NFL football is finally in full swing and after a disappointing start in their season opener against the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers will host the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2 at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh has bullied Kansas City, although both teams have nearly identical records (53-27) over the past five seasons into this matchup and Sunday will be their sixth showdown in five years (the Chiefs carrying a 1-4 win-loss record in those games, plus a loss in the playoffs). Since 2014, there has been no other team in the league that has defeated the Chiefs more often than the Steelers. The Chiefs sit at the top of the AFC West after a victory over the Los Angeles Chargers and are looking to build off of the 38-28 victory and take advantage of any miscues the Steelers may have on Sunday.
Chiefs relying on Mahomes to lead
Patrick Mahomes, the second-year quarterback that convinced Andy Reid and company to part with veteran Alex Smith, threw for 256 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in the win over the Chargers. He got started off right due to a 91-yard punt return to the house by Tyreek Hill; the versatile receiver caught seven-of-eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Mahomes earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance and coach Andy Reid sees the game against the Steelers as an opportunity for the young signal caller to truly lead the offense.
"When given opportunities, you have to take advantage," Reid said this week. "This will be a nice challenge for [Mahomes] with the way (the Steelers) disguise... He needs to keep looking at (the game film and blitz packages the Steelers present) and going through the different protections in your mind and how you are going to handle them, then you go play."
“We’ve played (the Steelers) a lot in these last few years, and you can kind of look back at the tape of how they wanted to try to go against us and figure out ways to combat that," Mahomes said. "It's a brand new season and we've got a lot of guys who are hungry... this will be a great challenge to kind of get us going."
"Sometimes it just comes down to having guys that are wired right... Guys that want to line up and play four quarters of football. Our need is to just get tougher." - Chiefs general manager Brett Veach (May 2018)
“The weapons that we have as a whole, we really matchup against each other really well - [that's] everybody. Tyreek (Hill), of course, the speed and he can really stretch the defense, but Sammy (Watkins) can as well, Chris (Conley) can, we have a lot of speed guys that can really stretch the defense," Mahomes said. "Then having (Travis) Kelce and just being comfortable with him and him always being in the right spot. Having Kareem (Hunt), the O-line, we have the weapons to be really, really good. It’s about just keep improving every single week, learning from our mistakes and keep progressing.”
Dee Ford and Defense want to be more physical
Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford is no stranger to the way the Steelers play football, but he's had a fair amount of success, especially in how he got after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in each of the last three meetings. Ford, who is healthy and was on top of Philip Rivers last week before the veteran was able to look through his progressions, forcing the Chargers out of field goal range on a third down. With news that Roethlisberger may not be healthy enough to play, due to an elbow injury, Ford isn't allowing himself, or his teammates on defense, off the hook regardless of who is taking the snaps for the Steelers.
"They're physical," Ford said of the Steelers' offensive line. "They're not really maulers, but they're very fundamentally sound in what they do... We have to stay gap sound, get off blocks and make tackles."
"When you have two studs [in Dee Ford and Justin Houston] playing outside linebacker, you have to account for them," said defensive end Chris Jones of his teammates. "If you try playing then one-on-one, they'll dominate your outside guys, and it frees us inside guys up with a lot of one-on-one [opportunities] that we can take advantage of."
Ford also said that the Steelers want to run the ball, so it will be important to limit how quickly the ball gets out of the offensive backfield and the quarterback's hands by rushing and pressuring the line consistently. Linebacker Reggie Ragland echoed similar sentiments. The Steelers won't have Le'Veon Bell putting up big yardage on them this week since he has yet to report to the team, but Ragland expressed that the way to have success, defensively, against the Steelers is to take the fight to them.
"Le'Veon (Bell) has more of a patience to his game and James (Conner), he'll come straight down and just run it for the most part," Ragland explained. "I got to do a good job in my gaps regardless... I got to do a good job of seeing it and just hitting and attacking."
"It's an attitude, a mindset, a focus... It will always and forever be about us. Sometimes you have to fight for what you want and what you believe in." - Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy
On Thursday, safety Eric Berry (heel) and linebacker Ben Niemann (hamstring) did not practice. Cornerback Kendal Fuller (thumb), defensive tackle Justin Hamilton (ankle), linebacker Reggie Ragland (knee), running back Darrel Williams (shoulder) were all full participants. Offensive lineman Kahlil McKenzie was limited due to illness.