This is the most unique week the Kansas City Chiefs have faced this season. They are now in a win or the season is over mode, which makes Sunday against Pittsburgh the equivalent of a playoff game. It may not be labeled as such but the factors say otherwise. The Chiefs will be on the road in a hostile environment. They will be facing an explosive offense and an attacking defense. Kansas City has an opportunity to take their game to the next level or ... they can fall flat on their face.
Either way, the game this weekend is the second biggest game in the tenure of this regime. Who rises to the top in pressure moments will say a lot about where this team is right now and where they're headed. Here are the keys to a victory Sunday.
1) Containing The Counter
The play below is a 27 counter out of a three tight set. Every good NFL team has a play they can execute to perfection regardless of the front. This is that play for the Steelers. They typically like to run this between six to 10 times a game. David Decastro is the pulling guard and Heath Miller is essentially the fullback. The line blocks down. Decastro kicks out the first defender and Miller clears the hole. Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell has wide open space to run.
The Steelers have used this play to close out games against the Titans, Bengals and Falcons. To stop this play you need to overload to the opposite side of Miller. After that the key to containing Bell is to force him to stop and restart. If he has top speed by the time he hits the hole he will likely have a first down. On the perimeter runs, he has to be forced back inside to pursuit by the outside backer or corner.
2) Utilize Play-Action
The Steelers front seven is aggressive. They want to make teams one dimensional by stopping their run game and forcing them into long passing situations. The problem is that their backers can't cover very well and the safeties don't have top end speed. So they can be exploited very easily with play-action passes. The line will need to give Alex Smith time but the opportunity for big plays in the intermediate passing game is there. A couple of shots on the deep post will be there as well. The secondary has a bad habit of peeking in the backfield.
3) Misdirection and Screens
The Steelers being an aggressive football team makes them susceptible to misdirection. The Jets utilized Percy Harvin on end arounds combined with fake pitches. The Browns also attacked the Steelers with misdirection for a big victory. The Titans utilized their fake read options to set up screens on the perimeter. The Falcons found a great deal of success with the screen game as well.
De'Anthony Thomas and Albert Wilson can be tremendous assets this week in this part of the game. Pittsburgh is aggressive but slow in their back seven. The Chiefs have made a .500 season on creating just enough space through misdirection.
4) Double Moves
Ike Taylor and William Gay have trouble with the double moves. If the safeties are flat, the move is there. The Saints, Titans and Bengals all found success in the double move against these corners. The line will need to give time for the routes to develop but Jason Avant, De'Anthony Thomas, Travis Kelce and Albert Wilson can have fun with this route. It has led to very explosive plays against Pittsburgh.
5) Eliminate the Explosion
The Steelers wide receiving corp is very explosive. Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton can cause a lot of headaches. The crew will make plays against the Chiefs. They will catch some big passes and move the chains. The key is to not let them beat the defense deep. The Steelers can score a 70-yard touchdown in less than 10 seconds. Pittsburgh has 50 plays of 20 yards or more this season. The two deep method can go a long way this game. Another option is to force Ben Roethlisberger to take his eye away from looking downfield. When he has to move around in the pocket, he will drop his eyes and force on the rush at hand. Teams have has success bringing three to four rushers. The Steelers are not a great pass blocking team. So forcing Roethlisberger to hold onto the ball and look at the rush will help tremendously in eliminating those plays.
6) Don't Forget Heath
Miller seems to be the forgotten target in this offense. He is one of the most reliable receivers that Roethlisberger has when he is in trouble. He is big for the offense on the tight end delay. Teams have a habit of giving him clean releases and he is able to move the chains with ease. Miller is also a solid blocker. He is a huge weapon in the red zone down the seam or on goal-line plays to the back of end zone off play-action.
7) Find the Tight End
The Steelers have a tough time with opposing tight ends. The team typically has to utilize a safety on them because of their coverage struggles at linebacker. The athletic tight ends are a mismatch for their safeties. Play-action passes are their worst enemy against the tight end. It creates so many voids their secondary can't recover from speed wise. On the play below Jordan Cameron ran a post route for a 51-yard touchdown with play-action off the stretch run.
8) Rise Above
This is a big week for players wanting to be on the Chiefs roster in 2015. This team has only put one complete game together this season, which was the New England Patriots game. All three phases of the team were firing at the same time. The Dolphins and Seahawks games were close but had setbacks at certain moments in the game. This week the players have to find an intensity they have yet to show this season. Their season and some of their jobs are on the line this Sunday. The roster needs to play like it. When they suffer a bad call or sustain a penalty they have to overcome it. If they give up a big play, come back with an even bigger play. This game shows how far this team has come since January. Or the finishing motto is just hollow words that don't resonate with this bunch.