The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their first home game of the 2018 regular season on Sunday afternoon against the Kansas City Chiefs in what figures to be an exciting game with quite a bit of scoring. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their first win of the 2018 season.
No thrill from Hill – Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill might be small in stature but there’s no denying that he has a knack for producing big plays on both offense and special teams. Hill, who was selected by the Chiefs in the fifth-round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of West Alabama, has already registered 32 regular season plays of 20 yards or more during his young career, an average of one a game. If that’s not enough, he’s already returned 4 punts and 1 kickoff for touchdowns with his latest one being a 91-yarder last Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers. Sunday will mark the third time Hill has played against the Steelers during the regular season and his fourth if you include the playoff meeting between the two teams a few seasons ago. Surprisingly, the Steelers defense and special teams units have done a great job of limiting Hill’s explosiveness in previous games. In fact, Hill has yet to register an offensive explosive play against the Steelers heading into Sunday. If the Steelers defense can hold him to just one on Sunday and it not be a touchdown, it will go a long way in helping them win the game. If, however, Hill flips the field multiple times on Sunday, it could be a long day for the Steelers.
Make Hunt peck for yards and LBs – Is Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt one of the league’s most overrated young players at his position? Perhaps. Hunt got off to a great start during his rookie season but from the midway point and on he was very inconsistent, just like the rest of his team was. Against the Chargers in Week 1, Hunt rushed for just 49 yards on 16 total carries with a long of 13. Only 4 of those 16 rushes were scored as successful ones. Last week in their tie against the Browns, the Steelers defense did a reasonably good job at containing the Cleveland running backs outside of five consecutive runs during the first drive of the third quarter. Not only do the Steelers need to make sure that Hunt pecks hard for every yard he gets Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field, that side of the football also needs to attempt to find out if the running back’s pass protection has improved since his rookie season. If you remember, Steelers inside linebacker Vince Williams had a field day with the Chiefs running backs last season and I doubt very seriously that Hunt is looking forward to another game of pass protecting against him.
Chiefs secondary must be Ben’s primary target – if you watched the Chiefs Week 1 game against the Chargers you saw a Kansas City secondary that’s probably going to be very susceptible to the deep pass at least until safety Eric Berry returns to the field from his injury. While Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers only connected on 4 of his 14 total deep pass attempts against the Chiefs for 98 yards and a touchdown, he should have had at least 3 more completions and at least another touchdown. Rivers’ receivers didn’t do him any favors on a few of those throws and the Chargers quarterback was off target on at least one other one. The Chiefs starting secondary against the Steelers on Sunday should include Kendall Fuller and Steven Nelson at cornerback and Eric Murray and Ron Parker at the two safety spots. Additionally, a 31-year-old Orlando Scandrick should be the Chiefs sub package cornerback and him being on the field should be a great matchup for whoever he lines up across. That whoever figures to be JuJu Smith-Schuster. If Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can still grip it and rip it Sunday at Heinz Field, he should have a big day and especially when it comes to his deep passes. Wide receiver Antonio Brown might have 150 or more receiving yards against the Chiefs.
Cam can against Cam – Despite ending the week listed as questionable with a knee injury, Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward is expected to play Sunday against the Chiefs. Heyward really should be looking forward to playing against the Chiefs because their left guard will be Cameron Erving. Heyward has really dominated Erving in previous meetings and especially when the Florida State product played left guard for his previous team, the Browns. The main focus of Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler on Sunday should be to get Heyward singled up on Erving during the game as many times as he can. Heyward should have a nice-looking start sheet after Sunday’s game is over and if he doesn’t, some digging into the tape needs to be done to find out why.
Make St. Patrick’s arm win it – The Steelers defense needs to make Chiefs second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes win Sunday’s game with his arm and by connecting with targets others than Hill. Assuming the Steelers defense can once again limit Hill in the passing game, that will leave Mahomes with fellow wide receivers Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley, De’Anthony Thomas and tight end Travis Kelce as his other key pass catchers. Against the Chargers in Week 1, the Chiefs used a lot of heavier personnel groupings that included fullback Anthony Sherman and tight end Alex Ellis being on the field at different times with Kelce. If the Chiefs get behind early, they might be forced to use more 11 personnel groupings and it will be interesting to see how the young quarterback plays in such situations. Keep in mind that while Mahomes did throw 4 touchdowns last Sunday against the Chargers that two of them were essentially hand-offs on nicely designed, yet poorly defended, goal-line plays. Throw those two hand-offs out and Mahomes was 13 of 25 passing against the Chargers. He did is damage deep down the field as he was 5 of 9 for 136 yards on pass attempts that flew in the air more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. The Steelers defense must force Mahomes to prove he can once again win a game by throwing deep down the field and hopefully while trailing on the scoreboard to boot.