By Christina Rivers

The Pittsburgh Steelers are riding a winning streak, but face a tough Kansas City Chiefs team at home in Week 16 of the 2014 NFL regular season. Although cornerback Ike Taylor returned from an early-season forearm injury, the veteran re-injured it and isn’t likely to play on Sunday. In his absence, Antwon Blake and Brice McCain are expected to rotate into the defensive secondary. Several players spent time away from practice this week, but Head Coach Mike Tomlin indicated that every player, regardless of their place on the depth chart, would be utilized against a Kansas City team that has been difficult to predict this season.

Both Pittsburgh and Kansas City have lost to teams that had abysmal records and beaten tough teams they weren’t expected to do well against. Both teams are competing for playoff position and the game is expected to be tight. With Taylor and Troy Polamalu listed as doubtful to play on Sunday, tight end Matt Speath as questionable and a slew of additional players probable, the Steelers will need every able body. Polamalu suffered a knee injury and did not participate in any practice this week. Spaeth injured his elbow against the Atlanta Falcons, but was able to return on Friday in a limited capacity. Will Allen will likely take Polamalu’s position opposite Mike Mitchell, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Shamarko Thomas and Ross Ventrone are used on special teams and on defense. Spaeth will likely be replaced by Michael Palmer. William Gay will see plenty of playing time and has shown an intelligence this season in being able to read opponents and zero in on the ball.

Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau was open about what was expected from the Steelers defense this weekend. “You have to get 11 guys out there that can play and know what they’re doing and can coordinate what they’re doing (and) what the people around them (are doing),” said LeBeau. “You can talk forever about this position or that position. You just have to have 11 good players.” The Steelers coaching staff has appeared to be on the same page at this point in the season as to who will be utilized, when and where. Against the Chiefs, the Steelers will need a full-team effort over individual highlights. LeBeau expects that James Harrison, Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones will all get snaps on Sunday, which will be important to pressuring Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and containing the rushing capabilities of Jamaal Charles. LeBeau indicated that he believes Ryan Shazier will also see more snaps on Sunday. As far as changing up things schematically, LeBeau said, “This is week 16. I think it’s kind of late to be throwing in too many schemes. But we have plenty of defense that enables those guys to get some snaps.”

When the Steelers are on offense, they will be facing a Chiefs defense that is ranked eighth (in total defense). Kansas City is ranked 28th in rushing defense and second in the pass. Outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali have combined with nose tackle Dontari Poe to put together a solid rush, knocking opposing quarterbacks around. Ben Roethlisberger can counter the blitz by getting Le’Veon Bell running the ball from the start and getting away from it to use Bell as a receiver if Kansas City begins to get inside pressure. It will help to have Marcus Gilbert back this week with Mike Adams as an option to provide the offensive line depth.

Although Kansas City has done better against passing teams, they have shuffled seven different defensive backs. Aggressive, the combination has only created four interceptions. Some will argue that this is because the Chiefs have been preventing quarterbacks extra time to throw down the field. In the red zone, a place the Steelers have struggled, Kansas City is at the top of their game. Although Heath Miller and Markus Wheaton missed time from practice on Wednesday, Miller took a veteran day and Wheaton was ill. Both returned to the first-team practices on Friday. There is some concern over center Maurkice Pouncey’s ankle and whether he will be able to get the leverage needed to hold the middle of the offensive line. Cody Wallace could be an addition if the line struggles. 

The Steelers lead this series, 19-9 (9-4 in Pittsburgh) and have won the three of the last four meetings with the Chiefs. Two of the last four games went into overtime. In November 2012, at Heinz Field, Lawrence Timmons intercepted Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel on the second play in overtime, setting up a Shaun Suisham field goal for the win. Pittsburgh doesn’t want the game to get that close and will need to get on the scoreboard early to hold off a Chiefs team that could play spoiler in week 16.

Steelers Injury Recap

Doubtful

  • Troy Polamalu (S, knee)
  • Ike Taylor (CB, shoulder/forearm)

Questionable

  • Matt Spaeth (TE, elbow)

Probable

  • William Gay (CB, not injury related)
  • Marcus Gilbert (T, ankle)
  • James Harrison (LB, knee)
  • Steve McLendon (NT, not injury related)
  • Heath Miller (TE, not injury related)
  • Maurkice Pouncey (C, ankle)
  • Ben Roethlisberger (QB, not injury related)
  • Markus Wheaton (WR, illness)

 

For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.

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
Examiner.com.