Editor’s note: As we head into Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers, we welcome Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain — our sister SBNation site covering the Pittsburgh Steelers— for Five Questions with the Enemy.
1) From the outside looking in, the Steelers are highly reliant on their defense. Has this been the case?
If you mean reliant on the defense because the offense can’t get the job done, yes, you would be correct. If you mean reliant on the defense because they are dominant, no, you would be wrong.
This Steelers defense is far from the dominant force they once were. Sure, T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick are tremendous, but they have serious flaws. Prior to Week 6 the Steelers were a Top 10 rush defense. Now, entering Week 16 they are in the bottom five teams of the league in rushing yards allowed per game. If the Steelers can slow down the run, and force teams into obvious passing situations, they are a very solid group. But that is also a gigantic ‘if’ when it comes to this defense.
If the defense can bend, but not break, the offense has proven to be able to make late game rallies and come from behind in the second half.
2) How have the Steelers covered up Big Ben’s flaws?
Again, I would have to say they haven’t. Everyone who watches NFL football knows what Ben Roethlisberger’s limitations are at this stage of his career. He is a pocket passer now, not because he chooses to be, but because he isn’t able to manipulate the pocket and escape pressure like he once did. Roethlisberger still has the arm to make the necessary throws, but either he, or the offensive coordinator Matt Canada, are avoiding the intermediate middle of the field like the plague. All of Roethlisberger’s throws are quick, or outside the numbers. There are very few which target the middle of the field, and it isn’t like the offense doesn’t have weapons which can exploit this area of the field.
Have the Steelers covered up Roethlisberger’s flaws? They’ve done the best they can with what they have, but the flaws are still pretty glaring.
3) Who on the Chiefs offense do you fear if Kelce and or Hill can’t go?
To me this answer is easy. Any running back you have on your roster. The Steelers don’t discriminate when it comes to giving up rushing yards. No Derrick Henry in Week 15? No worries, the Steelers still allowed the Titans to rush for 201 yards. Dalvin Cook coming back from a nasty shoulder separation? Doesn’t matter, the Steelers allowed him to rush for a career total in Week 14 on Thursday Night Football.
If the Chiefs are smart, and Kelce and Hill are out of the game, they run the football until the Pittsburgh defense proves they can stop it. That is what I fear for anyone the Steelers play for the duration of the 2021 regular season.
4) JuJu turned down the Chiefs last offseason to stay in Pittsburgh for an extra year. If he eventually joined KC, what type of player would the Chiefs be acquiring?
That is tough to say considering how the Steelers have utilized JuJu the last two years in Pittsburgh. When Smith-Schuster burst onto the scene he was a player who absolutely shredded one-on-one matchups and did his damage from the slot. In 2020 and 2021, he was nothing more than a glorified possession receiver. You never saw Smith-Schuster trying to stretch the field, or even on a deep crossing route. Everything was underneath and to the sticks. This is not the Smith-Schuster fans grew to love, and it makes you wonder if that is just what the Steelers wanted him to be in their offense, or if this was the best Smith-Schuster could for whatever reason.
5) How does this one play out? Score prediction?
This is a game which can go right, or really wrong. I’m making this prediction based on Chiefs key players not being available in Week 16. With their weakened lineup, I feel it leaves the door open for the Steelers to do the unthinkable. It won’t be pretty, but key takeaways by the defense and another second half comeback will be capped off with a game-winning kick by Chris Boswell, the same place where his leg single-handedly beat the Chiefs in the AFC Divisional round years ago.
Be sure to check out the answers I gave to their questions by clicking here.