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

The Chiefs offense appears to be too much for the Steelers defense based on the numbers, but when these two teams kick off on Sunday night the past numbers don’t matter.

NFL: DEC 26 Steelers at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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’ bend don’t break defense going against a top-of-the-league Chiefs offense.

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

Individual Leaders

Minkah Fitzpatrick: 12 tackles, 1 pass defensed
Robert Spillane: 13 tackles
Cam Heyward: 6 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 1 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback hit

Team Stats

3rd Down Defense: 4-for-11 (surrendered)
Rushing: 127 Yards / 3.6 average
Passing: 254 Yards / 7.9 average
Red-Zone: 4-for-6 (surrendered)
Turnovers/Takeaways: 3 / 0 (-3 Differential)
Penalties: 5 for 41 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 Defense

Total yardage: 361.1 yards/game (24th)
Points scored: 23.4 points/game (20th)
Rushing yards: 146.1 yards/game (32nd)
Passing yards: 215.1 yards/game (9th)
Sacks: 55 (1st)
Takeaways: 22 (T-14th)

Kansas City Offense

Total yardage: 396.8 yards/game (3rd)
Points scored: 28.2 points/game (4th)
Rushing yards: 115 yards/game (16th)
Passing yards: 281.8 yards/game (4th)
Sacks Surrendered: 28 (T-3rd)
Turnovers: 25 (T-23rd)

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 with stark differences.

The Chiefs offense is once again at the top of the NFL in most categories with the exception of rushing the football and turning it over. On the other side, the Steelers defense strength is defending the pass but is the worst team in the NFL in defending the run. Even though the Steelers are the top defense in sacking the quarterback, the Chiefs are one of the best teams at protecting the passer.

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

Week 16 at KC

Red-Zone conversions surrendered: 4-for-6
3rd Down Conversions surrendered: 4-for-11
Points surrendered: 36
Takeaways: 0
Sacks: 2

Week 17 vs. CLE

Red-Zone conversions surrendered: 2-for-2
3rd Down Conversions surrendered: 5-for-17
Points surrendered: 14
Takeaways: 2
Sacks: 9

Week 18 at BAL

Red-Zone conversions surrendered: 0-for-2
3rd Down Conversions surrendered: 3-for-14
Points surrendered: 13
Takeaways: 3
Sacks: 3

If the fan base is looking for trends for the Steelers’ defense, it appears that takeaways help reduce the number of points surrendered, but this trend is not continue throughout the entire 2021 season. If looking back at the Steelers final nine games of the season, when the defense gives up less than 20 points the Steelers have not lost, but when they give up more than 35 points the Steelers have come up short. What makes this really crazy is that the Steelers have not given up a score in the 20s since the first week of November, so it’s been all or nothing when it comes to points surrendered the last nine games.

On the flip side of this preview, the Chiefs offense is as much as it would be expected from a team appearing in the last two Super Bowls. After struggling for the first half of the season where they went 3–4 in the first seven games, the Chiefs won two low-scoring games before breaking out against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday Night Football in Week 10. Over the last 10 games the Chiefs have gone 9–1 where the offense averaged 29.2 points. In the last five games of the season, the Chiefs averaged 35.4 points. Unfortunately, it appears as if they offense is really hitting its stride to finish out the regular season.

The battle between the Steelers’ defense and the Chiefs’ offense is the marquee matchup of this game. With former league MVP Patrick Mahomes going against Defensive Player of the Year front runner T.J. Watt, it seems as if this is the strength-on-strength matchup of the game. If the Steelers can get pressure on Mahomes without having to send extra players, much like what they did to open the season in Buffalo, there is the possibility that Chiefs will not have nearly the ease of putting up points as they did against the Steelers three weeks ago.

Make sure to check out the flip side of this preview, the Steelers offense vs. the Chiefs defense, presented by Jeff Hartman on Thursday here at BTSC.