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Berth in AFC Title Game at Stake

A history lesson, tape review, prediction, complete breakdown and much more in this Steelers-Chiefs playoff preview.

MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT

Steelers 20, Chiefs 13

Oct. 26, 1998 at Arrowhead Stadium

The Steelers played the Chiefs at Arrowhead on Monday nights in three consecutive years in the later 1990s, and came very close to sweeping all three against excellent Marty Schottenheimer teams. The Steelers won in '96 with Mike Tomczak, went to the wire before losing with Kordell Stewart in '97, and then beat the Chiefs with Stewart in this one in '98.

The overflowing-capacity crowd of 76,416 (7th all-time at Arrowhead) was about 200 shy of the 2014 MNF game at Arrowhead that set a noise record of 142.2 decibels. A jet taking off registers 150 decibels to a person standing 25 feet away and can rupture eardrums. So that's about what the Steelers beat in this battle of 4-2 teams. It helped that Lance Brown blocked a first-quarter punt and Fred McAfee recovered it for a touchdown.

With a 10-6 lead, rookie Hines Ward lined up in the backfield, took a handoff and threw back 17 yards to Stewart to set up a short field goal for a 13-6 lead. After Andre Rison caught a TD pass from Elvis Grbac to tie the game, Jerome Bettis led the Steelers down the field to set up a short Stewart-to-Charles Johnson TD for the go-ahead score. Carnell Lake's interception and Jason Gildon's strip-sack halted the last two Chiefs drives.

The tight end-led Chiefs couldn't get any more than 3 passes to Tony Gonzalez, while the Steelers also held scary return ace Tamarick Vanover to 116 yards on seven kicks.

TALE OF THE TAPE

"If you look over the Kansas City Chiefs, it's not the dynamo Chiefs team we've seen in the past. But they do have a singular dynamo in Tyreek Hill. I know that a lot's been said about him, but when you see his tape and see the things that he does, you can see that 4.29 speed is for real. They put him at split end, in the slot, as a split back. I mean, I haven't seen split back since Tunch (Ilkin) and I were playing. They put him at tailback, as a side car, in motion, every way you can think of, and then punt and kick return. Any possible way they can put the ball in his hands, they do it, and he does some amazing things with it. He went 80 yards with a bubble screen. His ability to go from zero to 60 is remarkable. They ran a 35 lead, a lead blocker between the guard and tackle, and he went untouched for 60 yards. And like Tunch said, if it was flag or even touch football, he still would've scored. If you don't redirect him, corral him, when you have the opportunity, you still won't have the opportunity, because if he's ahead of you heading toward the end zone, he's going to be in the end zone, I guarantee." -- Steelers Radio analyst Craig Wolfley.

TOP QUESTION

How often will the Steelers use their jumbo run-game package?

The Chiefs, like the Steelers, have a quality, run-stuffing 3-4 defense that loses its anchoring nose tackle against 3-WR packages, and teams hit them with the run game. In the previous meeting, the Steelers made extensive use of four wide receivers, yet Le'Veon Bell rushed for 144 yards. Do the Steelers use their spread package to run the ball against the Chiefs' porous nickel? Or do they challenge the Chiefs' 3-4 with the 3-OT/multiple TE/FB packages that have been working so well down the stretch? The latter is less risky against the Chiefs' turnover machine of a defense.

THREE QUESTIONS: With RT MARCUS GILBERT

Q: Are you playing the best football of your life right now?

MG: "That's for somebody else to say. I think as a unit we've been playing a lot better, especially with the return of Maurkice (Pouncey), and Al (Villanueva)'s been playing unbelievable. We're growing together. Across the board, really, all of us got a lot better, and that's due to coaching, our hard work and our preparation, how we handle things. But I feel great. Physically, everybody goes through the bumps and bruises, the aches, whatnot, but mentally I feel the best I've felt in a long, long time."

Q: Does it bug you that left tackles get more love, even money, than right tackles?

MG: "Yeah. It bothered me for a while, but I can't fight City Hall. You can't do anything, especially when right tackles have to face guys like Justin Houston, Von Miller, Carlos Dunlap, Khalil Mack. They all play on my side. But the quarterback knows. He knows damn well. But all you can do is go out there and be yourself and keep having fun. This is the most fun I've been having because I feel we finally have a chance as a team with the health and how we've been playing so well and how hot we've been. Just keep the foot on the pedal. I never want this thing to end. After all this is all said and done with, what the hell are we gonna do? Sit on couch and watch another team win a championship? That's not what I want to be doing."

Q: You were in here the other day hanging with Lil Terrio, weren't you?

MG: (Laughs) "Trying to do a little something, man. Trying to get my likes and my followers up."

GAME BREAKDOWN

What to look for from the Steelers at 8:20 tonight at Arrowhead Stadium:

ON OFFENSE 

Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell have both had big games against the Chiefs the last three seasons (including this one) and the Steelers should be able to run on a Chiefs defense playing its fourth game without heart-and-soul ILB Derrick Johnson, who tore an Achilles' tendon and was placed on IR. Also on IR since the earlier meeting are defensive ends Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard. With all three players out the last three games, the Chiefs allowed opponents an average of 4.9 yards per carry. Those same three teams averaged a cumulative 4.0 yards per rush in all other games.

ON DEFENSE

Bringing three rookies into their first starts at Arrowhead Stadium no doubt has the Steelers' coaching staff concerned. But if the Steelers make their tackles, the short game of QB Alex Smith shouldn't be able to outscore a Steelers team if the Steelers do their job on special teams and don't turn the ball over more than once, or maybe twice. Stopping WR/RB Tyreek "Freak Show" Hill and TE Travis Kelce are the keys for a Steelers defense that is as healthy as it can be without Cam Heyward (IR).

PREDICTION

The Chiefs had the bye, are healthy and have the loudest crowd in the NFL. But the Steelers are hot, almost fully healthy and have won their last four road games by protecting their quarterback. That's the issue with road games, and the Steelers have allowed only one sack in their last four while the Chiefs have had only seven sacks at Arrowhead this season. Cover the tight end, stop the return man, tackle the short throws and don't turn the ball over, and the Steelers -- who have the three best prime-time players in this prime-time game -- should win and advance to the AFC title game. Steelers, 27-20.

BY THE NUMBERS

4: Losses by the Chiefs in their last four playoff games at Arrowhead. They last won there after the 1993 season when Joe Montana beat the Steelers in overtime.

6.75: Air yards per pass attempt by Chiefs QB Alex Smith, which, according to Football Outsiders, is the second-shortest distance per throw in the NFL behind Sam Bradford.

13: Dropped interceptions of Ben Roethlisberger passes, which, again via Football Outsiders, leads the NFL.

18: Interceptions by the Chiefs this season ties for the NFL lead.

121: Rushing yards by Le'Veon Bell last year at Arrowhead with Landry Jones at quarterback.

124: Receiving yards by Antonio Brown last year at Arrowhead with Landry Jones at quarterback.

144: Rushing yards by Bell this season against the Chiefs.

DOWNLOADS

* Winter Storm Jupiter was scheduled to hit Kansas City last night at about 9 p.m. with freezing drizzle and light freezing rain until midnight and then steady freezing rain for 12 more hours. From noon through the 8:20 p.m. kickoff until about 1 a.m. Monday, the temperature is predicted to hover around 32 degrees as rain continues to fall. It all adds up to "a significant icy event" that could even cause a postponement for another day.

* With tight end Ladarius Green expected to miss a fourth consecutive game with a concussion, look for Xavier Grimble to pick up the playmaking slack and Jesse James to continue his improvement as a blocker. James was one of the key move blockers during the 10-play, all-Le'Veon Bell drive for the Steelers' third touchdown against Miami.

"If you turn on the film at the beginning of the year, I didn't finish around the football as much as I am now," said James. "If someone now is making the play, I'm trying to look for a block or just peel off someone, I finish blocks better."

* Bud Dupree and Eli Rogers had the most satisfyingly vicious hits last week, and James Harrison and Mike Mitchell had the hits which produced turnovers. But opponents must also look over their shoulders because lineman Stephon Tuitt will be coming from behind.

"A 300-pounder coming in?" Tuitt said with a laugh. "He gets hit so hard, you never know. Strip the ball? That could be a play. You never know. And they don't get up that fast. That's another thing. So you try to do that."

Tuitt said "it's installed in us" by line coach John Mitchell, and that "if I don't get to the quarterback, I just turn around and go."

"He's kind of become deadly if you’re running down the field and make a cutback," said defensive coordinator Keith Butler. "I wouldn’t want to get hit from behind by him. And he’s done it a few times. I think if he continues to do that he’s going to help us."

* The Steelers had just scored their third touchdown to jump out to a 20-3 lead when Butler moved his defense into a 4-3 with L.T. Walton and Big Dan McCullers inside and Tuitt moving to either end as Dupree and Harrison took turns dropping back to the second level with Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons.

"It helps us in terms of the matchups with tight ends and defensive ends," Butler said. "Our defensive ends are normally about 300 pounds. You take a tight end who is probably 260, 270 and try to block that guy at the point of attack ... it gives them a problem running the ball to the tight end’s side. That’s the reason we jump to a 4-3 every now and then."

Dupree moves smoothly in space as a 4-3 OLB, and Harrison somehow finds a way to get it done.

"James does better than you think," Butler said. "He does better than we all think. It’s just a 38-year-old man. He understands the weakness of the defense and he tries to stay out of those situations as much as he can."

By utilizing his savvy?

"Yes. No doubt," Butler said.

* Ben Roethlisberger paid respect to his previous offensive lines before saying that, yes, this current line is probably the best he's played behind.

Left guard Ramon Foster took it as a compliment but understood Roethlisberger's reluctance.

"He can't say that, and you know why? Because those other two lines -- the (Alan) Faneca line, the Willie Colon line -- they've got rings. That's the separator. Personally, that's why I want to be in Houston with this group. To say, 'Yeah this is the highest paid O-line in Steeler history, but what the hell did they do? Did they get a ring? Or did they just get paid?'

"It's rings, man. That last era gave up probably the most sacks, but they got the hardware. I want that hardware. Period."

PARTING SHOT

"It’s one of the most fun stadiums I have played in in my career. And I think it’s going to be even more exciting this time around." -- Le'Veon Bell on Arrowhead Stadium.

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