Steelers vs. Chiefs Preview: Pittsburgh hosts new-look defense of Kansas City

Peter Aiken

The Chiefs made two significant changes on the defensive side of the ball, but turnovers from their offense has doomed them through eight games. The Steelers don't force many turnovers, but they're among the stingiest defenses in the league.

Is it fire vs. ice? Not in a powerful way, but the possible extension of two teams with potentially fatal flaws facing an opponent who doesn't quite take advantage of that weakness?

The Steelers have eight takeaways through eight games, putting them on pace to barely finish ahead of last year's dismal 15. The Chiefs are on pace to turn the ball over more times than any team in NFL history.

Something's gotta give (up).

On paper, the Steelers are clearly the superior team, riding a three-game winning streak during which they've become one of the league's most dominant running and defensive teams. The Chiefs have yet to lead a game in regulation this season, largely due to the fact they're turning the ball over 3.5 times a game.

Add in the fact the Steelers have won 14 consecutive Monday Night home games, and it wouldn't appear the Chiefs have a chance.

When the Chiefs have the ball

Kansas City has shown a variety of looks this season, but most of it is centered around their ability to run the football. Running back Jamaal Charles is one of the game's most explosive players. Falling behind early has led the Chiefs to on get him 83 yards on 29 carries over their past three games. He suffered a neck injury in the Chiefs' 31-13 loss to San Diego in Week 9, but should play against Pittsburgh.

The game plan for the Chiefs is simple; Charles has to be involved, early, often and everything in between. They cannot trade punches with the Steelers' offense because they're out-manned by quite a bit. Their best chance of competing in this game is to challenge the Steelers in their own ball-control, time of possession game. Teams have shown the ability to run on the Steelers in doses this season, although their run defense has been far stronger recently.

Quarterback Matt Cassel makes his return to the starting lineup although it's not of much comfort. Cassel is the most turnover-prone passer in the game, and he's hurt his team more than he's helped it this season. Whether it's an interception or a fumble, he's turned the ball over far too often this season for the Chiefs to be competitive. Perhaps some time off will help him, and realistically, going against a defense that doesn't force many turnovers (yet still leads the league in total yards and passing yards against per game), a shorter passing plan may take care of some of those issues.

The primary target of both Cassel and Brady Quinn has been WR Dwayne Bowe, who's among NFL leaders with 82 targets, but only has 45 catches out of that. Much of that is on the shaky performances they've gotten out of their quarterbacks. Bowe is still a physical receiver and can make plays down the field as well as tough catches in traffic.

If the Chiefs have a chance, their offense simply cannot give extra possessions to the loaded Steelers offense. They'll need to get the ground game going if they're going to do that.

When the Steelers have the ball

The absence of Antonio Brown (likely out with an ankle injury) may end up being a positive thing for the Steelers. It gives them a chance to ride the momentum of their current rushing dominance (155 yards per game in their three-game winning streak) even more. Running back Jonathan Dwyer will return after missing Week 9 with a quadriceps injury. He had back-to-back 100-yard games before his injury. Isaac Redman returned from an injury of his own in Week 9, and rushed for regular season career highs of 147 yards and 26 carries.

The Steelers' offensive line has been the catalyst of the rushing resurgence in Pittsburgh. Rookie right tackle Mike Adams replaced Marcus Gilbert in the starting lineup, and suddenly, the Steelers are running the ball as well as anyone.

They were averaging 74 yards a game rushing in their five games played from Week 1-6.

Making things even better for the Steelers' offense, the Chiefs surrender lots of big plays, and don't play with any sense of chemistry in their secondary. It cost 2012 free agent signee Stanford Routt his job; he was released this week just eight games into a three year contract.

Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel ceded his defensive playcalling duties, giving a field promotion to linebackers coach Gary Gibbs.

There's something to be said about teams reaction to such dramatic change, particularly when it happens in-season. This is also a Chiefs team that battled the Steelers aggressively last season in prime time at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh got a late interception off quarterback Tyler Palko, sealing a 13-9 win. Fittingly, the Steelers turned the ball over four times in that game.

Perhaps the changes will have a big impact on a Chiefs defense that's allowing 30 points a game.

If it doesn't, it will be a long night for the visiting team.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET Monday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Pittsburgh Steelers tickets)


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