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Chiefs-Steelers scouting report, key players to watch, and a prediction

Chiefs vs Steelers: Gameplan with Terez Paylor

Kansas City Star Chiefs beat writer Terez Paylor breaks down the four keys for victory for the Chiefs on Sunday when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers, a rematch of last season's AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Arrowhead.
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Kansas City Star Chiefs beat writer Terez Paylor breaks down the four keys for victory for the Chiefs on Sunday when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers, a rematch of last season's AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Arrowhead.

Here’s The Star’s weekly game preview detailing the key players and matchups for the KC Chiefs’ game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, 3-2, at 3:25 p.m. Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The game will air on CBS (Chs. 5, 13).

Scheme

Head coach: Mike Tomlin, 103-57, is in his 10th season as the Steelers’ head coach. Tomlin, 45, is a former college receiver at William & Mary who is known for his defensive resume. He spent several years as a defensive backs coach in college before landing the same job in the NFL in 2001 with Tampa Bay. He earned a defensive coordinator job with the Minnesota Vikings in 2006 and was hired by the Steelers in 2007. He won a Super Bowl in 2008 and reached the Super Bowl again in 2010.

Offense: Todd Haley, 50, is in his fifth season as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator. Haley spent three years (2009 to 2011) as the Chiefs’ head coach before landing his current gig. Pittsburgh ranks 12th in passing offense (241.8 yards per game) and 24th in rushing offense (90.0). Pittsburgh is passing the ball roughly 61 percent of the time.

Defense: Keith Butler, 61, is in his third season as the Steelers’ defensive coordinator. Prior to his promotion in 2015, he’d spent the previous 12 seasons as the Steelers’ linebackers coach. Pittsburgh runs a 3-4 defense that ranks first in the league in pass defense (139.6) and fourth in sacks (17). The Steelers’ run defense ranks 28th in the league (136.6).

Special teams: Danny Smith, 63, is in his fifth year as the Steelers’ special-teams coach. Prior to his hire in Pittsburgh, he spent nine years as Washington’s special-teams coach. Kicker Chris Boswell has made 10 of his 12 field goal attempts, and punter Jordan Berry has dropped eight of 23 punts inside the 20, which is 18th in the league. Pittsburgh ranks 32nd in kickoff returns (15.4) and 26th in punt returns (5.5). It also ranks 20th in kick-return coverage (22.3) and 18th in punt-return coverage (7.7).

Four keys to a Chiefs victory

1. Get Kareem the rock

Rookie running back Kareem Hunt is the NFL’s leading rusher for a reason; his combination of elite elusiveness and contact balance make him exceedingly difficult to tackle. That sounds like a nightmare for a Steelers team that surprisingly has one of the league’s worst run defenses. Getting the ball to Hunt early will allow the Chiefs to decipher whether Pittsburgh is selling out against the run, which of course opens other means of attack.

2. Effect Big Ben

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is coming off one of the worst performances of his career, a five-interception effort in a 30-9 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Don’t be fooled, though –– this guy has a ton of professional pride, and it would be a surprise if he played that poorly in back-to-back weeks. That said, the Chiefs’ pass rush needs to be on point this week. They have to hit Ben and be around him and force him to deliver some questionable throws. Do that, and the Chiefs should be okay against the pass.

3. Be gap sound and physical

The Steelers are 3-2, but this is largely the same team that came into Arrowhead Stadium in January and dealt the Chiefs an 18-16 loss. A big reason for that was the play of Le’Veon Bell, who gouged the Chiefs for 170 yards behind an offensive line that dominated its gaps and won at the point of attack. That can’t happen again this week. The Chiefs’ run defense has been fortified with the addition of several solid players in the front seven, and it’s on all these guys to shed their blocks and make plays when they see Bell tote the rock.

4. Win the special teams battle

The Steelers’ return units haven’t been great this season, but Danny Smith’s special teamers have earned the respect of Chiefs coach Dave Toub, who said his troops were essentially outphysicaled in the playoff loss in January. That can’t happen again, and the Chiefs can help themselves in this one by winning this phase of the game.

Four Steelers to watch

No. 26, RB Le’Veon Bell, 25 years old, 6-1, 225, fifth season

Ranked No. 9 on the NFL’s top-100 list for 2017. Rushed 261 times for 1,268 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 75 passes for 616 yards and two touchdowns last season. Is on pace to rush 326 times for 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns and catch 86 passes for 461 yards this season. Outstanding overall back with size, vision, patience and terrific hands. Footwork is smooth. He doesn’t break a ton of long runs –– his career long is 48 yards —– but few backs are better on a down-to-down basis. Can slip you with a juke or stiff-arm you. Willing, effective pass blocker.

No. 84, WR Antonio Brown, 29 years old, 5-10, 181, eighth season

Ranked No. 4 on the NFL’s top-100 list for 2017. Caught 106 passes for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and is on pace for 128 catches for 1,744 yards and three touchdowns this year. Boasts an outstanding combination of speed, acceleration out of his breaks and route running. Is a problem after the catch –– does lots of his damage that way –– but is also a vertical threat and someone who has shown the ability to make the tough contested catch, despite his slight build.

No. 97, DE Cameron Heyward, 28 years old, 6-5, 295, fifth season

Son of former NFL running back Craig “Ironhead” Heyward. Recorded 17 tackles and three sacks during an injury-plagued 2016 in which he only played seven games. One of those games, was against the Chiefs, when he proved to be an absolute terror, recording seven tackles and three sacks. Currently has 18 tackles and three sacks in 2017. Powerful, strong lineman with good quickness off the snap who can be exceeding tough to reach-block in the running game. Is adept at using his bull rush to overpower weaker guards. Has strong hands and can control blockers once he’s locked out.

No. 50, ILB Ryan Shazier, 25 years old, 6-1, 230, fourth season

Recorded 87 tackles, 3  1/2 sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles in 2016. Is on pace for 144 tackles, six forced fumbles and six interceptions in 2017. New-age linebacker with terrific athleticism for the position. His 4.38 speed allows him to play sideline-to-sideline and hold up well in 1-on-1 pass coverage. Has flashed ball skills (six career interceptions). Intriguing blitzer who can win with burst and quickness. Has been a little banged up in his career — he missed 11 games in 2014, four in ’15 and four this year due to an assortment of injuries but has shown toughness by playing through some nagging injuries and is a clear difference-maker when healthy.

Projected Chiefs two-deep depth chart

KEY: Bold=Player to Watch, C=Captain, PB=2016 Pro Bowl, AP=2016 All-Pro, Q=Questionable

QB

No., Name, Ht., Wt., Years

11 Alex Smith (C, PB), 6-4, 220, 13 | 15 Patrick Mahomes, 6-3, 230, R

RB

27 Kareem Hunt, 5-11, 208, R | 35 Charcandrick West, 5-10, 205, 4

FB

42 Anthony Sherman, 5-10, 242, 7

X-WR

14 Demarcus Robinson, 6-1, 203, 2 | 80 Jehu Chesson, 6-3, 203, R

Z-WR

10 Tyreek Hill (C, PB), 5-10, 185, 2 | 80 Jehu Chesson, 6-3, 203, R

Y-WR

12 Albert Wilson (Q), 5-9, 200, 4 | 13 De’Anthony Thomas, 5-9, 176, 4

TE

87 Travis Kelce (C, PB, AP), 6-5, 260, 5 | 84 Demetrius Harris, 6-7, 230, 4

LT

72 Eric Fisher, 6-7, 315, 5 | 75 Cameron Erving, 6-5, 313, 3

Cameron Erving, obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Browns, player in his first game with the KC Chiefs on Sunday against the Texans. Erving started as a substitute for injured tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

LG

70 Bryan Witzmann, 6-7, 320, 3 | 79 Parker Ehinger, 6-6, 310, 2

C

73 Zach Fulton, 6-5, 316, 4 | 75 Cameron Erving, 6-5, 313, 3

RG

75 Cameron Erving, 6-5, 313, 3 | 65 Jordan Devey, 6-6, 320, 4

RT

71 Mitchell Schwartz (AP), 6-5, 320, 6 | 75 Cameron Erving, 6-5, 313, 3

DEFENSE

LDE

95 Chris Jones, 6-6, 310, 2 | 95 Rakeem Nunez-Roches, 6-2, 307, 3

NT

96 Bennie Logan, 6-2, 315, 5 | 98 Roy Miller III, 6-2, 318, 8

RDE

97 Allen Bailey, 6-3, 288, 7 | 94 Jarvis Jenkins, 6-4, 300, 7

LOLB

50 Justin Houston (C), 6-3, 258, 7 | 92 Tanoh Kpassagnon, 6-7, 280, R

WILB

56 Derrick Johnson, 6-3, 242, 13 | 57 Kevin Pierre-Louis (Q), 6-0, 230, 4

MILB

59 Reggie Ragland, 6-2, 252, 2 | 53 Ramik Wilson, 6-2, 237, 3

ROLB

55 Dee Ford, 6-2, 252, 4 | 51 Frank Zombo, 6-3, 254, 8

LCB

22 Marcus Peters (PB, AP), 6-0, 197, 3 | 23 Phillip Gaines, 6-0, 193, 4

FS

38 Ron Parker, 6-0, 206, 7 | 21 Eric Murray, 5-11, 199, 2

SS

49 Daniel Sorensen, 6-2, 208, 4 | 21 Eric Murray, 5-11, 199, 2

NCB

23 Phillip Gaines, 6-0, 193, 4

RCB

39 Terrance Mitchell, 5-11, 190, 4 | 25 Kenneth Acker, 6-0, 195, 4

Chiefs statistical leaders

▪ Passing

Alex Smith –– 121 of 158 (76.6%) for 1,391 yards, 11 touchdowns, 0 interceptions

▪ Rushing

Kareem Hunt –– 97 carries for 609 yards (6.3), four touchdowns

▪ Receiving

Travis Kelce –– 29 catches for 353 yards and two touchdowns

▪ Interceptions

Terrance Mitchell –– two interceptions

▪ Tackles

Ron Parker –– 25 tackles

Projected Steelers two-deep depth chart

KEY: Bold=Player to Watch, C=Captain, PB=2016 Pro Bowl, AP=2016 All-Pro, Q=Questionable, *=See “additional notes” section below for more info on player

OFFENSE

QB

No., Name, Ht., Wt., Years

7 Ben Roethlisberger (C, PB), 6-5, 240, 14 | 3 Landry Jones, 6-4, 225, 5

RB

**26 Le’Veon Bell (PB, AP), 6-1, 225, 5** | *30 James Conner, 6-1, 233, R

FB

45 Roosevelt Nix, 5-11, 248, 3

WR1

**84 Antonio Brown (PB, AP), 5-10, 181, 8** | 19 JuJu Smith-Schuster, 6-1, 215, R

WR2

10 Martavis Bryant, 6-4, 211, 3 | 88 Darrius Heyward-Bey, 6-2, 210, 9

SLOT

17 Eli Rogers, 5-10, 187, 3 | 19 JuJu Smith-Schuster, 6-1, 215, R

TE

81 Jesse James, 6-7, 261, 3 | 89 Vance McDonald, 6-4, 267, 5

LT

78 Alejandro Villanueva, 6-9, 320, 3 | 65 Jerald Hawkins, 6-6, 305, 2

LG

73 Ramon Foster (Q), 6-5, 328, 9 | 67 B.J. Finney, 6-4, 318, 2

C

53 Maurkice Pouncey (PB), 6-4, 304, 6 | 67 B.J. Finney, 6-4, 318, 2

RG

66 David DeCastro (AP, PB), 6-5, 316, 6 | 71 Matt Feiler, 6-6, 330, 1

RT

77 Marcus Gilbert, 6-6, 330, 7 | 74 Chris Hubbard, 6-4, 295, 4

DEFENSE

DE

**97 Cam Heyward (C), 6-5, 295, 7** | 96 L.T. Walton, 6-5, 305, 3

NT

79 Javon Hargrave, 6-2, 305, 2 | 93 Daniel McCullers, 6-7, 352, 4

DT

91 Stephon Tuitt, 6-6, 303, 4 | 94 Tyson Alualu, 6-3, 304, 8

LOLB

48 Bud Dupree. 6-4, 269, 3 | 56 Anthony Chickillo, 6-3, 255, 3

LILB

**50 Ryan Shazier (PB), 6-1, 230, 4** | 54 L.J. Fort, 6-0, 232, 3

RILB

98 Vince Williams, 6-1, 233, 5 | 44 Tyler Matakevich, 6-1, 235, 2

ROLB

90 T.J. Watt, 6-4, 252, R | 92 James Harrison, 6-0, 242, 15

LCB

25 Artie Burns, 6-0, 197, 2 | 24 Coty Sensabaugh, 5-11, 187, 6

FS

23 Michael Mitchell, 6-1, 221, 9 | 27 J.J. Wilcox, 6-0, 212, 5

SS

28 Sean Davis, 6-1, 202, 2 | 21 Robert Golden, 5-11, 202, 6

NCB

22 William Gay, 5-10, 187, 11

RCB

25 Artie Burns, 6-0, 197, 2 | 29 Brian Allen, 6-3, 215, R

SPECIAL TEAMS

K

9 Chris Boswell, 6-2, 185, 3

P

4 Jordan Berry, 6-5, 195, 3

KR

19 JuJu Smith-Schuster, 6-1, 215, R

PR

**84 Antonio Brown (AP, PB), 5-10, 181, 8**

LS

57 Kam Canaday, 6-4, 245, 1

Steelers statistical leaders

▪ Passing

Ben Roethlisberger –– 120 of 195 (61.5 %) for 1,269 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions

▪ Rushing

Le’Veon Bell –– 102 rushes for 371 yards (3.6) and three touchdowns

▪ Receiving

Antonio Brown –– 40 catches for 545 yards and one touchdown

▪ Interceptions

Ryan Shazier –– two

▪ Tackles

Ryan Shazier –– 45 tackles

Prediction: Chiefs 23-20

The Chiefs find themselves in a rematch against the team that ended their season in brutal fashion in January. The Chiefs’ 18-16 divisional-round loss to the Steelers will go down as the latest heartbreaker in the club’s playoff history. This year’s team is mentally tough, however, and should be equipped to exact revenge against a Steelers team coming off a bad loss to Jacksonville. Don’t expect it to be easy –– the Steelers have pride –– but if the offense continues to play mistake-free ball, the Chiefs should be just fine.

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