Six Points: Steelers vs. Chiefs
The Chiefs (1-5) look to avoid a sixth straight loss when they host the rallying Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
They’ll likely do so against a third-string quarterback as all signs point to Landry Jones making his first NFL start despite the return of Ben Roethlisberger to practice this week. Jones ignited the Steelers against Arizona last weekend, and he’s fresh off a full week of practice with newly-reinstated deep threat Martavis Bryant (six catches, 137 yards, 2 TD in Week 6).
It might be hard for the Chiefs to keep up. Already down Jamaal Charles (ACL), they could also be without wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (concussion) on Sunday. That would put even more pressure on quarterback Alex Smith to stop the bleeding.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Steelers and Chiefs:
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1. Protect the quarterback
The Steelers are now without their top two offensive linemen after left tackle Kelvin Beachum’s season-ending torn ACL last week. That leaves unseasoned former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva, who played receiver in college, to protect the blind side of either Roethlisberger or Jones. Roethlisberger’s mobility will be limited if he is somehow able to play while the Chiefs will look to confuse and pressure Jones in his first NFL start.
2. End the Brownout
Antonio Brown’s production has dropped off a cliff without Roethlisberger, catching just 11 balls for 111 yards in three games. Whoever the quarterback is needs to get Brown involved. Using one of the best receivers in the game as a decoy will only get the Steelers so far.
3. Blanket Kelce
Travis Kelce may be the only serious threat in the passing game on Sunday, especially if Maclin doesn’t make it out of the concussion protocol. Top tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates have had field days against the Steelers defense, which should look to double-cover Kelce at all times.
1. Give Charcandrick West a Charles-like workload
That’s the only way to fairly evaluate the Chiefs’ new running back. Last week shouldn’t count – the team was shell-shocked from losing Charles and was held to season-lows in rushing (57 yards). West needs to get the opportunity to prove he’s the best rushing option before this season spirals any further.
2. Give Marcus Peters some looks against Antonio Brown
Like the team he plays for, Peters has cooled down considerably after a solid debut. He has allowed more touchdowns in primary coverage than any other NFL corner. That doesn’t mean he lacks the talent to go toe-to-toe with the NFL’s best deep threat. Consider it both a short and long-term investment in Peters’ evaluation.
3. Grab an early lead and pressure Jones constantly
Pittsburgh didn’t ask its young backup to do too much last week; he only threw 12 times in total against Arizona. Jones can hand off to Bell all game if he’s ahead. If he’s not, he’ll be looking for Bryant or Brown, so Justin Houston and Co. need to hit home.