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Behind Enemy Lines: How the Steelers' defense is what separates them from the Chiefs

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7. Leading up to the game, we sit down with Joel Thorman, editor of Arrowhead Pride, to talk about this matchup from the other side of the fence.

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Will Ben Roethlisberger make his return against the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday? Or will it be Landry Jones' first start of his brief NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers? How will the Chiefs adjust to life without Jamaal Charles and possibly Jeremy Maclin? There are a lot of questions heading into this Week 7 game between these two AFC teams, and it was the perfect reason to hunt down Joel Thorman, editor of Arrowhead Pride, to discuss this matchup from the other side of the coin.

Take a look at our conversation as the Steelers travel to Kansas City in hopes of advancing their record to 5-2, and helping the Chiefs become one loss closer to claiming a high draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

For me, the Chiefs are a tough nut to crack. Every season they seem to improve their team's roster only to see it unravel at the most inopportune time. Do fans point to injuries as the main issue, or is there a contingent pointing at Andy Reid and his tenure as the head coach?

Injuries aren't really the issue even though Jamaal Charles is about the biggest injury the Chiefs could've had. The problems were showing itself before that. Most are pointing to the Chiefs offensive line, Alex Smith and Andy Reid. The offensive line has slowly gotten worse so we've focused on it each year. Alex Smith can be a nice part of the Chiefs offense when it's working but he can not carry them when he has to, which he needs to this year. And Andy Reid's play calling and coaching staff have also had the finger pointed at them. I just don't know what the answer is -- it seems like a combination of all three as well as a surprising drop-off by the Chiefs defense. Here's a poll we ran last week asking what the Chiefs biggest problems were:

The Steelers have suffered big injuries (Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, Ryan Shazier) and suspensions (Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant) this season, but have been able to keep their head above water throughout the turmoil. The Chiefs also have suffered injuries to key players, but have stumbled to a 1-5 record. What is the biggest difference between the two teams and their ability to overcome adversity, in your opinion?

I don't think it's all talent because I swear the Chiefs are talented, and I know that's a tough argument to make at 1-5. One of the biggest differences seems to be the defenses. The Steelers are capable of playing a full game on defense and sit with the fifth-ranked defense in the league. The Chiefs, on the other hand, give up more than eight points per game more than the Steelers. The Chiefs also have just six turnovers and sit at minus-one on the season. The Steelers are plus-six in the turnover department. Those are probably the two biggest differences between the two teams that I see and best explains the difference in their records.

The Chiefs were finally able to break "the streak" this season by finally throwing a touchdown pass to a wide receiver. From gauging fans' reactions, they were tired of hearing about it (and rightfully so). Does the streak embody bigger issues with the offense, or are points all that matter?

That stat, while annoying, did speak to a lot of the issues the Chiefs have in the passing game. Alex Smith is throwing for more passing yards this year but it hasn't been producing wins. A few thoughts on what that stat means:

  • They are stretching the field more often this year but it's still not a major threat in their offense, and that speaks to the quarterback-receiver connection.
  • When the Chiefs are losing, they struggle flinging the ball around the field and scoring quickly so they have trouble coming from behind.
  • When the Chiefs defense was playing better the past two seasons, it was easier to look past the receiver stat but when they need the offense to carry the team it doesn't seem they can get it done.

Looking at the Chiefs' lineup and style of play, what is the best way to attack both the offense and defense?

Defensively, I would attack the Chiefs with a strong pass rush for a few reasons. First, the offensive line has struggled this year. They're vulnerable, particularly on the left side lately. Second, Alex Smith struggles against the blitz. If you cover his first read he struggles to move on to another read quickly with a rush in his face. Third, the Chiefs are without Jamaal Charles who was good at picking up the blitz. They will turn to two lesser experienced players in Charcandrick West and Knile Davis. So, yeah, I would blitz the Chiefs.

Offensively, I would target the slot receiver. The Chiefs have had some issues figuring their nickel corner out with Phillip Gaines lost for the season a few weeks ago. I like Sean Smith and Marcus Peters on the outside and you can catch them sometimes but your best bet is the slot. I would also stretch the field regularly, especially off of play action. The Chiefs will play a cover 1 and ask their corners to stay with the receiver so they can be vulnerable with a receiver like Antonio Brown.

How do you see the game playing out Sunday, and if you were to predict the score what would it be?

If Landry Jones is starting I can see this being a close game. If Ben Roethlisberger is back then I would feel pretty confident about picking the Steelers. Let's split the difference and go with 23-17, Steelers.

For the best coverage on this matchup from the Chiefs' perspective, be sure to check out Arrowhead Pride for some quality content.