Countdown: Steelers vs. Chiefs

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Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (8-6)
Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014
Heinz Field
1 p.m.; CBS

SERIES HISTORY: Steelers lead, 19-9 (9-4 in Pittsburgh). The Steelers have won the previous two meetings and three of the last four. Two of the last four games between the teams have gone into overtime.

LAST MEETING: Steelers 16, Chiefs 13 (OT), Nov. 12, 2012, Heinz Field: An interception of QB Matt Cassel by LB Lawrence Timmons on the second play of overtime set K Shaun Suisham up for what became a 23-yard, game-winning field goal. Kansas City had tied the game on K Ryan Succop's 46-yard field goal on the final play of regulation. The Steelers won their 15th consecutive game on Monday Night Football despite losing QB Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder) in the third quarter.

LAST WEEK: The Steelers took a 20-7 lead at halftime in Atlanta and outlasted the Falcons, 27-20. CB William Gay produced his Steelers-record third interception return for a touchdown on the season (52 yards). The Chiefs snapped a three-game losing streak via a 31-13 victory over Oakland in Kansas City. The Chiefs broke the game against the Raiders open by scoring 21 third-quarter points.

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WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL**: The running backs and tight ends figure to continue dictating the success of Kansas City's possessions.

A Chiefs wide receiver hasn't caught a touchdown pass in 17 straight games, since Dwayne Bowe on Dec. 8, 2013 at Washington. But TEs Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano and RBs Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis have combined for 15 touchdown receptions (Kelce leads the team with 56 catches). Kansas City's offense (No. 22 overall, No. 7 rushing, No. 30 passing) is often identifiable by its deliberate pace and approach. QB Alex Smith doesn't have a 300-yard passing game this season (he had 297 last Sunday against Oakland and 293 on Dec. 7 at Arizona) and the Chiefs haven't had one of those since Matt Cassel on Sept. 16, 2012 at Buffalo (a run of 44 consecutive games, by far the longest active streak in the NFL). But Smith is quite capable of moving the chains by relying on the running game and by relentlessly taking advantage of slants, crossing routes, check-downs, screens and play-action bootlegs, and by running when opportunities materialize. The Chiefs are much more efficient (they're No. 2 in red zone offense at 67.5 percent) than they are splashy.

The offense runs through Charles as much as possible. His 5.2 average per carry, 950 rushing yards, nine rushing touchdowns, 235 receiving yards and five touchdown catches are as attention getting as the power, cut-back ability, shiftiness and burst he displays while amassing his stats. Big plays from the Chiefs have been a rarity all season. Bowe's longest reception is 37 yards and that occurred last Sunday against Oakland. Rookie WR Albert Wilson had a 48-yard catch in that game, which was the Chiefs' longest of the season until Davis caught a short pass and ran for 66 yards on what became a 70-yard score. Those plays are either a sign the Chiefs are becoming more big-play capable or the result of having played the Raiders.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL**: Dealing with pressure on the passer likely will enter the equation.

The Chiefs are No. 8 in total defense (28th rushing, second passing) and tied for No. 6 with 38 sacks. LOLB Justin Houston has 17 of those (tied for the NFL lead with Elvis Dumervil) and is a big reason why the Chiefs are often able to "hurry, harass, hit and hurt" opposing quarterbacks, as CBS analyst Solomon Wilcots observed during the Chiefs-Raiders broadcast. ROLB Tamba Hali six sacks) provides pressure from the other side and NT Dontari Poe (6-foot-3, 346 pounds) is Haloti Ngata-like, in Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's estimation, in terms of Poe's conditioning and productivity (five sacks). The Chiefs have held seven opponents under 200 yards passing and haven't allowed more than 253 in a game (Nov. 9 at Buffalo).

Kansas City went with a "Bears Defense" (a five-man line with the center and both guards covered) last Sunday and held the Raiders to 78 rushing yards after having allowed an average of 164.6 yards per game over its previous six games. The Chiefs love to blitz, probably as much as any opponent the Steelers have faced this season, and they'll try to overwhelm with numbers as well as scheme their way to the quarterback. Without S Eric Berry (non-football illness/Hodgkin's lymphoma), Kansas City has played seven defensive backs in groups of four, five or six at a time. The Chiefs are aggressive on the back end but have just four interceptions (they're tied with the Raiders and Jets with an NFL-low 11 takeaways), in part because there often isn't time to throw down the field against them. They're allowing opponents red zone touchdowns an NFL-best 38.3 percent of the time.

SPECIAL-TEAMS HEADLINERS: Kansas City rookie WR De'Anthony Thomas had an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown last Sunday against the Raiders. The Steelers held NFL record-setting return man Devin Hester to one attempt and 7 punt return yards last Sunday in Atlanta.

THE X-FACTOR: Kansas City has lost to Tennessee (2-12) and Oakland (2-12) and has beaten New England (11-3) and Seattle (10-4). Much like the Steelers, the Chiefs have been a difficult team to get a handle on from week to week this season.

THEY SAID IT: "We don't have to worry about anything else outside of our stadium. We win, we're in; that's all that really matters. We don't have to worry about any other teams, what they're doing, who lost or who won. It takes all of our headaches away." – RB Le'Veon Bell.

"He's just an incredibly versatile player. A guy who does it all for us (and) that is able to do it all. You name it, he does it – run, catch, short-yardage, goal-line, two-minute. The guy does it all. We ask a lot of him and puts in a lot of time and takes it all on and does a great job with it." – Alex Smith on Jamaal Charles.

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