1. Can the Steelers build a wall Patrick Mahomes can’t (yet) climb?
Right now, it’s reasonable to think anything is possible for this young quarterback. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, it’s likely that a time is coming when there won’t be an NFL defense Patrick Mahomes can’t beat. So here’s the question: is that time is coming sooner, or later? Playing against Pittsburgh’s blitzes and zone coverages will be the hardest test Mahomes has yet faced. If he passes this test, that time is likely coming soon.
2. Can the Chiefs make Ben Roethlisberger less effective — even a little?
Remember after the playoff loss to the Steelers, when there was all the discussion about how ineffective Alex Smith had been?
Well... “Big Ben” didn’t play any better. Smith and Roethlisberger’s passer ratings were nearly identical in that game, which was one of the primary reasons it was so low-scoring and was ultimately decided by a holding penalty.
Roehtlisberger has a passer rating about 10 points higher at home than he does on the road. (I checked on about a dozen quarterbacks with similarly long careers. It’s not unknown for this to happen, but it’s not common). Let’s face it: Big Ben is going to make plays whether he’s at home or on the road. But if the Chiefs can make him play more like he’s at Arrowhead instead of Heinz Field, they’ll have a fighting chance.
3. Can the Chiefs stop the Steelers rushing attack?
It’s a mistake to simply assume that without Le’Veon Bell on the roster, the Steelers will suddenly be unable to run the ball. While it’s true that Bell has been extraordinarily effective against the Kansas City Chiefs — averaging 6.5 yards per attempt against his career average of 4.3 — there’s a problem. His name is Jame Conner.
In Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers running back gained 135 yards on 31 carries, and scored two touchdowns. That’s 4.4 yards per attempt — against a team that gave up only 3.4 in 2017. That’s bad news not only for Bell — who would undoubtedly prefer that the Steelers miss him a little more — but also for the Chiefs. The offseason moves to strengthen the run defense are going to need to pay dividends.
4. Can the Chiefs move the ball with a lead?
Nobody would call you a fool for being more confident than usual that the Chiefs could end up getting a lead on the Steelers in this game. if they do, will they be able to protect it by moving the ball on the ground? The Chargers game didn’t give us a lot of confidence that they can. Maybe there’s just one more thing they need...
5. Can the Chiefs bring the physicality and attitude they need?
In a press appearance this week, Chiefs offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz was asked about the toughest part of playing the Steelers.
“I think it’s their physicality and their attitude,” he responded. “That’s the biggest thing that jumps out when you think of the Steelers — and especially the Steelers defense. That’s their calling card, and that’s what they’re going to rely on when they need to. Obviously that offense can put up 40-45 when they need to as well, because they have some really good players over there. But I think everything in Pittsburgh starts with that defense. You have to bring the right mindset and the right physicality to combat that, because you know it’s going to be an all-day affair with them.”
I can’t say it much better than that.