There are several individual matchups to watch this Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs invade Heinz Field to play the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the biggest team matchup to watch will be the Steelers' red zone offense vs. the Chiefs' red zone defense.
This matchup isn't necessarily a strength vs. strength scenario, but it could turn into that if the inconsistent Steelers offense is able to move the ball within the vaunted red zone.
The Chiefs possess the best red zone defense in the NFL. They are only allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 37 percent of their trips in the red zone. If the Chiefs are able to uphold that standard through the final two weeks of the regular season it would be the best percentage since 2008 when the Baltimore Ravens only allowed opponents to score touchdowns 34.7 percent of their trips into the red zone.
The Pittsburgh Steelers offense is as dynamic as any in the NFL, but the red zone has been a huge question mark almost on a week-by-week basis. The Steelers currently rank 14th in the NFL in terms of red zone efficiency scoring touchdowns on 55 percent of their trips into the red zone. Not horrible, but certainly not an elite team.
The Steelers ability to put touchdowns on the board against the Chiefs defense could ultimately decide the outcome of the game. Fans can hope for Shaun Suisham to be relegated to kicking chip shot extra points rather than 35-45 yard field goals.
What is the key to success in this matchup? Steelers guard Ramon Foster gave some insight into what the Steelers will attempt to do this Sunday.
"I think it's what teams don't do against them for the most part," Foster told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Teams get down there and feel like they have to throw in the red zone. If you continue to do what got you down there, then you have a chance to be successful. Our job is to not let them dictate that or distract us from what we want to do."
"We want to be balanced run and pass. When you're in the red zone, the defense has a lot in their favor. They have the back of the end zone, the sidelines. They can clamp down on a lot of stuff. If you're passing, their rushers can tee off. Their rushers can play for anyone in this league. Our job is to stay on schedule, not get in third-and-8s and pass the ball. That's what they want us to do."
The Steelers offense will be looking to Le'Veon Bell often in this game, and should continue that trend in the red zone. Bell has shown the ability to run the ball well inside the 20-yard line, and the Steelers can't ignore the running game in this particular area. Something else they can't forget is Martavis Bryant's ability to cause matchup problems in the red zone.
As Foster alluded, balance will be the key for the Steelers' offense as they look to face the best red zone defense in the league Sunday at Heinz Field.