The Kansas City Chiefs will host the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second time in three weeks on Sunday night — a point that creates a rather unique scenario. In their Week 16 matchup, the Chiefs absolutely dismantled the Steelers, 36-10.
As is well known, one of the core reasons for the Chiefs’ consistent success is the looks provided by head coach Andy Reid, who is often considered the game’s greatest offensive mind. But how much difference in game plans can you reasonably expect from a team you just encountered three weeks ago?
“There’s always change that takes place, so I would expect that from Pittsburgh, just like I do from the teams we play in the AFC West,” said Reid. “You play a team twice, you’re going to throw some different wrinkles at them. So, you don’t just study the last couple games, you study the whole season when you go into something like this.”
Pittsburgh may show some of the defensive looks it showed last game — but it would also be wise to expect defensive coordinator Keith Butler to cook up some new things for quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who finished last game 23 of 30 for 258 yards and three touchdowns.
“I think you have to prepare for both,” said Mahomes. “Obviously, they’re going to take away the stuff they did good against us and then they’re going to change stuff that they didn’t have as much success with. They have a lot of really good coaches over there, they have a lot of really good players, and they’ve played in playoff games. They understand how to change stuff up, they understand to go back to what they’re great at.
“We’re expecting a battle. We’ll be ready to go, and we’re going to try to find answers for everything. They’re going to throw all different pitches to us, and we have to be able to respond and have success as much as possible.”
In the last matchup, the Chiefs dominated the Steelers’offensive line. Kansas City’s defense combined for 16 pressures, five defensive stops and one tackle for loss or no gain. The Chiefs led 30-0 late in the third quarter.
All the while, the offensive line had perhaps its best game of the season.
“They’ve done a nice job of getting familiar with one another, so that’s important,” said Reid as he discussed the protection this week. “I like the production that we’re getting. We’ve got to step it up even another notch as we go here, but they’re in the right frame of mind. I think (offensive line coach) Andy [Heck] has done a nice job with them.”
Heck has — and this time around, his offensive line will need to play even better. Back in Week 16, pass-rusher T.J. Watt was battling through a rib injury and was limited in how much he saw the field.
In the two games since, he has looked much healthier, and his five sacks over that span placed him in a tie with Michael Strahan for the all-time single-season sack record at 22.5.
“He’s a special player,” described Mahomes of Watt. “I mean, I don’t know what runs in that family, but they have great football players over there, and T.J. is not only special, but as far as the way he can bend to get to the quarterback, but the effort he plays with. They have a lot of guys like that over there, Cam Heyward, (Alex) Highsmith. I mean they have a lot of guys that play hard the entire game and they continuously play and go and go.
“So, for me, it’s about whenever I do make those extended long plays, not making a bad play happen. Those guys will kind of be around me the whole time following the play, so when a scramble and step up in the pocket when the stuff's not there, I have to make sure I account for them because they’re not going to give up on the play.”
The Chiefs may get the help they need in the form of an extra lineman (such as Nick Allegretti) on Watt’s side — and it’s easy to expect tight end chips and the running back staying home in pass protection.
The Chiefs’ offense struggled a bit in their last outing (against the Denver Broncos) without the full threat of wide receiver Tyreek Hill, but he should be back to full strength this game after already being a full practice participant on Wednesday.
That should help counteract Watt a bit. Just as Watt was limited last time out, so too was Hill, as he was fresh off a battle with COVID-19.
“He makes the defense account for everybody,” said Mahomes of Hill. “The fact that to have his speed on the field, it makes defenses play different coverages, they know they can’t put him in man-on-man situations because of how talented he is.”
And regardless of what happened the first time, the Chiefs know they need to flush it completely. Every football game is different — especially when comparing one from the regular season to one from the postseason.
Most NFL players will say that playoff games run at a different speed.
“I just think you have to bring a little bit different intensity,” said Mahomes. “Obviously, you go through the same process every single week of the entire season because you want to treat every single week like it could be your last... You don’t know how many more of these games you’re going to get in the playoffs, and I want to make sure I’m ready to enjoy all of them.”