The Pittsburgh Steelers look to stack their fourth win in a row Monday night when they take on the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field. Below are 7 things to watch for specifically in this game along with my prediction at the end of it. In case you missed it, here is the Wednesday podcast preview of the game that features a great interview with Chiefs radio personality Bob Fescoe of 610 Sports radio in Kansas City.
Accept Gifts - The Chiefs have turned the ball over 29 times in 8 games and that easily leads the league in that stat. The Steelers defense, however, has not been good at accepting gifts that other teams have tried to give them this year and have only recorded 8 takeaways so far this season in the process. The Steelers defense can single-handedly win this game if they accept the gifts the Chiefs are likely to give. Should they indeed get them, the offense has to turn them into points.
Short & Sweet - The Chiefs defense loves to give up the short stuff in the passing game and this plays right into what the Steelers offense likes to do. Through their first 8 games the Chiefs defense has allowed over a 70% completion rate to the short middle and short left areas of the field. The average gain allowed by the Chiefs defense on all short passes to all 3 areas of the field is well over 7 yards, which ranks them last in the league. On short passes to the left side they have allowed an average gain of nearly 9 yards. There will be no reason to go deep in this game unless they catch the Chiefs with a single high safety and the corners in press coverage. The Steelers should take what is given them in this game and the taking should be there short the entire night.
No Charles In Charge - Jamaal Charles is a dangerous running back. So far he has posted nearly 800 yards of offense as he has 22 catches for 158 yards to go along with 634 yards rushing. The Chiefs know that they have to establish the run in order to win this game and Charles can hurt defense both inside and outside with his style of running. Despite their record, the Chiefs offensive line is not awful. The number one priority for defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau every week is to stop the run and it wouldn\'t be surprising to see safety Will Allen down low early on in this game in an attempt to make Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel put the ball in the air in what looks to be a game that could include several rain showers
Game Plans Not Agendas - There are probably 20 good reasons as to why Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley would like to hang a 50 burger on the board against the Chiefs. That being said, the Steelers offense can\'t score 50 points on one play. The key thing here is to come out of the game with a win, and should the Steelers get a chance to run up the score when the game is in hand, then so be it. I doubt this will be a problem, but anything on offense that is out of character will be easy to point to should the Steelers somehow wind up losing this game. Haley said all of the right things this past week and he needs to stick what has worked offensively though the first 8 games.
McCluster Factor - When Chris Rainey was drafted by the Steelers back in April, we all envisioned that he would be used similarly to the way Haley used Dexter McCluster in Kansas City. Through the first half of the season McCluster has 29 catches for 258 yards and a touchdown, with 14 of those catches coming in the last 3 games on 22 targets. The Chiefs like to line McCluster up in the slot in three-wide receiver formations so that he can get a free release off of the line of scrimmage. The diminutive back will easily run away from a linebacker, so on obvious passing downs he will need to be covered by a nickel corner, likely Cortez Allen. McCluster is not a big guy and can easily be roughed up after the catch. He will likely have a few catches in this game but must be wrapped up quickly as he can turn a 5 yard slant into a 40 yard gain very easily. Although the Chiefs like to run their offense through Charles and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, McCluster is an x-factor in this game that the Steelers defense must be very aware of.
Control The Double H Duo - The Chiefs outside linebacker tandem of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston have combined for 11 of the 14 sacks that the Chiefs have recorded this season. These two players will switch sides throughout the game and could pose problems for tackles Max Starks and Mike Adams. Starks has experience against both of them and did not fare well against them in the meeting last season as he allowed 5 pressures in the game. This will be the first time that Adams, who is coming off of an uneven performance last Sunday against the New York Giants, will face the duo and he could be in for a rude awakening against either of the two. The best way to slow down any pass rush is by running the ball effectively and the Steelers offense must not allow themselves to constantly get in third or long situations as both linebackers will certainly be able to pin their ears back and get after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The effectiveness of the Chiefs pass rush early on could result in tight end Heath Miller spending a lot of time helping the tackles which in turn would slow his release from the line of scrimmage. Make no mistake, Hali and Houston can take over this game if the Steelers are not careful on offense.
Sweep The Leg Early - The Steelers failed to take out both the Tennessee Titans and the Oakland Raiders earlier this season and Chiefs have to be well aware of that. They come into this game knowing that if they are allowed to hang around until late in the game that they can come away with win like those two teams did. The Steelers must come out knowing that they have to put away a team like Kansas City early as they should roll over easily in the second half if faced with a huge deficit. We all remember what happened last season in Kansas City and you have to know that the coaching staff has pointed to that game, as well as the other two against the Titans and the Raiders, all week. The motivation that Haley has to win this game will be matched by several Chiefs players who would like nothing more than to settle some scores that they might have with him as well. Sweep the leg early and the fight will quickly leave the dog in this game.
Prediction - The Steelers are once again in a situation where if the game was played on paper they would be given the win. We saw how the other two games similar to this one worked out against the Raiders and the Titans earlier this season and a loss to the Chiefs is a paper game trifecta that the Steelers do not want to accomplish. Fans and bloggers love to throw out the term "trap game" when describing games such as the one that the Steelers will play Monday night as they want to look smarter in their analysis. Long time followers of the NFL know that every game is a "trap game" because you are dealing with professionals that are close in ability and paid to perform. The Steelers showed last week against the New York Giants that they are a team to be reckoned with this season and their defense has finally adjusted to playing without Troy Polamalu. As long as the offense does not turn the ball over and the defense does not allow several explosive plays, the Steelers will win this game. What Haley knows about his former team should come in handy to some degree. A loss to the Chiefs will be unacceptable on many levels and I just can\'t see it happening this time around.
Final Score - Steelers 31 Chiefs 13