Chiefs vs. Steelers: Five Things to Watch

Key matchups, important stats, the X-Factor and a special storyline 

The Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) travel to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0-1) on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.

Kick off is set for 12:00 p.m. CT.

Here are five things to watch:

1. What could be a statement win

When the Chiefs' 2018 game schedule was released last spring, there were a lot of eyes that immediately went to this Week 2 matchup with the Steelers.

Not only did the Chiefs have to go on the road in back-to-back weeks to open the season against the Chargers and Steelers, but those games were also against teams who were thought to be two of the best in the AFC.

"That's what you do this for," Chiefs' coach Andy Reid said earlier this week. "You love the opportunity to play against good teams and a great environment."

It should be a great environment as it's the home opener for the Steelers, who are coming off a tie last week against the Cleveland Browns.

The Chiefs have won 54 regular-season games under Reid since he arrived before the 2013 season, which ties them for second-best over that stretch with the Seattle Seahawks (New England Patriots, 64), and the Steelers rank third with 53 wins.

But even with all that regular-season success, the Chiefs are just 1-4 overall against the Steelers, which includes a home playoff loss two years ago, and three of those losses were within one possession.

"Every game has been a little bit different, but the end result was that they won the game," Reid noted this week. "When you play this crew, you have to play a complete game. You have to do it for four quarters.

"Given opportunities, you have to take advantage of opportunities on both sides of the ball and special teams."

The Chiefs have had opportunities in those games but weren't able to capitalize, which offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy alluded to this week.

"It's an attitude. It's a mindset. It's a focus," he said.

The Steelers gave the Browns plenty of opportunities last week as they turned it over six times in the game, but still managed to come away with a tie.

If the Chiefs can pull of this win on Sunday, which would mark the first time since 1986 that they would've won in Pittsburgh, which spans six-straight games, it could be considered a statement win for a young team whose best football is still ahead of them.

2. How will the Chiefs handle Cam Heyward?

The Steelers' defense is loaded with standout players at every level, but after talking with the coaching staff and some of the players, the name that kept coming up was defensive lineman Cam Heyward, who has had plenty of success in his career against the Chiefs.

In his last four games against the Chiefs, Heyward has racked up 5.5 sacks, eight quarterback hits and five tackles for loss.

He has spent the majority of his time lined up over the left tackle or left guard, which means his matchup against Cam Erving will be a key to this game.

Furthermore, the Chiefs have totaled just 89 yards rushing combined in their last two meetings against the Steelers. In fact, the only win the Chiefs have over them under Reid is the one game that they had at least 100 yards rushing, which came back in 2015 when they finished with 138.

If they're going to try and hit the 100-mark this week, it'll be because they properly contained Heyward, which is much easier said than done.

3. What will the Chiefs get with James Conner?

One of the biggest storylines in the NFL through the early part of this season has been the absence of Steelers' running back Le'Veon Bell, who hasn't reported to the team after getting hit with the franchise tag this offseason.

In his last five games against the Chiefs, Bell has amassed 100 touches for 844 total yards of offense.

He's been a monster and his patient running style has been a sore sight for Chiefs' fans, but his absence on Sunday doesn't mean the next guy up doesn't present his own problems as well.

Second-year running back James Conner has taken over the duties in the backfield while Bell has been out, and he went out last week and carried it 31 times for 135 yards and a couple of touchdowns—adding five catches for 57 yards in the passing game as well.

While Conner might not have the same abilities as Bell, particularly in terms of his ability to split out and line up as a receiver, the Steelers aren't backing off from making their running game the focal point of their offense, which also problematically features the league's top receiver in Antonio Brown.

Overall, the Steelers have averaged 30 rushes for 165 yards on the ground over their last four games against the Chiefs.

So, look for guys like Xavier Williams, Derrick Nnadi, Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens to have their names called on Sunday. They'll be right in the center of the action with Conner.

Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who did practice on Friday after missing both Wednesday and Thursday's with an elbow bruise, is supposed to play, and he's been fantastic at home—winning 75 percent of his games at Heinz Field in his career.

And while Conner may be a new face to the offense for the Chiefs, the fact that Roethlisberger and Brown are still there gives them plenty of firepower.

4.    How does Patrick Mahomes handle the road environment at Heinz Field?

While last week at the StubHub Center was technically considered a road game, the facts are that there was a large contingent of Chiefs' fans in the 25,000-capacity stadium, and towards the end of the game the stadium had a very Pro-Chiefs' feel, which isn't going to be the case on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

"I think guys are ready to go," Mahomes said this week. "It's a brand-new season, and we've got a lot of guys who are hungry and want to get better every single week. This will be a great challenge in the early season to kind of get us going."

Mahomes finished last week's game 15 of 27 for 256 yards and four touchdowns, but he'll be facing a Steelers' defense on Sunday that not only led the NFL in sacks last year, or leads them after one week this year, but that's led the league in sacks since Keith Butler— their defensive coordinator—took over the duties back in 2015.

"This will be a nice challenge for [Mahomes] with the way they disguise," Reid noted of the Steelers' blitz game.

The Steelers blitzed the Browns on 21 of 54 passing plays last week, which was among the highest frequency in the league.

It's about pressure and setting the tone—something they've been very good at for a while.

"That's kind of their thing," Mahomes added. "But we've played them a lot in these last few years, and you can kind of look back at the tape of how they wanted to try to go against us and how to figure out ways to combat that."

5.    Can the Chiefs get some explosive plays?

In the last four matchups against the Steelers, the Chiefs' offense has had just 13 'explosive' plays, which means plays of at least 20 yards—either on the ground or through the air, while the Steelers have had 23 of those plays.

Whether it's time of possession, which they've also controlled, or simply making big plays, the Steelers have won in both of those areas, and it's something to watch on Sunday with this new Chiefs' offense with Mahomes under center.

Last week, the Chiefs had seven plays against the Chargers of at least 20 yards, which ties them for third-most through one week.

Much of those plays—five in fact, can be attributed directly to Tyreek Hill, who finished the game with 268 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. He caught seven passes for 169 yards and two scores, while getting things started early in the game with a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown.

"He's one of the fastest human beings I've ever seen line up in a pair of cleats," Chiefs' offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said of Hill. "When you have a player that has that unique gift to take the top off of everything, it lightens the load for a lot of different people."

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