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Limiting big plays on special teams is the key to a Steelers win

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Preventing rookie phenom Tyreek Hill from dominating the return game will be the key for a Steelers victory

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has changed since the 43-14 drumming the Steelers put on the Chiefs in Week 4. All-Pro utility knife Tyreek Hill, for example, has 12 touchdowns since that first meeting, three of which occurred on special teams.

That’s gonna be a problem for a shaky Pittsburgh special teams that has been unable to match the stoutness of the defense or the potency of the offense.

The Steelers are ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in both kickoff and punt coverage, which means Hill, who ranks 6th in kickoff return average (27.4 yards) and 1st in punt return average (15.2 yards), could be in line for a career game. Hill also leads in league in returns of 20 or more yards (8) and 40 or more yards (3), so he could be a major thorn in Pittsburgh’s side in the field position game even if he’s not scoring touchdowns.

Kansas City has a surplus of offensive and defense superstars, including tight end Travis Kelce, linebacker Justin Houston and defense backs Eric Berry and Marcus Peters, which means the Steelers will have their hands full enough on the other sides of the ball. Even if Pittsburgh’s newly-adopted ultra-aggressive defense gameplan inhibits Kansas City’s offense and the Killer B’s control the offense, a special teams touchdown or big return that gives Alex Smith a short field to work with is going to greatly reduce Pittsburgh’s margin for error.

Las Vegas favors the Chiefs (-1.5) at home, but it seems like a large contingent of sportswriters and analysts are picking the Steelers to advance to the AFC Championship game. Therefore, if Pittsburgh wants to avoid an “upset,” mitigating Hill’s impact on special teams is going to be a major key.