Scouting Report: Steelers' T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree Aim to Slow Chiefs' offense
The Steelers have some key pieces missing or questionable for this game. The list starts with CB Joe Haden (hamstring), who the club labeled doubtful for the game after not practicing this week. CB Artie Burns (toe) was a limited participant in practice on Friday and is listed as questionable.
DE Tyson Alualu (shoulder) is doubtful, while DT Cameron Heyward (knee) is questionable, but was a full participant in practice on Thursday and Friday.
G David DeCastro (hand) is doubtful and TE Vance McDonald (foot) is questionable after practicing in full all week.
The biggest name on the injury report is QB Ben Roethlisberger (right elbow). He is listed as questionable, but after practicing on Friday is expected to play.
For the Chiefs, safety Eric Berry (heel) and Ben Niemann (hamstring) are listed as doubtful and out respectively.
Key Offensive Players
#7 QB Ben Roethlisberger – The 15-year veteran comes off of a rough outing last week with three interceptions in a tie against the Cleveland Browns. It's an eerie parallel with last season when Big Ben threw five picks versus Jacksonville the week before visiting Kansas, only to throw for 252 yards with a touchdown in a 19-13 win over the Chiefs.
#30 RB James Connor – Connor comes fresh off 31 carries for 135 yards and two touchdowns along with fives catches for 57 yards in Week 1. Pittsburgh should get the ball to Connor early and often trying to establish a strong run game.
#84 WR Antonio Brown – Brown had a quiet day by his standards last week with nine catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. He remains the favorite receiver of Roethlisberger and should see 10 to 15 targets.
#19 WR JuJu Smith-Schuster – He posted five catches for 119 yards against the Browns in week 1. While he ranks as the No. 2 option in the passing game, he remains a threat for big runs after the catch. The Chiefs need to make sure to deny him have open space to run.
What the Steelers Like to Do
Roethlisberger likes to get the ball out quick and let his playmakers do the work for him, and who can blame him with the talented group around him. They will throw to Brown and Smith-Schuster often while sprinkling in passes to tight ends in the middle of the field and then hit the defense hard in between the tackles with their run game.
They throw screens and run power run plays when in the red zone. This is the area of the field that Brown and Connor should dominate.
Where to Attack the Steelers
The Chiefs need to get pressure this week. The talent at wide receive can give the Chiefs defense nightmares if forced to cover for very long. When Roethlisberger gets pressure, which he often avoids by getting rid of the ball quickly, he tends to lock on to a receiver and doesn’t scan the field. Get him on the move, and you can force Big Ben into mistakes.
The offensive line stands as a very solid group. Speed off the edge didn’t seem an issue for them last week versus the Browns. Cleveland had some success getting leverage on center Maurkice Pouncey and driving him straight back.
The biggest key for the defense this week is to not let this group of very skilled players get going. They need to be solid in coverage, and make tackles when given the opportunity. The Steelers are not patient and want the home-run play, so avoid the big play opportunities, they start to press and make mistakes.
Key Defensive Players
#90 OLB T.J. Watt – Watt is the main guy in this defense. He had three sacks last week, led the team with 10 total tackles and can haunt offensive lineman off the edge. He also drops back in coverage, and played a spy role on the quarterback last week. His main job this week is to live in the backfield and not allow Mahomes time to throw.
#97 DT Cameron Heyward and #91 DE Stephon Tuitt – Heyward and Tuitt get a lot of penetration and wreck havoc in a team’s blocking schemes with how quickly they can get off the ball and drive the offensive line backwards.
#48 OLB Bud Dupree – Dupree shows quick speed off the edge. He must become a consistent threat if this defense wants to slow down the Chiefs.
The strength of the Steelers defense lies with its front seven. The defensive line and outside linebackers get a lot of push on the and can blow up plays before they get a chance to develop. The group possesses quick and strength and focuses on destroying blocking schemes to put pressure on the quarterback. The matchup between the Chiefs offensive line and this very good front seven should rank as the key to this game. If the Chiefs can neutralize the speed and power of this group and give Mahomes time to work his magic, Pittsburgh could have a long afternoon.
Pittsburgh enters this week with beat-up secondary. Both starting cornerbacks appear on the injury report with Haden, their best cover corner, not expected to play. Burns has a toe injury, and if he plays the Chiefs should pick on his side of the field. He doesn't play with the best instincts and seems to guess a lot, aggressively trying to jump routes but lacking the speed to cover for very long. Burns jumps the short routes when in cover 2, leaving the safety on an island trying to get over the top quickly. Lucky for the Chiefs the Steelers don’t flip sides with their corners, so Kansas City can dictate who covers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins.
Strong safety Morgan Burnett comes up in the box to help on the run and cover the tight end or sits back in a cover 2 shell. Travis Kelce could have a big game, because Burnett cannot cover him by himself. Free Safety Sean Davis lacks speed and struggles to stay over the top of receivers when playing single-high or Cover 2.
The linebackers don’t get very deep on their zone drops, and seem more determined to play the run. The Chiefs can work dig routes in behind them off of play-action passes.
The Steelers defense doesn't yield yards on the ground easily. Their front seven causes havoc with quickness and speed. The Browns had success running off tackle with power plays and stretch plays. Watt plays the run well, but he struggles to get off of blocks if you force him to move laterally towards the sideline. Dupree also struggles with block destruction when teams run at him. The Chiefs can take advantage of how overly aggressive the front seven plays by running draws, screens and misdirection.
Special Teams Notes
Kicker Chris Boswell and punter Jordan Berry deliver solid performances. Neither stand out as special, but remain good at what they do.
Ryan Switzer returns both kicks and punts and is shifty, quick and very dangerous with the ball in his hands.