KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Seven gut-wrenching combined points in the past two games separated the Chiefs from victories.
The Chiefs (1-5) hung tough, but were unable to close the deals in an 18-17 loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 5 and a 16-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6.
“In the National Football League, things are close,” coach Andy Reid said. “And you see it by our scores, but things are close. And it’s one play here or there that matters and that’s really where we’ve got to focus in and get that taken care of.
“Whether it’s a play call, whether it’s an opportunity to make a play, if the play works that’s called, then we’ve all got to kind of step that up and get over that hump. There’s a very fine line between winning and losing in this league. And you can say it by score for us, literally, is very, very close here.”
Recent losses reflect the Chiefs have a pulse despite losing by a combined 25 points in Weeks 3-4.
And the opportunity to get back on the winning side presents itself Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2), a team likely to turn to third-string quarterback Landry Jones with Ben Roethlisberger questionable with a knee injury.
The prospects of a victory aren’t based solely on Jones potentially starting; rather it is a matter of the latest history between the Chiefs and Steelers.
While the Steelers have won three straight over the Chiefs, the scores offer close battles: 20-12 in 2014; 16-13 overtime win in 2012; and 13-9 in 2011.
The last time the Chiefs defeated the Steelers also came down to the wire in a 27-24 overtime win in 2009.
Familiarity, especially when considering the two teams met in Week 16 of the 2014 season, between opponents should play a role in Sunday’s game.
“We obviously have an idea,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said of preparing for the Steelers offense. “Pittsburgh, they kind of do what they do and they’ve been really good at it.”
Quarterback Alex Smith, who spoke from point of view of facing a Steelers defense now led by first-year coordinator Keith Butler, echoed Sutton.
“It’s similar, obviously,” Smith said. “Different coordinator, but there are some similarities. Then, obviously from a personnel standpoint, a lot of the same faces over there.”
The Chiefs are fully aware of the schemes and personnel on the Pittsburgh side of the field, with Jones presenting the wildcard factor, of course.
NFL odds makers, apparently swayed by the prospect of Jones starting, reversed course Saturday morning and now pick the Chiefs to win by two points.
Whatever happens Sunday, recent games between the Chiefs and Steelers show the matchup should be a hotly contested battle influenced by what happens in the trenches.
“They’ve always had a physical style,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said, “both offensively and defensively, but it starts up front with both their offense and defensive lines, particularly on defense.
“Their front seven is where it starts for them and it’s an aggressive group. Our guys understand that and know that they have to prepare themselves mentally that they’re going to play four quarters of physical, hard-nose football.”
That scenario should suit the Chiefs well given the scores of the past two weeks where the outcome of games weren’t determined until late in the fourth quarter.
And the hope is a close game finally turns in the Chiefs’ favor.
“I think sooner or later, it’s going to come,” defensive tackle Jaye Howard said. “We just keeping putting it in, working hard every day, it will pay off for us. We’re close. It’s a matter of time before it happens for us.”
TALE OF THE TAPE
• The Chiefs rank 20th in rushing (101 yards per game) and 19th in passing (240 yards per game).
• The Steelers rank eighth in rushing (123.8 5 yards per game) and 24th in passing (225.8 yards per game).
• The Chiefs rank 11th against the run (96.2 yards allowed per game) and 25th against the pass (276.7 yards allowed per game).
• The Steelers rank seventh against the run (93.3 yards allowed per game) and 26th against the pass (283.2 yards allowed per game).
THE LAST TIME
The Steelers defeated the Chiefs, 20-12, at Heinz Field in Week 16 of the 2014 season.
Sunday’s matchup marks the 31st time, including a playoff game won by the Chiefs, the Chiefs and Steelers will clash.
The Steelers lead the all-time series, 20-10.
• Chiefs DL Nick Williams was a seventh-round draft pick by the Steelers in 2013.
• Chiefs DL Hebron Fangupo, who is on the practice squad, spent time with the Steelers (2012-13), appearing in four games.
• Chiefs assistant head coach/wide receivers David Culley was a wide receivers coach in Pittsburgh for three seasons (1996-98).
• Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley served as the Chiefs head coach from 2009-11, and won the AFC West title in 2010.
• Pittsburgh wide receivers coach Richard Mann served in the same capacity with the Chiefs from 1999-2000.
• Steelers running backs coach James Saxon (2001-07) served as the Chiefs running backs coach from 2001-07. He also played in the NFL and originally entered the league as a sixth-round draft pick of the Chiefs in 1988.
• Steelers rookie center B.J. Finney, who is on the practice squad, played collegiately at Kansas State and is a native of Andale, Kan.
Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub on the ending of the Michigan State-Michigan game, an outcome determined by a fumbled snap by the Michigan punter returned for a touchdown:
“That was a disaster.”
Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell on Pittsburgh fans traveling well to road games:
“There are Steelers fans all over the world and it definitely gets us amped when we come out for warmups knowing we’ve still got fans in the stands.”
Herbie Teope is the lead Chiefs beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and The Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @HerbieTeope.