Get the Chiefs talking about the Sunday’s opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and additional characteristics are tossed on top of the reverence for an opponent that’s customary in the NFL.
The Steelers aren’t just good, which the Chiefs would say about the next team no matter the uniform colors.
More than good, they’re about ...
“Physicality and mindset,” said Chiefs tackle Mitchell Schwartz. “Especially on the defense.”
“Physical, real physical,” said special teams coach Dave Toub.
“This team has a history of being a bully,” linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “(Their o)ffensive linemen want to bully you. You can’t let them do that.”
The Chiefs have the losses — and bruises —to back up these observations. Since 2014, no team has defeated the Chiefs more often than the Steelers, quite a feat considering they’re in different divisions.
Pittsburgh has been tough on many teams over the years, but the Steelers have tormented Kansas City. The teams brought identical 53-27 records over the past five years into this season, but there has been nothing equal about their confrontations.
Sunday’s meeting in Pittsburgh will be their sixth in five years, and the Chiefs lug a 1-4 mark in those games, with the previous two unfolding in eerily similar fashion.
Last season, the Chiefs were riding high with a 5-0 record having defeated the teams that would appear in the Super Bowl, New England and Philadelphia, in the first two weeks.
Pittsburgh arrived at Arrowhead and delivered a 19-13 loss. The Chiefs were outgained 439 yards to 251, didn’t collect a first down until the final series of the first half and managed only a ghastly six yards before halftime.
The Chiefs’ previous loss to Pittsburgh came in the AFC playoffs’ divisional round. Six Steelers field goals were enough to produce an 18-16 victory. The Chiefs were outgained 389 yards to 227, and for the second straight game, the Steelers dominated time of possession.
Running back Le’Veon Bell was unstoppable in those games, combining for 349 rushing yards and averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He’s unlikely to play Sunday — he’s holding out for a new contract — but replacement James Conner picked up 192 total yards in last weekend’s tie at Cleveland.
“They didn’t really change (without Bell),” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “They just did what they do.”
There a re plenty of fingers to point to in the recent losses. The Chiefs had their lowest total yards output of 2016 and second-lowest of2017 against Pittsburgh. Offensively, the Steelers didn’t break 20 points in either game, but Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Bell played enough keep-away to control the games.
Those defeats, plus the fall-from-ahead home playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans last season led to some roster decisions intended to shore up the Chiefs’ rushing defense and instill a stronger identity of toughness. Selecting defensive players the first five draft picks was part of that. So was acquiring linebacker Anthony Hitchens to pair with Ragland, and adding cornerback Kendall Fuller in the Alex Smith trade.
“Sometimes it just comes down to having guys that are wired right,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said in May. “Guys that want to line up and play four quarters of football. Our need is to just get tougher.”
The Chiefs will say that’s a season-long theme, not one for a particular opponent, but what better foe to face now than the one that’s been beating up them for a few years?
“If you want to have success against them, you have to take it to them,” Ragland said.
“It’s an attitude, a mindset, a focus,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “We just have go out there and do what we expect to do. It’s not about them. It will always and forever be about us.
“Sometimes you have to fight for what you want and what you believe in.”