The Pittsburgh Steelers will look to avoid a Wild Card loss for the second straight year when Mike Tomlin‘s team travels to Arrowhead Stadium to take on Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs. This will be no small task as the Steelers are currently listed as a 12.5-point underdog according to FanDuel Sportsbook. That spread is good for the largest in a Wild Card game in NFL history. Essentially, this would be the biggest Wild Card upset in the history of the NFL. This begs the question: how do the Steelers pull this off and prolong Ben Roethlisberger‘s career?
1.) Have Success With Four-Man Pass Rush
The Steelers blitzed one of every four quarterback drop backs in the regular season. Don’t expect that on Sunday. Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, is one of, if not, the best when facing pressure from 5+ defenders. He picks defenses apart when blitzed. We should expect to see a similar approach to the Week 16 matchup from the Steelers this weekend. Mahomes was sacked twice in a 36-10 rout of the Steelers, but T.J. Watt only played 55% of snaps due to injury. Watt will be the most important player on the field for the Steelers. The Chiefs first two options at right tackle, Lucias Niang and Mike Remmers, are both on Injured Reserved. This will leave the duties to Andrew Wylie who we saw struggle significantly in the Super Bowl last season. The front four will need to get to Mahomes to force quick decisions while seven drop back in coverage. The secondary needs all the help it can get with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill running around.
2.) Control Time of Possession
Back in Week 16, the Chiefs controlled possession the ball for 34:42. A 50/50 split isn’t even good enough due to the explosiveness of the offense on the other side. The Steelers need to slow this game down and make it the ugliest, vintage version of old school football. The offense averaged 5.2 yards per carry in the first matchup. Najee Harris is a little banged up due to an elbow injury, but he is going to need to get 25+ carries on Sunday night to give the Steelers a chance. The chances of advancing after a shootout victory are slim. The final score is going to need to be in the range of 20-17 in order to move onto Tennessee. This is going to be a challenge when the Chiefs stack eight defenders up near the line of scrimmage and dare Roethlisberger to throw the ball down the field. Establishing the run will be crucial.
3. Win the Turnover Battle… And Then Some
A key to victory will be to not turn the ball over once while forcing 2+ turnovers on defense. The Chiefs capitalized scoring 17 points off three Steeler turnovers a few weeks ago. Without the turnovers, the score suddenly jumps down to 19-10 and maybe even a closer matchup depending on the results of those drives in which the ball was turned over. Not to mention, a rare missed field goal by Chris Boswell. Winning the turnover battle increases time of possession and momentum. It is extremely hard to beat Mahomes when he doesn’t turn the ball over. He turned the ball over in 4 of 5 losses this season.
4.) No Mistakes on Special Teams
The Steelers kickoff and punt return average against are both in the bottom half of the NFL. Field position is crucial against the Chiefs as their offense can score rather quickly. Whether it is Pressley Harvin III or Corliss Waitman punting, 30-yard punts are not going to cut it. Additionally, Boswell needs to battle the wind in Kansas City and any and all kickoffs need to go through the back of the end zone. The Chiefs committed 23 special teams penalties (second in the NFL) this season compared to the Steelers 17. Unforced errors are not an option this weekend. Let the Chiefs make mistakes and do just enough offensively to win the game.
5.) Utilize Pat Freiermuth
Freiermuth did not play in Week 16 and he has proven throughout the season (aside from a key fumble versus the Detroit Lions) that he can be a pivotal part of the offense. The Chiefs defense have yet to see him in action and he will be crucial on third down and in the red zone. The Steelers are 5-2 this season when the rookie tight end has 35 or more receiving yards. A lot of focus will be on Harris and Diontae Johnson. Matt Canada would be a fool to not have several packages and plays designed for Freiermuth in key situations this Sunday.
How do you think the Steelers can pull off a major upset this Sunday night? Let us know in the comments below!