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AFC Wild Card Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers offense vs. the Kansas City Chiefs defense

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense, on paper, doesn’t stand a chance, but that’s why they game isn’t played on paper.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

The 9-7-1 Pittsburgh Steelers somehow found a way to get into the AFC Playoffs. It took an overtime Week 18 win over the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, the Jacksonville Jaguars beating the Indianapolis Colts and a crazy finish to the Sunday night contest between the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers.

But the Steelers got into the playoffs!

Now for the challenging part of this entire equation, and that would be their opponent: the Kansas City Chiefs. The Steelers will be traveling to Arrowhead Stadium, again, for an AFC Wild Card matchup on Sunday night.

These two teams met in Week 16, and it wasn’t pretty. The Chiefs (without Travis Kelce) dominated the Steelers to the tune of a 36-10 beat down in Kansas City. In this preview we are going to look at the Steelers’ much maligned offense going against a suddenly stout Chiefs defense.

Let’s take a look back at that Week 16 matchup to see what the numbers looked like for both team:

Individual Leaders

Ben Roethlisberger: 23/35, 159 yards, 4.5 average, 1 TD, 1 INT, 2 sacks, 73.4 Rating
Najee Harris: 19, 93 yards, 4.9 average, 0 TD, 21-yard long
Diontae Johnson: 6 receptions, 51 yards, 8.5 average, 1 TD, 18 yard long, 9 targets

Team Stats

3rd Down Offense: 5-for-13
Rushing: 130 Yards / 5.2 average
Passing: 173 Yards / 3.8 average
Red-Zone: 1-for-4
Turnovers/Takeaways: 3 / 0 (-3 Differential)
Penalties: 5 for 40 yards

Notable Steelers Out in Week 16

ILB Devin Bush
TE Pat Freiermuth
DL Chris Wormley

Notable Chiefs Out in Week 16

TE Travis Kelce

That Week 16 game was a game where the Chiefs had 10 days to prepare for after playing on Thursday Night Football. On top of that, the Steelers were dealing with in-game injuries to both Kendrick Green and Trai Turner. No matter how you slice it, it was as ugly as an NFL game can get. The Steelers were dominated in every facet of the contest.

But what about the team heading into the AFC Playoffs? Let’s take a look at their rankings on both sides of the ball:

Pittsburgh Offense

Total yardage: 315.4 yards/game (23rd)
Points scored: 20.2 points/game (21st)
Rushing yards: 93.1 yards/game (29th)
Passing yards: 222.2 yards/game (15th)
Sacks Surrendered: 38 (T-16th)
Turnovers: 20 (T-20th)

Kansas City Defense

Total yardage: 368.9 yards/game (27th)
Points scored: 21.4 points/game (8th)
Rushing yards: 117.6 yards/game (21st)
Passing yards: 251.4 yards/game (27th)
Sacks: 31 (29th)
Takeaways: 29 (T-5th)

When you look at the numbers, and these are indicative of the two teams the entire season, not how they are necessarily playing at the end of the season, you see two units who are fairly even.

The Chiefs are a defense which gives up plenty of yards, doesn’t get after the quarterback particularly well, but does take the football away with the best of them. To counter that, the Steelers are an offense who doesn’t necessarily move the ball well, struggles to put points on the board, but has done a decent job in both pass protection and not turning the ball over.

In the past three regular season games, the Steelers’ offense has put up the following numbers in critical areas:

Week 16 at KC

Red-Zone: 1-for-4
3rd Down Conversions: 5-for-13
Points: 16
Turnovers: 3

Week 17 vs. CLE

Red-Zone: 1-for-3
3rd Down Conversions: 5-for-18
Points: 26
Turnovers: 1

Week 18 at BAL

Red-Zone: 1-for-3
3rd Down Conversions: 6-for-17
Points: 16
Turnovers: 1

If the fan base is looking for trends for the Steelers’ offense, good luck. Pittsburgh has been one of the most inconsistent offensive teams in the NFL this season, and have only eclipsed the 30-point plateau once in 2021. Not to suggest they are incapable of putting things together, but to expect a shootout is optimistic at best. The reality of the Steelers’ success on offense is based on protecting the football, remaining balanced and hoping the Pittsburgh defense can get them some key takeaways which set them up not only with extra possessions, but often short fields.

On the flip side of this preview, the Chiefs’ defense hasn’t been lighting the world on fire. In their past four games the defense has allowed an average of 23.25 points per game. This with a 3-1 record, and that obviously including the 10-point game vs. the Steelers in Week 16. The other games were a win over the Los Angeles Chargers, Steelers and Denver Broncos, with the lone loss being to the Cincinnati Bengals.

The battle between the Steelers’ offense and the Chiefs’ defense might be the most head-scratching in this playoff matchup. So much will come down to this aspect of the game, and if the Steelers can protect Ben Roethlisberger, and also protect the football, there is no reason they can’t move the ball against Kansas City’s defense. If those things take place, what needs to happen next is the Steelers need to capitalize when they reach the red-zone. Touchdowns, not field goals, win playoff games, and that will be the name of the game for the Steelers offense as they try to give Roethlisberger at least one more game before he calls it quits.

Be on the lookout for the flip side of this preview, the Steelers defense vs. the Chiefs offense, coming from Dave Schofield Friday right here at BTSC.