5 things to watch out for as Chiefs welcome Steelers

For most of the 2021 season, the Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) were on the safe side of “COVID luck” – but it couldn’t go on forever.

In week 16 they will be missing many key players for their home game with the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1); with these absences counted, the Chiefs are favorites with 8.5 points, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Here is the latest news from the Reserve / COVID-19, as of Friday afternoon.

I’m going to preview the game as if these bosses aren’t taking the field – which could make it air combat.

1. Who to pitch in a shorthanded attack?

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(UPDATE, December 25: Tyreek Hill has cleared COVID-19 protocols and is expected to play against the Steelers. Following information here.)

For the first time since quarterback Patrick Mahomes began his early career in the final week of 2017, he should potentially play a game without Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.

Even with the extended time to prepare for such absences, not having the players he throws 48% of his passes and which occupy 55% of his film production will be a big challenge. They’ll surely put more emphasis on the running game, but it can’t be all games – and this is where reserve wide receivers will need to step up.

At the wide receiver level, this should be the best time for Mahomes to force the issue with Josh Gordon’s involvement. There was no need to focus on high volume efforts for Gordon with the way the team used to win – but in this game there’s no reason not to try: none of the receivers around him. hasn’t proven he can step up his game this season.

With both Kelces on the verge of going missing, a lot will be put on the shoulders of fifth-round rookie pick Noah Gray at the tight end. He gradually got involved in the offense as the season progressed, but that workload will be doubled or tripled here. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Gray playing near the most snaps of any skill-level player on Sunday.

2. Blitzer Ben Roethlisberger

NFL: Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

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Pittsburgh did a great job bypassing their shortcomings on offense for a winning record. One way to compensate for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s immobility and inexperienced protection is to execute the passing play fast – but that can’t be used in all situations.

When the Steelers come into third down with more than five yards to go, it can get lousy with the extended time Roethlisberger has to fall back on. Teams have been successful in beating against them, mainly due to the overall inexperience in protecting passes outside of Roethlisberger. The offensive line is young, and rookie running back Najee Harris has looked lost with pressure at times.

As long as he knows where he’s going with the ball, Roethlisberger can beat the blitz – but when he lets the pressure get to him, it becomes disastrous. According to PFFHe threw 12 games worthy of a turnover when under pressure this season – the most in the NFL.

With the confusion defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo creates on the line of scrimmage with his pass-rush packages, they could overwhelm a unit that is really struggling to counter in these situations.

3. More emphasis needed to run the ball

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders vs. Kansas City Chiefs

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With the passing game being badly affected by the COVID absences, this game would be more than ever a good time to really rely on a ground game designed to make big plays on its own, rather than being a filler of. time between explosive passing games.

The Steelers certainly have the defense to allow that to happen: for the season, Pittsburgh allowed the highest rate of yards per carry in the NFL (4.9) and the second most rushing yards also. In the past two weeks, Pittsburgh allowed 443 rushing yards even as they recovered players from injury and Reserve / COVID roster.

However, linebacker Devin Bush was placed on this list this week – which could expose their defense environment even more.

That said, the Chiefs’ hasty attack could do nothing against an equally weak defense against the Los Angeles. Chargers A week ago. It will be even more difficult without Kelce and Hill getting the attention of the Steelers game plan; In addition, starting right tackle Lucas Niang is currently expected to miss this game, which undermines the effectiveness of blocking the race.

4. Importance of the performance of the Chiefs linebacker

NFL: Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs

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After missing Willie Gay Jr. last week, the Chiefs linebacker squad got him back – just for rookie Nick Bolton to replace him on the Reserve / COVID roster.

This particular game would be nice to have all three guys ready to play. Not only do the Steelers attack with quick outward throws, the offense will also target tight ends and running back Najee Harris in midfield or on quick downward throws. This is where Gay’s lineup of sidelines will come in handy.

At the same time, the Steelers will always strive to establish a running game with Harris – which has not been effective this season. It’s not Harris’s fault, however, and that’s why it’s always important for linebackers to tackle solidly and clean up run stoppages after the defensive line does its job, or Harris will make them pay – especially if Bolton isn’t there to help.

5. Showcasing the running backs as wide receivers

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Chargers

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Even with Kelce and Hill on the pitch, we’ve seen running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams receive an increase in their use as wide receivers. In the last four games, Clyde has the third team targets – while Williams has the fourth highest number of catches and yards.

This part of the games of both players will be even more necessary in this game. The Steelers won’t be giving Mahomes much time to throw in the pocket – especially with Niang’s absence leading to a clash between Andrew Wylie and Steelers rusher TJ Watt. Even when he does, he won’t see his most trusted targets open for him.

This will likely lead to plenty of quick targets for the running back group, who could also take advantage of Pittsburgh’s weakest defense position: linebackers.

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