The Pittsburgh Steelers have reached the crossroads of their season. They are 3-2, and in control of the AFC North, but have yet to find their identity. This Sunday They face the Kansas City Chiefs (5-0) in one of the NFL’s most hostile environments. The Steelers believe themselves to be Super Bowl contenders, and win would certainly back up that belief. The Steelers have a history of banding together amidst controversy and criticism. Don’t be surprised if they come swinging on Sunday. Week six Pittsburgh Steelers preview looks at what can be expected on both sides of the ball.
Week Six Pittsburgh Steelers Preview: Steelers vs Chiefs
The Steelers head to Kansas City looking to exorcise the demons from their 30-9 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The loss was highlighted by five Ben Roethlisberger interceptions zero touchdowns, and the 130 plus rushing yards they gave up in the fourth quarter. They were heavily criticized for their performance by the fanbase and the media, and rightfully so. The criticism that might sting the most came from two high profile former Steelers, Hines Ward and Ryan Clark.
It’s tolerable when outsiders analyze and critique, but hits home coming from those who once populated the locker room. When in an “us against the world” scenario like the Steelers are facing, it has galvanized them. Ward, in fact, played that card like a maestro in 2005, all the way to the Super Bowl. Perhaps Ward and Clark are trying to recreate that narrative within the Steelers locker room. Whether or not that is the case, they got their attention, which was the whole point. Either way, look for the Steelers to come out with more intensity than they’ve shown all season.
When the Steelers Have the Ball:
The Steelers will be facing a defense similar to last week, when they have the ball. The Chiefs have a stingy secondary, but rank in the bottom half of the league in run defense. The logical approach would be to give them a healthy dose of Le’Veon Bell early and often, testing that ranking. Not only does that get Bell into rhythm, but it keeps Justin Houston away from Roethlisberger. Most importantly, it keeps that explosive Chiefs offense on the bench.
When Roethlisberger goes to the air, he should have Eli Rogers as one of his options. Mike Tomlin seems hesitant to commit to Rogers, but he needs to. Roethlisberger needs that safety blanket underneath, which he’s been missing since week four. Rogers quickness on quick slants and crossing patterns is a mismatch for linebackers and safeties. He could be an answer their redzone troubles.
Speaking of the redzone, the Steelers kicked three field goals in three trips to the redzone last week. They rank 23rd in the NFL with a touchdown percentage of 50% from the redzone. Their touchdown percentage over the last three games is 41.7%. It’s no coincidence the Steelers record is 1-2 during that period of time. They can’t expect to beat the Chiefs if they keep settling for field goals. They have to put the ball in the endzone. The Steelers have the weapons to outscore the Chiefs, but the rest is up to Todd Haley.
When the Chiefs Have the Ball:
The first order of business for the Steelers defense is to put the clamps on Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt. They’ve surrendered over 200 yards rushing twice this season, and Hunt is averaging over six yards per carry. The Steelers best edge setter in run defense, James Harrison, has seen the field for just seven snaps. The logical move here was for Keith Butler to free Deebo, and it’s about time. Harrison has been setting on the bench for far too long this year. To control Hunt, the defense needs to exercise gap discipline. They have to wrap up and limit his yards after contact to a minimum.
Alex Smith might be the hottest quarterback in the NFL, throwing for 11 touchdowns against no interceptions. Despite his mobility, he has been sacked 17 times this season. Ten of those sacks resulted in losses of 10 or more yards. The Steelers have one of the top defensive lines in the NFL, led by Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, and Stephon Tuitt. They’ve gotten to the quarterback five times this season, almost 30% of the team’s total. The defense has 17 sacks overall. Getting consistent pressure on Smith is another way of controlling wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
Smith to Test Steelers Number One Ranked Secondary
The Steelers have the number one ranked secondary by some measures, which is a little misleading. They have faced five subpar quarterbacks, two of which barely threw the ball. Smith will be the secondary’s first real test of the season. Smith’s main target is the explosive Hill. Starting opposite of him is Chris Conley, a 6’3″/205 lb who has 11 receptions for 175 yards this season. Backing up Hill and Conley is Albert Wilson and DeAnthony Thomas.
The secondary will have their hands full with tight end Travis Kelce. Some say he is the best in the NFL right now. Backup tight end Demetrius Harris is more like a big wide receiver at 6’7″/230 lbs. He’s not the threat that Kelce is, but could factor as a redzone weapon. Artie Burns and company will have their hands full with the size and speed of Smith’s targets, but they shouldn’t be overwhelmed. They just need to tackle the catch and keep everything in front of them.
The Steelers need to leave this game with an identity whether they win or not. They believe themselves to be a Super Bowl contender, and this is their chance to prove it. If the Steelers put together a solid win, then their two disappointing losses become fading memories. If they play bad and lose again, it will only raise more questions and concerns. Welcome to the crossroads of the Pittsburgh Steelers season.