex and Chains – It’s long been documented that Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith isn’t great when it comes to converting third and long situations through the air. In fact, he has a long history of even throwing short of the chains on third downs. The Steelers defense must get Smith in as many 3rd and 6 or longer situations as they possibly can Sunday night as that will present their best opportunity to get off the field. As you would imagine, Smith’s conversion rate when facing 3rd and 5 or less is over 50% this season. He’s only converted 26.9% of 3rd and 6 or longer situations, however. The Steelers defense, on the other hand, finished in the bottom third of the NFL during the regular season when it comes to getting off on 3rd and 6 or longer. They allowed first downs 33.3% of the time in those situations and the average for the NFL was was 28.6%. In their final 8 games, the Steelers defense allowed a 43.6% conversion rate on 3rd and 6 or longer pass plays and that was second-worst in NFL.
King of the Hill – Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill is a very dangerous player because of his speed and open-field running ability. The Chiefs love to get the football to Hill in several different ways and that includes having him line up in the backfield as a running back. The Steelers defense absolutely must not allow Hill to get to the edge on runs or wide receiver screens. If Hill catches a quick slant over the middle, he needs to be popped hard and quickly. Remember, he’s not the biggest of players. Hill will also be returning punts and kickoffs Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium and the Steelers must treat those special team plays very thoughtfully. Hill took a punt to the house against the Steelers back in Week 4 and luckily it was wiped out by a block in the back penalty. Hill is an explosive play waiting to happen and the Steelers will improve their chances of winning if they can prevent the West Alabama product from flipping the field multiple times.
Screening for Vengeance – Remember the Steelers loss to the Philadelphia Eagles earlier in the season? That game was right before the Steelers played the Chiefs. Eagles running back Darren Sproles caught 6 passes in that game for 128 yards and a touchdown and 123 of those yards came on two plays. The offenses that have been creative with screens to their running backs have had some success against the Steelers defense this season. Expect the Chiefs to use Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West and Hill in the screen game Sunday night. Combined, Ware and West had over 60 receptions during the regular season and the former was fantastic after the catch.
Patience with Patient Bell – Conditions and situations will be ripe for Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell to have another solid game Sunday night. With that said, the Chiefs don’t normally give up the big play on the ground even though Bell hit them for a few back in Week 4. Bell’s patient running style against a 3-4 front might require a bit more patience than usual from Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Opposing offenses ran up the middle a ton against the Chiefs defense this season. Additionally, the Steelers would be wise to run several split zones, counters and darts to their left as that’s the Chiefs weakest side of their run defense. The less Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has to throw down the field Sunday night the better.
Shorten the field again – The Steelers offense hasn’t had many short fields to work with so far this season. In fact, only 12 Steelers drives starred inside their opponents 45 yard line during the regular season and 3 of those drives came against the Chiefs back in Week 4. Oh, all three of those drives resulted in touchdowns. The Steelers haven’t gotten much from their kick and punt return teams so far this season and so Sunday would be the perfect time for those units to deliver the football to the offense on the Chiefs side of the 50 at least once.
High percentage Ben – Roethlisberger doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards and 5 touchdowns Sunday night against the Chiefs like he did back in Week 4 in order for the Steelers to win the rematch. For starters, the Chiefs were missing a starting cornerback in that game and their offense and special teams also provided the Steelers offense three short fields to work on. In this Divisional Round game, Roethlisberger just needs keep it fairly short and sweet much like he did against the Miami Dolphins in the Wild Card game, sans the intercepted and almost intercepted throws. Roethlisberger must pick his deep shots wisely in this game and stick with the dump-offs to Bell, mesh routes underneath, and short RPOs otherwise. He’ll be facing a Chiefs defense that finished tied for the league lead in interceptions as they always seem to be around the football.
Wreck the Ford – Yes, Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston will likely play Sunday night and thus rotate with Tamba Hali. Those two, however, don’t scare me as much as Dee Ford does on the other side. Ford not only leads the Chiefs in sacks with 10, he’s also managed to register 17 total quarterback hits and countless pressures. Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva will have his hands full with Ford Sunday night and might need some help in form of a tight end or chipping back. Ford needs to be kept away from Roethlisberger in this game at all cost.