What was good enough to get the job done last Sunday at Heinz Field doesn't figure to lead to the same outcome on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. And Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday he plans to make that very clear to his team as it prepares for a trip to Kansas City to face the 10-4 Chiefs, currently the top team in the AFC.
Against the Titans, who came to Heinz Field last Sunday at 9-4, the Steelers scored only three points in the first half and converted only 1-of-3 red zone opportunities on the way to finishing with 19 points. That's not going to cut it this Sunday. Not even close.
"We've got a lot of work ahead of us," said Tomlin during his weekly news conference at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. "We've got to take care of the ball. We've got to score points. The 19 points that we scored last week (in the win over the Titans), I don't think it's realistic to believe that's going to be enough to get out of the stadium with a victory this time around, particularly just given their recent outputs and what's transpired with them this year."
The Chiefs have scored 46 touchdowns in their 14 games so far in 2021, and that puts them tied-for-fourth in the NFL with Buffalo and Dallas, and behind Indianapolis, the Chargers, and Tampa Bay. The Steelers have scored 30 touchdowns through 14 games this season, which is tied-for-22nd in the NFL; only once have they finished a game with 30-or-more points – in a 41-37 loss to the Chargers – and they have scored 20-or-fewer points eight times in 2021.
Kansas City is sixth in the NFL in points per game, while the Steelers are 21st.
"They've lost four games," said Tomlin about the 10-4 Chiefs, "and in three of those four games that they lost, the opponent has scored more than 30 points. That's a blueprint, if you will, of a traditional way of winning the game."
The Chiefs lost to the Ravens, 36-35; to the Chargers, 30-24; to the Bills, 38-20; and to the Titans, 27-3.
"Obviously the games write themselves, but we'd better come in being prepared to score points," said Tomlin. "We'd better be prepared to come in to minimize (Kansas City), particularly in situational football, in an effort to get off the field on third down. You can't have senseless third down losses from a defensive perspective. You've got to get off on a short field and make them settle for field goals. If they're scoring touchdowns, you're going to have tough sledding."
And it's also a situation where it's more than how you finish against the Chiefs, but how you start. In the Steelers last four games, they have fallen behind by 10-0, 23-0, 10-3, and 17-3; and the Chiefs have been the exact opposite by jumping out to leads of 10-0, 35-0, 10-0, and 16-3. Kansas City's defense then has been able to take advantage of those early leads and create turnovers that have been its opponents' undoing.
"That's something that they have done and done particularly well in recent weeks," said Tomlin. "Their starts have been significant. In the outset of games they've been up by 13, up by 10, and so forth, a couple of possessions into the game for them and their opponent. Coupled with our recent experience, that's just something that can't transpire. We can't play the game in that way, particularly within the comforts of Arrowhead Stadium."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"From a health standpoint, Pat Freiermuth is in the concussion protocol. As always, we'll let the protocol be our guide, as he works back to practice and then the quality of that practice participation coupled with the evaluations that come from our medical experts will be our guide. Chris Wormley has a groin (injury) that didn't allow them to finish the game. He has been evaluated and is being aggressive in treatment. It'll be the same approach with him – his practice availability and the quality of that work will be our guide. Isaiah Buggs is still dealing with an ankle (injury). We've got several guys who have missed time who are working their way back or attempting to work their way back, guys such as Kevin Dotson and J.C. Hassenauer are in the practice component of working their way back now, and so we'll see what the quality of that practice work looks like in determining their availability."
Because Dotson currently is on the injured reserve list, he will have to be activated to the 53-man roster before he can return to practice. "I intend to start the 21-day window of his availability this week."