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5 Key Matchups in the Pittsburgh Steelers vs.Kansas City Chiefs Week-7 game

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to move their record to 5-2 in 2015 with a win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7. These key matchups just might decide the winner and loser of this game at Arrowhead Stadium.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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After two exciting victories in a row, the Pittsburgh Steelers can't afford a letdown against a 1-5 opponent. The Steelers of recent history have faltered against lesser competition. With an undefeated foe in the same division, Pittsburgh needs to keep pace against a Chiefs team that has more firepower than their record suggests. With the game being played at Arrowhead Stadium, a tough venue for visiting franchises, the visitors from the Steel City will face a stiff challenge.

Consider the following matchups to focus on during Sunday's conference battle.

Key Matchup #1
Landry Jones vs Ben Roethlisberger vs CB Sean Smith and CB Marcus Peters

At the time of this posting, Roethlisberger is listed at questionable for Sunday's contest at Arrowhead Stadium. But are 28 days enough to heal a sprained MCL and bone bruise? Whether Jones or Roethlisberger starts, they're going to face a strong and violent pass rush, but also a secondary that has a tendency to give up the big play.

Jones, coming off of a great show in relief of the injured Mike Vick, pumped life into an anemic offense to the tune of 8- for-12 and 168 yards. He threw two touchdown passes and had a near-perfect QB rating of 149.3. He showed a better knowledge of the offense and had no trouble getting the ball to his best weapons.

The aforementioned weapons are Antonio Brown (40 receptions for 546 yards) and Martavis Bryant (8 receptions for 137 yards in one game). Each was targeted eight times in the game, but they did the most damage when Jones was behind center. Bryant's return helps to free Brown from the double-team, mostly because his presence demands the same amount of attention as Antonio.

Roethlisberger has a history of threading the needle to Brown in tight coverage. But the disadvantage to starting Ben is the fear that his injury isn't fully-healed and might reinjure it.

Jones had a great debut. But lost in the excitement of his performance and the victory, is that he did throw an interception on a two-point-conversion attempt. Jones is more likely to turn over the ball than Roethlisbeger, but he can rely on Le'Veon Bell, Brown and Bryant to help carry the load.

Sean Smith (6-foot-3) and Marcus Peters (6-foot-0) are big and physical corners. The rookie Peters is a ball-hawk who has three interceptions and ten passes defensed on the year. Smith is a physical presence who's also good in coverage.

The Chiefs have had trouble thwarting opponents' passing attacks. They currently rank 25th in the NFL allowing 276.7 passing yards-per-game. More alarming for them is that they've allowed 1,700 yards via the air over six games and they rank 31st in points allowed.

Kansas City plays a lot of single-coverage. This plays into the hands of Pittsburgh quite well. Brown and Bryant frequently get good separation. Smith and Peters can clamp down, but this type of coverage favors "The Killer Bs" to blow by the corners and scamper off to the races.

Key Matchup #2
LT Alejandro Villanueva vs ROLB Tamba Hali

It's always a good thing for an offensive lineman to operate in anonymity. Last week against Arizona, Villanueva's name wasn't heard often when he saw his first extensive action subbing for the fallen Kelvin Beachum. Now with Beachum out for the remainder of the season, Villanueva will be getting the "Cheers" treatment with everybody knowing his name.

Of course Al has big shoes to fill, but the 6-foot-9, 320-pound Army Ranger has some big shoes himself. The Bronze Star winner for his heroic service in Afghanistan showed he could hold his own against a tough, Cardinal defense. But this week in Kansas City, Villanueva will face an even tougher (non-military) challenge in the form of Tamba Hali.

The Chiefs have vaunted pass-rushers led by Hali (one sack) and Justin Houston (four sacks). This tandem knows how to get to a quarterback early and often. Depending on schemes, Villanueva may see either of these monsters.

The Pittsburgh offensive line has allowed 16 sacks through six games. With a very, green quarterback in Jones or a banged-up Roethlisberger, they'll need to protect the quarterback now more than ever. With blind-side protection duties returning to the left side, the onus is on Big Al in his first NFL start. He needs to have a career game the first time out.

Key Matchup #3
CB William Gay or Ross Cockrell vs WR Jeremy Maclin

The Chiefs are enjoying having Maclin around to help jump-start a receiving corps that didn't score a single touchdown in 2014. The former Eagle only has one receiving touchdown this year, but he's ranked among the league-leaders with 39 grabs (ranked eighth) and 531 yards (tied for sixth). He's the most-targeted receiver on the Chiefs with 59.

The Steelers are banged-up in the secondary, but the pressure up front has helped them to bend but not break. Gay has no interceptions and only two passes defended in 2015, while Cockrell has one pick and three pass defenses.

Maclin sat out of practice on Wednesday recovering from a concussion, but reports have him cleared to play.

With Antwon Blake hurting, Cockrell and Gay will need some help from the safeties to boost a unit that surrendered 196 yards to John Brown, 93 yards to Larry Fitzgerald and 50 to Michael Floyd last week. The bright spot was only letting them into the end zone once.

Bend-don't-break indeed.

Key Matchup #4
LOLB Alvin "Bud" Dupree vs RT Eric Fisher

The rookie out of Kentucky has an opportunity to feast on the struggling Fisher on Sunday. Dupree has three sacks in six career games and may add to that total against the former, first-overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Dupree is quick off of the snap and can get to the edge in a hurry, before the tackle gets out of his stance. Fisher has a reputation for getting out of his stance slowly and often finds himself struggling with speed rushers off of the edge.

With all of the talented sack-specialists on the red team's defense, the stars could align for the young visitor in white to shine the brightest.

Key Matchup #5
ILB Ryan Shazier vs TE Travis Kelce

It can all change, but right now it looks like Ryan Shazier is returning from a shoulder injury that cost the linebacker four games. When Shazier suits-up, he is arguably the most dynamic player on the Steelers defense. To be fair, even though his presence should be a major boost for the D, Vince Williams and Sean Spence played admirably in his stead.

Kelce, in his third season, is quickly becoming one of the most reliable Chiefs' receivers at the tight-end position. Among tight ends, his 29 receptions rank him first. His 416 yards receiving leaves him second, only nine behind Rob Gronkowski.

The Steelers have had trouble defending the big fellas at TE. Gronkowski and Antonio Gates tore them apart with 14 catches, 186 yards and five touchdowns each. Kelce, at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, fits nicely into that mold and should be Alex Smith's favorite target of the day.

Indications right now point to Shazier returning. He's fast, physical and is the best bet to challenge and stick with Kelce. If Shazier can't go, Lawrence Timmons will get the call. The bottom line remains that the Steelers' best hope to shut down Kelce is to slow him down, and that can be done by hitting him as soon as the ball is snapped. Kelce will get thrown to early and often, so Shazier needs to stay so close that he can identify which flavor of Tic-Tacs that his man is poppin'.

Other Notable Matchups

RT Marcus Gilbert vs LOLB Justin Houston

RB Le'Veon Bell vs ILB Derrick Johnson and company

LG Ramon Foster vs RDE Allen Bailey