Steelers’ Opponent Preview: The Kansas City Chiefs

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The most important player on the field, the last time the Steelers and Chiefs played…

It’s very tempting to just say “last undefeated team in the NFL. Let’s do this again some time…” It’s very possibly all you wish to read.

But a sense of duty compels me to write this anyhow, as little as I like the prospect of studying even more closely an opponent I’m dreading. Because this might be the first really complete team the Steelers have seen this season, and we’ve seen how uneven they have been against flawed, even highly flawed, teams.

What do I mean by a “complete team?” They have a more-than-competent passing attack, presided over by a guy who has historically not been terribly exciting but who takes good care of the ball. He’s having a career season so far this year. They have an excellent running attack, presided over by another one of these rookie phenoms that I’m getting tired of seeing. (And as an aside, it makes you wonder whether it makes sense for anybody to pay big money to Le’Veon Bell when you can apparently go out in the draft and get somebody like Kareem Hunt in the third round.) And because teams are having to scheme differently because Hunt is so good, things have opened up for the passing attack. As a result TE Travis Kelce is having himself a good year as well. And Tyreek Hill.

And speaking of Hill, he’s pretty scary in the return game. In fact, he returned a punt for a touchdown against the Texans in Week 5. So there’s no comfort to be had in special teams.

But what about the defense? Admittedly Eric Berry is done for the year with an Achilles tear, but this hasn’t appeared to be nearly as big a blow as expected. And of course they have Marcus Peters. And Justin Houston. And a lot of guys who would like to say “Howdy Doody” to Ben Roethlisberger.

In the meantime, while Marcus Gilbert practiced on Wednesday, neither Maurkice Pouncey or Ramon Foster did. (And Gilbert practiced on Wednesday in the previous two weeks, only to be out for the games.) But I’ll get to the injury report presently.

So how does the Chief’s defense look to Football Outsiders? Not that this information has amounted to a hill of beans so far this season, in terms of what it actually means for the games. In fact, if anything the Steelers have done better against what appear to be more formidable foes. But here we go:

Last week the Kansas City defense was, overall, ranked No. 11. This week they have moved down to No. 19. Divided out, they are 24th against the run and 21st against the pass. And since I assume you’re wondering, the Steelers’ defense moved down from No. 3 to No. 5, and they are No. 15 against the run and No. 2 (!) against the pass. The Steelers’ defensive line is No. 1 against the pass. So that’s something.

Now for the offense. In overall offense, not surprisingly, Kansas City is No. 1. They are a loonng way ahead of anyone else. (I didn’t really even want to look, but PIT is No. 15.)

So what about Pro Football Focus? 

The first thing I noted is that Kareem Hunt is their No. 1 back. Also by a loonng way over the No. 2. Which isn’t Fournette, as good as he looked last week. Alex Smith is their No. 2 quarterback, right behind Tom Brady. And oh, by the way, Travis Kelce is their No. 2 tight end, right behind Rob Gronkowski. The only good news on the skills position front is that Antonio Brown is still ahead of Tyreek Hill (No. 1 and No. 6 respectively.)

Looking at their offensive line, their guards are not, according to PFF, very good. However, considering how well both the running and passing game are working, how bad can they be? Football Outsiders ranks them No. 7 in run blocking but only No. 28 in pass protection. Not that it seems to have mattered. (PIT is ranked No. 6 in pass protection but only No. 21 in run blocking.)

This does bring up what might be a little glimmer of hope, because to my utter astonishment Smith has been sacked 17 times this season. That’s a heck of a lot of sacks for a guy that gets the ball out as quickly as he does. However, not one of those sacks has caused him to fumble. Smith has no turnovers this season. None. Zero. So while our defense may be able to pad their stats, it may not ultimately do that much good.

This is all very interesting but ultimately rather meaningless. Let’s look at what might be more meaningful, for better or worse—the injury report. As of Thursday evening, here are the players who appeared on the injury report:

PIT: Ramon Foster (did not practice). Everyone else who was out on Wednesday, or limited, practiced.

KC: Travis Kelce has been limited earlier in the week as he was in concussion protocol but was a full participant Thursday. LB Dee Ford had also been limited earlier but was a full participant. From the Steelers’ standpoints the two other most notable names are Tyreek Hill, who was limited with a hamstring, and Justin Houston, who didn’t practice with a calf injury. It would be just fine with me if both of them would like to rest up this weekend. There were five other names who were out or limited: Albert Wilson, the No. 2 WR,was limited. Two offensive linemen were on the list, but neither of them appear to be the starters. A backup WR and a backup safety didn’t practice.

So the Steelers continue to be surprisingly healthy, thus depriving themselves of an excuse for not being 5-0. Let’s hope they pull it all together this week and finally show what they are capable of. Because if they can’t, perhaps our estimations of their capabilities were more skewed than usual…

 

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