By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers went on the road for two weeks straight earning two wins, the most recent against the Atlanta Falcons. Both games were tests for the Steelers who look to be coming together at just the right time this season on offense and defense. On Sunday, the Steelers will host a Kansas City Chiefs team that is coming off of a 31-13 win over the Oakland Raiders. The Chiefs haven’t been spectacular in 2014, but the Steelers have had their own share of messy and mediocre games. With both teams fighting for entrance into the 2014 NFL playoff picture, Sunday’s game winner will have to earn it.
Kansas City head coach Andy Reid is familiar to the Pittsburgh Steelers and he has been under a ton of scrutiny this season from fans. After a three-game losing streak, Reid insisted the Chiefs has just lost their swagger and that it would show up again. His statements could have blown up in his face if the Chiefs hadn’t had a five-minute rebound during the second half of week 15’s game. Clinging to a slim 10-6 lead in the third quarter, Kansas City defense recovered a fumble and the offense caught on fire.
Even Chiefs beat writers are saying that the team should be concerned about the meeting with Pittsburgh at Heinz Field. One big reason is that Kansas City has struggled this entire season in stopping the run. They were able to contain Raiders rusher Latavius Murray, holding him to 59 yards on 12 carries on Sunday. Le’Veon Bell is a dual-edged sword on offense that the Steelers won’t just stop feeding the ball to, something the Raiders did in Week 15’s game against the Chiefs. The second biggest reason is that Kansas City has been vulnerable to fast receivers, especially those who take the top off of their defense. The fear is that Ben Roethlisberger, with excellent awareness, will pick targets at will from Antonio Brown to Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant and Heath Miller. The Steelers can’t focus on deficits their opponent may have.
Alex Smith is a quality quarterback and was able to pass for 298 yards against the Raiders and has thrown for 2,954 yards this season for 18 touchdowns (a 93.9 passer rating). Smith commands the Chiefs offense and has Travis Kelce, Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles and Anthony Fasano all over 20 receptions this season, with Kelce and Bowe leading the way. Through week 15, Kelce, a tight end, leads the Chiefs with 56 catches on 72 targets for 747 yards and five touchdowns. Bowe has 51 receptions for 667 yards but has yet to score a receiving touchdown.
The Chiefs have also brought up Albert Wilson over Donny Avery in the receiving game. Wilson is in his rookie season and has 11 receptions for 173 yards. While Smith has the arm strength and awareness at quarterback to find targets, the Chiefs have worries about consistency in their passing game. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., believes that the Chiefs should clean house in their receiving corps following this season. “I think they have to,” Kiper said. “I would say it’s mandatory. I wouldn’t say just one. I would draft threee of them…” Kiper’s analysis could be due to the fact that Kansas City has only put together 18 receiving touchdowns total.
Charles and Knile Davis are the rushing game for Kansas City this season. Charles is a bruising back that can threaten any defense on the ground and has good hands. With 950 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, Charles is complimented well by Davis who has 438 yards on 123 attempts for six touchdowns. Against the Raiders, Smith completed the longest pass of the season to Davis. It was a five yard pass that Davis took for another sixty-five yards, albeit with the closest defender slipping on the play.
The Steelers have an opportunity to shut down Kansas City if they can continue to force the Chiefs to lose fumbles (a trend this season), create defensive turnovers and pressure Smith in the pocket. While the Chiefs haven’t been an overly penalized team, they earned 11 for a loss of 84 yards against Oakland. Up-front pressure will be critical for Pittsburgh on defense to keep Smith from hurting the Steelers deep. Offensively, the Steelers have potentially the same number of weapons, but they are performing at a much higher level. Pittsburgh needs to keep momentum swinging in their favor, control the game clock and handle business. If they can do this in front of the home crowd, Pittsburgh will get their opportunity to challenge for the AFC North championship.
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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on