The Kansas City Chiefs have now lost five games in a row, as well as the confidence of their fan base, after their 16-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday. This week, they welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers to Arrowhead, a team that has overcome the loss of their Super Bowl MVP quarterback to injury and suspensions to key offensive personnel to remain a factor in the AFC playoff race. Kickoff is at 12 p.m. CT and the game will be televised on CBS (locally on KCTV-5), and broadcast on the Chiefs Radio Network as well as La Gran D.
The Steelers started the year by having their Pro Bowl running back, Le’Veon Bell, on suspension. Bell returned to the field in Game 3 against the St. Louis Rams, but that’s where Pittsburgh lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a knee injury. Pittsburgh had to turn to the way-past-his-prime Michael Vick to lead the offense, but the team beat the Rams with defense, lost a close one to arch-rival Baltimore, and then reeled off two straight wins against San Diego and Arizona. Yes, they are the same old Steelers that just seemingly keep winning no matter what happens on or off the field.
Of course, that stinks for the Chiefs because Kansas City carries an awful 9-20 record against Pittsburgh in their franchise history. But, taking a cue from across the parking lot and the major mojo the 2015 American League Champion Kansas City Royals have created, here are five ways the Chiefs can beat – yes, BEAT – the Steelers and salvage something out of the month of O(KC)tober:
1. The O-line just has to do better against the Steelers blitz. Pittsburgh created the devastating zone-blitz scheme under former defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, and are still running it, though not with as much success under new coordinator Kevin Butler. It helped that LeBeau had Pro Bowlers and future Hall of Famers running his scheme, but the defense has still shined at times this year. Very few teams in football handle blitzes worse than KC does, but the line has been playing together as a unit for a couple of weeks and at some point will show improvement – hopefully.
Without their two best playmakers, Jamaal Charles (out for season) and Jeremy Maclin (still questionable even after passing his concussion protocols Friday), the Chiefs should line up in a three-tight end set and play a quick-tempo game to help out the line and try to keep quarterback Alex Smith in one piece. I’m sure Smith’s spleen remembers the Week 16 game last season when the Steelers pass rush broke it. Let’s not have a repeat Sunday.
2. Slow Le’Veon Bell down. The Chiefs shut down superstar Adrian Peterson last week, relatively speaking, and did the same to Bell last year in Week 16. They need a repeat performance this weekend to put the responsibility for winning the game on the shoulders of third-string QB, Landry Jones, who will be making his first start in the NFL. Of course, “shutting Bell down” probably means holding him to right around 100 total yards of offense and one touchdown scored. If the Chiefs get beat by a third-string quarterback throwing to a third-string receiver, so be it. If they don’t limit the damage Bell can do, it will be a long day at Arrowhead Sunday. Dontari Poe is questionable for the game, but Jaye Howard and Allen Bailey have been playing at a near Pro Bowl level all season. They need to do it for four quarters on Sunday.
3. The return of Arrowhead Magic would be nice. So far this season, the Chiefs have lost two fourth-quarter leads at Arrowhead to Denver and Chicago and both were led by veteran quarterbacks (Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler) who have played in Kansas City many times and aren’t necessarily overwhelmed by crowd noise. It looks like Ben Roethlisberger will be in a back-up role Sunday as he has been limited in practice all week long, so Landry Jones will make his first NFL start. There was a time not so long ago that quarterbacks playing at Arrowhead for the first time virtually never won the game because it was such a hostile place. Pittsburgh has offensive talent all over the place, but if Jones struggles, the Chiefs can keep it close. If Jones struggles a lot, the Chiefs might get a cheap turnover or two and maybe not have to sweat out the last five minutes of the game.
4. Has anyone seen Travis Kelce? The exceptionally talented tight end had visions of Tony Gonzalez dancing through everyone’s head when he scored two touchdowns in the first half against Houston in Week One. Five games later, he still has two touchdowns. A big part of this is his quarterback’s fault because Smith seemingly refuses to throw to Kelce in the red zone. However, it is time for Kelce to find the end zone again. Pittsburgh’s defense remains stout against the run, but they are abysmal against the pass and statistically are even worse than the Chiefs have been this season. In addition, their starting safety, Will Allen, was declared out for the game Friday. I don’t care if Smith has to target Kelce 20 times, but KC needs to get the ball in his hands a lot. If Kelce ends the game with near double-digit catches and 100 yards or more, the Chiefs will be in a great position to win.
5. And, as always, cut out the mind-numbingly stupid mistakes. Enough said. OK, allow me one vent. “Dear Chiefs, this is a very good Steelers team that can put 40 points on you if you keep: 1) turning the ball over at the worst times; 2) negating every long kick return with a stupid holding penalty; 3) negating every terrific third-down stop on defense with an idiotic personal foul; 4) negating every big play on offense with holding penalties; and 4) playing scared like a small town high school team against the University of Alabama in the fourth quarter. Your season is virtually down the toilet as it is, so please play Sunday like there is no tomorrow. Don’t worry, with the Royals doing what they are doing, only a few of us are actually paying attention to what you are doing.”
Bottom Line: Maybe it’s the Blue Rush of the morning after the KC Royals wrapped up another AL Championship that’s clouding my view on the game, but I sincerely believe the Chiefs can win this one. Unlike the Green Bay game and, to a lesser extent, the Bengals game, the Chiefs are not overmatched at every position other than RB and WR with Antonio Brown. If Roethlisberger plays, the Chiefs are far overmatched at quarterback and it could be ugly, but Smith can hold his own going against Landry Jones. This is the game where the Chiefs should throw it 45-50 times and see what happens.
“Royal Blue Rush” Prediction: Chiefs – 21, Steelers – 17