After getting a jump on the AFC West with a 38-28 victory in Los Angeles, Kansas City is back on the road for week two, traveling east to take on the Steelers. Pittsburgh is coming off a demoralizing 21-21 tie with the Cleveland Browns.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has largely had Andy Reid‘s number over the years, holding a 5-2 head-to-head record over Big Red, including playoff matchups. The Chiefs have never won a game at Heinz Field, which opened in 2001. In fact, the last time that Kansas City won a game in Pittsburgh, John Mackovic was coaching the Chiefs and Bill Kenney was under center. That was December of 1986.
If Kansas City is going notch a road win in western Pennsylvania for the first time since ALF and the Beastie Boys were the hot new things, they’re going to need a few things to go their way. These three key matchups will go a long way towards telling the tale.
Ben Roethlisberger vs. His Right Elbow
The Steelers quarterback was hit on his throwing elbow late in the game against Cleveland. Roethlisberger spent the week protecting his arm but was a full participant in Friday’s practice. He’s officially listed as questionable.
Even missing Le’Veon Bell, still M.I.A. thanks to a contract holdout, Pittsburgh’s passing attack is dangerous with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster preoccupying secondaries. All that, however, relies on Roethlisberger being able to get them the ball.
If Big Ben struggles or if his backup Josh Dobbs is forced into action, the Steelers are far easier to defend. Kansas City’s defensive backs did enough last week for the Chiefs to win, but they still gave up a ton of receptions and yards.
Running back James Conner did a great job taking over for Bell last week, putting up 192 total yards. It’s still asking a lot, though, to expect the second-year player to carry the entire offense.
Travis Kelce vs. Jon Bostic
Think Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Keith Butler didn’t notice what Tyreek Hill did last week in L.A.? The Steelers have spent the week trying to make sure that the Cheetah doesn’t run wild against them.
With the focus on Hill, Patrick Mahomes might need to look elsewhere. Kelce has earned All-Pro honors the last two seasons but he caught just one ball in the season opener. The tight end didn’t play in Mahomes lone start last season, so it’s hard to tell if that’s a trend.
Pittsburgh was tough on opposing tight ends last season and added Bostic in the offseason. Despite battling injuries for a good bit of his career, the inside linebacker is athletic enough to cover Kelce. He’s also been known, however, to bite on play action.
Fellow inside backer Vince Williams and safety Sean Davis were on the field last year when the Steelers limited Kelce to four catches for 37 yards. Mahomes needs to try to get Kelce involved and should make Bostic prove that he can handle his Pro Bowl tight end.
T.J. Watt put on a show against the Browns. The outside linebacker had three sacks and was in Cleveland’s backfield seemingly all day. Much like Pittsburgh with KC’s Hill on offense, the Chiefs are now well aware of what Watt could do to them.
It wasn’t a one-man show, though. The Steelers came up with seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss last week. Opposite Watt, defensive lineman Heyward and linebacker Dupree each had sacks of their own.
Schwartz is Kansas City’s best offensive lineman, and Duvernay-Tardif is the smartest. They’re going to need to help keep Heyward and Dupree in check to give Mahomes enough of a pocket to look downfield.
Pittsburgh gave up 177 rushing yards against Cleveland but 77 of that was to quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The Chiefs also need the right side of their line to get a push if Kareem Hunt is going to manage more than the 49 yards he had against the Chargers.