On Sunday evening, the highest quarterback rating and the stingiest passing defense are going to be pitted against one another in the form of Alex Smith for the Chiefs playing host to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their secondary.
For many, there are still a lot of questions about the validity and the stability of the stature of each. Smith has been in the league since 2005, and yet has basically never played like this. The Steelers’ secondary was not projected to take this sort of jump this quickly, but they also have not been given a very serious test.
Smith’s quarterback rating is 125.8. The Steelers’ passer rating allowed as a team this season is below 70. Smith has thrown 11 touchdowns, more than two touchdowns per game. The Steelers have only allowed three passing touchdowns. Smith has yet to be picked off. Pittsburgh has picked off five passes.
The discrepancies go on and on. Smith is averaging nearly nine yards per pass attempt, which is phenomenal. It is the highest among starting quarterbacks. But the Steelers are only allowing 5.4 yards per pass attempt, which is the lowest in the entire league.
One thing that could play into their hands here is that Smith can be gotten to. He has been sacked 17 times already, and the Steelers have recorded 17 sacks as a team this season, so the pace at which he gets sacked and the pace at which they get sacks line up serendipitously.
A major component of his success, however, has been his deadly accuracy. He is completing 76.6 percent of his passes this season, while the Steelers allow only a middle of the pack completion percentage against. His targets are not necessarily incredibly deep, but that is not how the team has been hurt this year.
But the major problem, of course, is the simple fact that they can turn their offense over to the running game, with star rookie Kareem Hunt leading the way. While the run defense has not been poor on a play to play basis, they have been susceptible to allowing the big play against the teams who have chosen to keep at it.
The fact that Smith has that sort of running game to fall back on him only makes him all the more dangerous as a passer. The status of star tight end Travis Kelce will be key in the game, although they did control him relatively well when they have played recently.
It will also be a big stage for Ben Roethlisberger to step up and go toe-to-toe with another former first-round quarterback from nearly the same time period. There are many who are questioning his level of motivation; well, if that doesn’t light the fire under him after coming off a five-interception game, then I suppose nothing will.