Talk about a crazy weekend. The chances of Jacksonville defeating Indianapolis were incredibly slim, but Trevor Lawrence puts on one of the better performances of his young career, Jacksonville’s defense manhandles Carson Wentz, allowing the Jags to pull off the unlikely upset.
To add to the Steeler fan anxiety, the NFL schedule-makers goof and put the Chargers vs. Raiders game in a later window than the Steelers game, giving the Chargers and Raiders the opportunity to simply kneel down every play to ensure they both make the playoffs. Fortunately, neither team got smart about it and decided to play to win. After questionable clock management by Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, Daniel Carlson kicks a 47-yard field goal to send the Chargers home and the Steelers to Kansas City.
Most national experts are giving the Steelers no chance to come out victorious this Sunday, but as this past week has taught us, anything is possible in the NFL. While the teams may look outmatched on paper, there are several one-on-one matchups the Steelers have the advantage in. Today, we are going to shed light on those matchups and discover why they give the Steelers a chance to pull off the upset.
T.J. Watt vs. Andrew Wylie
This one is rather obvious, but the importance goes beyond just Wylie. The Chiefs would not dare leave Wylie without a little help. In order to slow down T.J. Watt, the Chiefs will need to bring a tight end over to chip him and, on occasion, to just stay in line and help double-team Watt. Are the Chiefs going to employ Travis Kelce in this role? I highly doubt it. However, this will force Andy Reid to give Blake Bell, Kansas City’s primary blocking tight end, increased snaps. In doing this, it will keep Byron Pringle or Mecole Hardman on the sideline more often, which could slightly limit the explosiveness of the offense.
Hardman is a speed demon, and the Steelers do not have any one cornerback or safety that matches up perfectly well against him. Pringle is not exactly lackadaisical either, as NFL Next Gen Stats recorded Pringle running over 21 miles per hour on a kick-return touchdown vs. the Bengals that was called back due to a penalty. The Steelers simply do not have that kind of speed in their cornerback room, but if one of these receivers can be frequently brought off the field in place of a blocking tight end, it would go a long way toward slowing down Kansas City’s high-powered offense.
Devin Bush vs. Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Devin Bush has finally begun to play some good football, and with Clyde Edwards-Helaire working his way back from an injury, Bush should have the advantage in coverage. ACL injuries sometimes take two years to fully recover from, and in Devin Bush’s case, that may be true. Bush struggled mightily during the first half of the season but has played a much more aggressive and fundamentally sound style of football over the past month.
Even if Edwards-Helaire comes into the game fully healthy, he has not been a major threat as a receiver this season, catching only 19 passes for 129 yards in 10 games this season. His efficiency as a receiver has dropped by 1.5 yards per reception from 2020, and it is unlikely that he comes into the game with zero limitations after sustaining a shoulder injury in Week 16 against the Steelers. This is a matchup Bush needs to win.
UPDATE: Edwards-Helaire missed Thursday’s practice and could be in danger of missing the game. Nonetheless, any of Kansas City’s backup running backs should still have an unfavorable mismatch when facing Devin Bush in coverage.
Pat Freiermuth vs. Any Chiefs Linebacker
If the Steelers are going to move the ball in the red zone in the playoffs, Ben Roethlisberger needs to target the young, but reliable, tight end Pat Freiermuth early and often. The Chiefs have an incredibly undersized group of linebackers, as all three starters are under 240 pounds and no taller than 6’1”. This presents a serious issue for the Chiefs, as the 6’5”, 258 pound Freiermuth will win the 50/50 balls at about a 90/10 rate if you give him that much of a height advantage.
The next best option for the Chiefs would be to bring Juan Thornhill down from the safety position, but doing so would make Kansas City’s defense vulnerable over the top if Roethlisberger wants to take a couple shots downfield to Chase Claypool. The Steelers have an opportunity to create big plays against this Chiefs secondary, but the key will be the offensive line. Can they protect Big Ben long enough for a route to fully develop downfield? That is the biggest question for the Steelers heading into Sunday’s game.
Which one-on-one matchups do you think the Steelers have the advantage in? What do you think Kansas City will do to try to slow down T.J. Watt? What is the single most important thing the Steelers must do on Sunday to come out with a win? Be sure to light up the comment section below with your thoughts on this and all things Pittsburgh Steelers!