Rushing yards can be difficult to come by against the Steelers; they are a traditional AFC North team, which means they believe in controlling the line of scrimmage. Defensive end Cam Heyward (6-5, 295) blends power and quickness; he leads a stout 3-4 defensive front that will be without defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who will miss the game with an injury. The Chiefs catch a break there. Lawrence Timmons (6-1, 234) is the team leader in tackles with 44; he leads an inside linebacker corps that will receive a boost with the return of super-athletic 2014 first-round pick Ryan Shazier. Free safety Mike Mitchell (6-1, 221) is a hitter who is in the midst of a bounce-back year. This unit is not impenetrable, though; on Oct. 1, they surrendered 191 rushing yards to the Baltimore Ravens. But without Jamaal Charles, the Steelers — who have gone three straight games of forcing multiple turnovers — still have the edge.
Chiefs’ top rusher
When the Chiefs pass
EDGE >> CHIEFS
You can throw on the Steelers — opposing quarterbacks are completing nearly 70 percent of their passes against them — but their philosophy is to tighten up in the red zone. The Chiefs will receive a huge boost if Jeremy Maclin (concussion) can play; the Steelers, while they rank 14th in the NFL with five interceptions, can be stressed by speed. That’s a reason they’ve given up six passing plays over 40 yards or more, the fifth-most in the league. They also struggle to cover athletic tight ends — that’s often the tradeoff that comes with having a bunch of run-stoppers in your front seven — which means Travis Kelce, who got more involved last week against the Vikings, could have some room to work. But the Steelers do have a capable cast of edge rushers who can rush the quarterback, including Arthur Moats (6-0, 246), rookie Bud Dupree (6-4, 269), Jarvis Jones (6-3, 248) and James Harrison (6-0, 242). Harrison, in particular, terrorized the Chiefs a year ago — at 37, he’s still aggressive and effective. The Steelers’ ability to rush the passer is a concern, considering the Chiefs have yielded the third-most sacks in the league (24) and have surrendered the eighth-most quarterback hits (36). The Steelers, meanwhile, rank seventh in the NFL with 17 sacks. They like to stack the line with defenders and bring their fair share of stunts and blitzes with linebackers and defensive backs.
Chiefs’ top QB
Chiefs’ top WR
When the Steelers run
EDGE >> STEELERS
The Steelers can throw it, but they also mix in their fare share of power sets and running plays, complete with pulling linemen. Their tight ends are also above-average run blockers — starter Heath Miller (6-5. 256) was a nuisance against the Chiefs last year, catching seven passes for 68 yards — so power football is very much part of the Steelers’ mentality. That’s where Le’Veon Bell (6-1, 225) fits in. Bell isn’t a blazer, but he blends power, patience and versatility; he can hurt you, both as a runner and receiver. The Chiefs did a good job containing him a year ago (72 total yards), but they won’t take that for granted. The Steelers miss center Maurkice Pouncey, who is out with an ankle injury, but they’ve still been able to run the football fairly well this year. The line began to wear on the Cardinals as the game went on last week.
Steelers’ top rusher
When the Steelers pass
EDGE >> STEELERS
Ben Roethlisberger has missed the last three games and is questionable, but his replacement, Landry Jones, is coming off a promising effort in relief against Arizona. The former Oklahoma star had a handful of impressive throws, and he has strong supporting cast around him, too. Receiver Antonio Brown (5-10, 181) is elite; his speed, quickness, hands and route-running make him a difficult cover in today’s NFL, where you can no longer be super-physical with receivers. He is one of the league’s very best players, but he’s been frustrated recently because he hasn’t been getting the ball much. Brown is complemented by Markus Wheaton (5-11, 189) and super-sized second-year pro Martavis Bryant (6-4, 211), who has some explosiveness; he broke off a 88-yard touchdown a week ago, and showed a connection with Jones. This is a big-play team; the Steelers rank second in the league with seven pass plays over 40 yards, which could spell trouble for a Chiefs team that has surrendered 24 passes of 20 yards or more, which is the sixth-most in the league. The offensive line is not without its faults, however; the Steelers have yielded the eighth-most sacks in the league (16) and the 19th-most quarterback hits (26), while the Chiefs rank 13th in the NFL with 13 sacks. They might be wise to test left tackle Alejandro Villanueva (6-9, 320), who will step in at left tackle for Kelvin Beachum, who is out for the year with an ACL tear.
Steelers’ top QB
Steelers’ top WR
EDGE >> CHIEFS
The Steelers are on their fourth kicker since the preseason, as they signed Chris Boswell earlier this month to replace the struggling Josh Scobee. Boswell has responded by going a perfect 5-for-5 on field goals, and was recently named the AFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week. Cairo Santos is only 12-of-15, but one miss was a ludicrous 66-yarder. Santos also has a better touchback percentage. Punter Dustin Colquitt is about even with Pittsburgh’s Jordan Berry in punts inside the 20, while Berry has the edge in fair catches. The Steelers also have the edge in kick- and punt-return averages — both Antonio Brown and Dri Archer (5-8, 173) can fly — while the Chiefs’ coverage teams have the edge in terms of averages. So it’s very close, but Santos’ presence pushes the Chiefs over the top.
EDGE >> STEELERS
Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin is entering his ninth year as the Steelers’ head coach, and he boasts a Super Bowl title, two Super Bowl appearances and a .642 career winning percentage. That’s pretty strong, obviously; it tops Andy Reid’s .583 winning percentage over 17 seasons. Former Chiefs head coach Todd Haley has done a good job since being hired as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator; the offense has been explosive, diverse and productive. New defensive coordinator Keith Butler has some big shoes to fill — he was promoted this January to replace the legendary Dick LeBeau — and has mixed in elements of the 4-3 defense, as opposed to the tradition 3-4 scheme the Steelers have long run.
EDGE >> STEELERS
The Chiefs going to have win this one outright, because the Steelers do a good job of not beating themselves. They protect the football — they rank first in the league with a turnover margin of plus-6 — and don’t commit many penalties, so springing an upset will be difficult.
Bottom line: Steelers 24-20
If Jones is the starter instead of Roethlisberger, the door is open for a surprise upset. But the Chiefs have found ways to lose this season, and they’ll have to show more than they have before they can get the benefit of the doubt again.