The Chiefs (1-0) will look for back-to-back road wins to open the season as they travel to Pittsburgh this weekend to take on the Steelers (0-0-1). The Steelers have won each of the last three games between the teams.
Here are four keys to victory for the Chiefs:
1. Set the tone physically
The Steelers have won seven of the past nine meetings between the teams including three in a row. That alone gives the Steelers, at the very least, a perceived edge. Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland described the recent trend as the Steelers having “bullied” the Chiefs. On the road, the Chiefs must match or exceed the Steelers’ physical play from the start or risk having an uphill battle in a hostile environment.
2. Stop the run
Le’Veon Bell may not play, but the Steelers will still put a daunting running game on the field this weekend with running back James Conner leading the way. Conner led all NFL backs in carries and rushing yards in week 1. The Steelers have also enjoyed success running against the Chiefs’ defense in recent years. They rushed for 194 yards in last year’s matchup and 224 yards in their 2016 divisional round playoff game.
3. Handle the blitz
The Steelers will come after Chiefs’ first-year starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes in a variety of ways. It figures to be a long day if he and the offensive line aren’t able to identify, pick up and beat the blitz. The Steelers are coming off of a week in which they recorded seven sacks, including four by T.J. Watt. The various looks the Steelers throw at an offense can be disruptive and cause doubt in a quarterback’s reads.
4. Limit Big Ben’s big plays
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 335 yards in the season opener, and he completed four passes of 20 yards or more, including a 67-yard touchdown to Juju Smith-Schuster. The Chiefs’ secondary had a few breakdowns last week on which the Chargers failed to capitalize. Roethlisberger and his receivers could change the entire outlook of the game on one play if similar breakdowns occur this week.
Head coach: Mike Tomlin
Tomlin took over as just the franchise’s third head coach since 1969 when he was named head coach in 2007. He’s accumulated a 116-60-1 regular season record during his tenure. The youngest coach to take his team to and win a Super Bowl, Tomlin was Minnesota’s defensive coordinator before coming to Pittsburgh, and he also coached defensive backs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under Tony Dungy. While at Minnesota, he coached on a staff that included Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Despite his defensive background, Tomlin has overseen the some of the most-successful offensive seasons in team history led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell.
Randy Fichtner is in his first season as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator. He’d served as quarterbacks coach for eight seasons and wide receivers coach for three. As a college offensive coordinator at Memphis, he oversaw seasons in which the offense set program records for passing yards and total yards while working out of an up-tempo spread offense. In 2004, Memphis ranked among the nation’s leaders in total yards (ninth) and scoring (10th). Fichtner’s first game at the helm for the Steelers featured multiple personnel groups — from heavy on wide receivers to multiple tight ends and some use of a fullback. Running back James Conners’ 31 carries and 135 yards led the NFL through the first week of the season.
Fourth-year defensive coordinator Keith Butler spent 12 seasons as the Steelers’ linebackers coach and worked closely with James Harrison, Joey Porter, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote and LaMarr Woodley in that capacity. He joined the staff under defensive coordinator Tim Lewis and remained under Dick LeBeau. He’s kept the blitzing 3-4 defense in place, and they set a franchise single-season record for sacks (56) in 2017. Last season, the Steelers rushed five men or more just 22.5 percent of the time (19th in the NFL) However, only one team in the NFL blitzed their defensive backs more often than the Steelers (14.8 percent) last season.