As we’ll do every week to get you ready for the upcoming game, our X-Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. Here’s our X-Factor for Sunday night’s playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Turnovers. Turnovers. Turnovers. Tell me that number today and I could tell you the outcome of Sunday night’s game. Or at least know if the Steelers have a chance.
When you lose by 26 points like Pittsburgh did in Week 16, there’s usually a lot that went wrong. But at the top of the list are turnovers. The Steelers turned the ball over three times. Kansas City? Not once. Giving the ball up three times against the Chiefs is like starting a race against Usain Bolt and giving him a ten-meter head start. Making an impossible situation somehow more difficult.
Not only did Pittsburgh turn the ball over three times, it led to 17 of the Chiefs’ 36 points. The first turnover came via a failed first quarter flea flicker, putting Mahomes and company at the Steelers’ 49-yard line. Kansas City took advantage and promptly marched the half of the field into the end zone for a five-yard Bryon Pringle touchdown.
The second came on Diontae Johnson’s self-inflicted fumble early in the third quarter. The Chiefs ended up at their own 49 and ran the same script, Pringle finding the end zone seven players later.
The third was the cherry on top of an embarrassing day, Kendrick Green blowing a pass block and getting Roethlisberger tackled from behind leading to a fumble and near-touchdown. The Chiefs *only* got a field goal out of it, primarily due to the fact Chad Henne replaced Patrick Mahomes and apparently greased up the football, fumbling it on two of his three snaps.
Telling a team they need to win the turnover battle is obvious enough. But for Pittsburgh, I think it should go further than that. The Steelers not only need to win the turnover battle, but they need to not turn the ball over at all. Even being +1 against the Chiefs, taking the ball away twice and giving it away once, might not be good enough, simply because the Chiefs’ offense is far more potent and is more likely to do more damage with one chance than the Steelers do with two.
In a perfect world, Pittsburgh takes the ball over at least twice and doesn’t give it away at all, putting them +2 for the day. That is the path to an upset. It wouldn’t ensure one, nothing is guaranteed when facing Mahomes, Kelce, and Hill at their house, but if you want to imagine what a victory looks like, that’s the building block. Will it happen? The Steelers have only done that once this season, +4 in their Week 15 win against the Tennessee Titans (zero turnovers, four takeaways). And they still barely won that game. But they won. And in the playoffs, winning is all that matters.