Nothing will be easy coming for the Steelers as they head to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night. Despite not being ranked the first overall seed, there is a good argument that the Chiefs are the best team in the AFC, and perhaps the second-best team in the NFL. Combining a defense that has genuinely improved down the stretch with Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs are still a lethal force. Still, the Steelers are obviously heading to Kansas City to win. What has to happen to come back to Pittsburgh with a win?
The Defensive Strategy is Clear
The Steelers have a clear game plan and blueprint to follow. The only time this season they have beat a team with this high octane of an offense was in Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills. The very same strategy that worked then has to work this week. Yes, the Steelers are without Tyson Alualu, which is significant to that game plan. However, Montravius Adams has shown enough to think he could be a presence in the pass rush.
The Steelers will have to play in two-high coverages all game. They have to limit explosive plays from the Chiefs. Granted, they tried this in Week 16, but the Chiefs ran through the defense like a hot knife through butter. The key to unlocking this gameplan will be getting pressure with only four pass rushers. T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Cam Heyward, Chris Wormley, and Montravius Adams will be asked to do a lot.
That is the only viable schematic plan. Still, Mahomes and the Chiefs have diced up that plan in the past, including the Steelers. It will be all-hands-on-deck, but blitzing is not a viable strategy against the sharp and precise Mahomes.
The Offense Needs to Start Fast
The offense is going to be the crux of the concerns in this game. At the very least, the defense has shown that they can step up and slow down offenses. The offense has yet to fully put that complete game together that said they could play to the best of their abilities. Of course, they are limited by a bevy of factors, but slow starts at the beginning of games have been their undoing in games like this one.
Not scoring in the first quarter is not going to be sufficient, in other words. Heading to the locker room with a mere three points is simply not a viable strategy. The Steelers’ offense needs to put up points early and often in the game. It seems to be a tough ask with this group, but if they want to shock the world, not digging a hole is of the utmost importance.
Winning the Turnover Battle is Key
The turnover battle is the single most important factor in this game. If the Steelers lose the turnover battle their chances to win are slim to none. Ben Roethlisberger-led offenses in the past two playoffs have buried the Steelers into deficits that they simply could not overcome against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns. However, neither of those teams are as talented offensively as this Chiefs is right now. Giving them short fields with turnovers spells certain doom.
Meanwhile, this defense and special teams have to help out an undermanned offense that is just not on the same high octane level as the Chiefs. Short fields, defensive touchdowns, or special teams touchdowns are how the Steelers can get a leg up on the Chiefs. In any facet they can, the Steelers have to close the gap. Turnovers are the biggest way they can do that to give themselves the best chance to win.
While T.J. Watt may be the biggest potential game wrecker for the Chiefs, the back end of the Steelers has to step up in this one. An interception would be one of the best ways for this team to start to shift the momentum away from the Chiefs and right into their hands. The biggest x-factor among that group is Minkah Fitzpatrick, who can change games whenever he is in the area.
Fitzpatrick is going to be used as a weapon in this game. Mahomes will have to know where he is at all times, and for good reason. Fitzpatrick is a ballhawk who can change the game in a mere play. Disguising certain looks with Fitzpatrick’s unbelievable range and ball skills is exactly how the Steelers can maybe steal a quick one from Mahomes. He does make many mistakes, but if there is anyone who can bait one of those, Fitzpatrick is that guy.