The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a rough start to this 2017 season. 3-2 sounds decent for an average NFL team; however, this team is well beyond average. Last year, the Steelers were ranked #7 in total offense. This year: #17. And for many who believe the Steelers offense is their identity, it has been the complete opposite this season. Their defense is ranked #3 in total defense, #1 in total passing yards allowed per game.
Coming off a rough loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 30-9, the Steelers are looking for a major bounce back win. Déjà vu possibly, because they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in week three of last season 34-3, and came into Heinz field and handed the Kansas City Chiefs some walking papers by dismantling them 43-14 the following week. Unfortunately, they will be tying up their laces in one of the most hostile stadiums in the NFL, Arrowhead Stadium.
The last time the Steelers played in Kansas City, they won the divisional round of the 2016 playoffs by not even scoring a touchdown. Hey Chris Boswell, they might need you to carry the load again!
Matchup #1: JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Phillip Gaines
How about this “key” matchup, huh? Obviously, wide receiver Antonio Brown vs. cornerback Marcus Peters is a must-watch matchup, but this is a matchup that will be “key” for the Steelers to win this game. JuJu Smith-Schuster has been playing as one of, if not, the best receiver in this rookie class (injuries for 1st rounders of course). For this game, expect Smith-Schuster to get at least seven targets. The slot worked out very well for Pittsburgh in the times that they have played KC. Eli Rogers, as an example, was the main slot receiver in the Divisional Round victory, where he had five catches on seven targets. Rogers will most likely be activated this week after being inactive the last few, but I expect JuJu to see the field much more.
Smith-Schuster is the physical slot that every team dreams of, and with Brown and Martavis Bryant getting most of the attention from the safeties, Smith-Schuster will be available for crossing routes, drags, and seam routes. Phillip Gaines has not been playing his best football, having a grade on PFF of 36.5. This Chiefs secondary has been lost with the loss of workhorse safety Eric Berry, ranking 25th in pass defense. Pittsburgh has some sneaky ways of involving their receivers. Brown in the Divisional Round playoff game last year had a 52-yard reception coming from the slot. The matchup ended with Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston trying to cover him. Matchups like that are what the Steelers will be looking for. That slot position will be used a good amount on Sunday.
Matchup #2: Kareem Hunt vs. Ryan Shazier
This is my favorite matchup, mostly because of the incredible performance that inside linebacker Ryan Shazier has been putting on this season. He is fourth in the league in tackles, has eight passes defended, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and one recovery, all of which is either first or tied for first for linebackers. Shazier is my DPOY favorite right now, but this Sunday should show his true worth in this league. He goes up against a rookie running back in Kareem Hunt who has been outperforming every other running back and has more than 100 yards than the next running back on the yardage list.
Hunt is a one-cut back, which we have seen week in and week out. He has had just one game under 100 yards, but don’t let the stats fool you. Last week against the Houston Texans, Hunt gained 107 yards on 29 carries. That is only 3.7 yards per carry. In his game under 100 yards, he had 81 yards on 13 carries, but 53 of those yards came off of one run. Yes, this kid is a front runner for MVP and has completely turned heads in the NFL world, but he is containable. Will the Steelers be able to execute? Hard to say. The run defense has been anything but consistent, and it will rely heavily on Shazier. If running back Le’Veon Bell played linebacker, you would get Shazier. In the run game, this man is nearly impossible to block because he does not commit to a hole, he waits for the back to come to him. Just by watching film on him has been like Christmas morning, a gift to watch. Let’s see how the pro-bowl linebacker fares against the rookie sensation.
Matchup #3: David DeCastro vs. Chris Jones
Down in the trenches, I am looking forward to this bloodbath. The #1 ranked guard in the NFL right now, David DeCastro, has faced guys such as Linval Joseph (#9 according to PFF), Michael Pierce (82.9 PFF Grade), and Malik Jackson. Throughout all the tough matchups, he has yet to give up a sack (per PFF), has only two holding calls, and is almost flawless when blocking for Bell. The all-pro will have his hands full, however, with Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones.
Jones is the 11th ranked defensive tackle according to PFF, and has had 3.5 sacks with an interception to go along with that. As much as I think DeCastro will win this matchup, and as much as I believe the ball will be ran on the outside of him, don’t expect Jones to go unnoticed. He will switch continuously with Allen Bailey. With a front four that might include outside linebackers Dee Ford and Houston on the edges, that Steelers line will have its hands full. The 27th overall defense in Kansas City will have an even matchup with this struggling Steelers offense, but if the offense is going to breakout, this is the game to do so.
Plus, this will be the first game commentated by Tony Romo, so that’s got to mean something.