As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for their Divisional Playoff matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, the simple hope would be that the Steelers’ offense would score 43 points to replicate their 43-14 win during Week 4 at Heinz Field. But it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the defense, who forced two first quarter turnovers to give the offense favorable field position.
The Chiefs built their success this season on two things: minimizing turnovers on offense (17) and causing them on defense (33). Their plus-16 turnover margin was tied with the Oakland Raiders for the most in the league, but in the five games this season when Kansas City had a negative turnover margin, their record was 2-3. Given they only lost four games, that statistic stands out, especially since one of them came at the hands of the Steelers.
The Steelers made the most of Kansas City’s first turnover during their October meeting early in the first quarter, when Spencer Ware takes a 1st down hand-off up the middle, but Stephon Tuitt knocks the ball loose and Ross Cockrell recovers on the Chiefs’ 32-yard line. Three plays later, Ben Roethlisberger threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey to give the Steelers an 8-0 lead after a two-point conversion.
On the Chiefs’ very next drive, quarterback Alex Smith attempts a screen pass to Ware off the left side, but Cameron Heyward makes two specific plays: first, he sticks out his left arm to interrupt Ware’s route, and then he raises his right arm to deflect the pass. Jarvis Jones catches the ball in his bread basket for the interception and returns it down to the Chiefs’ 4-yard line. The Steelers needed only one play to score this time: a 4-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown, giving them 15 points off turnovers in less than four minutes. Kansas City was held scoreless until they finally tallied two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
During this Week 11 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chiefs trail 12-10 early in the fourth quarter, but have driven inside the Bucs’ 10-yard line. Off the play-action fake to Ware, Smith tries to throw to Chris Conley in the end zone, but forces the pass into double coverage. Safety Chris Conte steps in front of the pass for an interception and returns it 53 yards near midfield. On the ensuing drive, Jameis Winston threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Alan Cross to put the Bucs ahead by nine, and eventually decide the 19-17 final score.
The Chiefs are a team that has built its resume on not beating themselves, but there have been opportunities to take advantage of rare mistakes. If the Steelers can exploit at least one Sunday night, it could be the edge they need to walk out of Arrowhead Stadium with a second playoff win. Such an expectation shouldn’t be that surprising. After all, they’ve done it once before already.