After a great start to the season (on the road and against a divisional opponent), the Kansas City Chiefs look to start their 2018 campaign with back-to-back road wins.
In this post, the AP Nerd Squad gives you a quick scout of their opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers offense is chock full of talent at the skill positions, particularly at wide receiver, boasting one of the best tandems in the league with Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster. They’ll be without Le’Veon Bell, who has been the Chiefs’ kryptonite in recent years, but second-year man James Conner showed Week 1 that he can handle the load. The Steelers like to use big personnel to force teams into their base defense and isolate receivers in 1v1 matchups, as well as using RPOs to get the best schematic advantage that they can while on the field. (Craig)
Key player to watch
James Conner. Running back Le’Veon Bell has been a thorn in the Chiefs’ side in recent years. With the holdout continuing through the Chiefs matchup against the Steelers, it’s going to fall on Conner to step up. Will he cause the same issues? We should know early. If Conner doesn’t have similar success to Bell in the run and passing game, that’ll make me feel better about the outlook of the game. (Kent)
How the Chiefs defense wins
The Chiefs defense will need to stay sound in their gap discipline in the run game, and the secondary is going to have to be willing to fill gaps and make tackles in support against big personnel. The Chiefs will need to put multiple looks on the field against Ben Roethlisberger, forcing him to have to take the extra second to evaluate what the defense is doing when reading players in their RPO calls. They’ll also have to make sure to make Roethlisberger pay for each of his poor decisions, as he will turn the ball over.
If the Chiefs defense can secure those turnovers, and if Bob Sutton continues some of the unpredictability he showed Week 1 against the Chargers, the defense could manage to keep the Steelers offense in check.
The Steelers defense has had the Chiefs’ number over the last few years even has they transitioned out of the zone-blitz principle into a more traditional Cover 2 defense.
Despite the transition, they continued to have success squatting on short routes and daring teams like the Chiefs to throw over the top on them or to challenge between the numbers. The strength of their defense lies up front with the spectacular defensive line, but you can challenge the second and third levels of the defense and find success.
With Joe Haden hurt, that leaves Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton as their starting outside cornerbacks while Sean Davis and a mix of Morgan Burnett and Terrell Edmunds man the safety spots. It’s a lineup of defensive backs that is very prone to coverage breakdowns as well as getting beaten in one on one matchups against quality offensive weapons. (Matt)
Key players to watch
Cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Mike Hilton. Always challenge a third corner promoted to a second corner and fourth corner promoted to a third. The depth of the Steelers’ secondary will be tested in Joe Haden’s likely absence. The Chiefs can line up some terrifying players outside the numbers like Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce. I expect the Chiefs’ offense to try and expose the lack of depth at the position. It could lead to a breakout game for a pass catcher. (Kent)
How the Chiefs offense wins
The Chiefs need to use multiple RB/TEs to force Pitt into playing their base defense and then take advantage of their lack of speed and get the ball outside of the tackle box.
The Chiefs’ jet motion should be heavily used again both as a weapon and as distraction forcing the Pitt linebackers to react late and take advantage of their lack of athleticism.
When taking to the air, the Chiefs will need to attack the high post as well as intermediate sideline (corners) zones of the defense. Whether Pitt plays man coverage or zone coverage under their two-deep safety shell, the Chiefs offense should be able to find vertical space to take advantage of.
The final curveball the Steelers will throw at the Chiefs and rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes is some zone-blitz looks. Getting the ball out quickly and do the hot reads on these plays is a key to forcing Pitt to play more predictably and passively.
Nerd Squad predictions
Craig: Sutton’s looks in Week 1 have definitely already adjusted the Steelers’ gameplan for Week 2, and if he can pull a couple more rabbits out of the hat while bracketing Brown, the Chiefs could manage to keep the Steelers offense on the sidelines long enough to allow the Chiefs offense to build up an early lead. Pittsburgh makes a comeback late, but it s thwarted by a late Kendall Fuller interception. Chiefs 38 - Steelers 31
Matt: This matchup could go differently than every other Chiefs-Steelers matchups based purely on the personnel in key areas both teams are working with. Patrick Mahomes should be able to take advantage of the open windows downfield, forcing the Steelers to stop the deep ball opening up underneath for Andy Reid’s scheme to take over. The Chiefs defense surprises as Dee Ford and Chris Jones continue their hot starts and the second and third levels begin to gel. The Chiefs and Steelers go back and forth in the first half before the Chiefs offense proves to be better and finishes their drives at a higher rate. Chiefs 31 - Steelers 23
Kent: I expect the defense to take a step forward and the offense to have another productive day. The Chiefs will play a little more ball control to limit the snaps for the defense and keep the unit fresh. The Chiefense communicates a little better with another game to work together and Sammy Watkins scores his first touchdown as a Chief. Chiefs 28 - Steelers 23