3 improvements Steelers must make to beat the Chiefs

If the Pittsburgh Steelers can’t change these mistakes, they won’t defeat the Kansas City Chiefs.

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Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers on the 11th straight win of the season. Now that it’s out of the way, what in the world was that, Pittsburgh?

Outside of a pick-6 from Joe Haden in the first quarter, the next touchdown from the Steelers’ high-tempo offense didn’t come until the start of the fourth quarter. The Baltimore Ravens defense held Pittsburgh to multiple drives of self-inflicted wounds, while the defense was lucky it saw Robert Griffin IIII trotting out there instead of Lamar Jackson.

And let’s not even talk about Trace McSorely.

In a way, due to all the COVID-19 concerns that pushed one of the more exciting games in the NFL season so far back, it was snooze-fest on the way to a 19-14 victory. However, if this is the Steelers team that Patrick Mahomes would be facing in the AFC Championship round, it’s clear the Kansas City Chiefs dynasty is alive and well.

For Pittsburgh to look like the team to beat, these changes must be made on both sides of the ball to help them head back to the Super Bowl.

3. Limit Diontae Johnson’s targets

Entering Wednesday, plenty around the league believed that second-year wideout Diontae Johnson could be one of the best receivers on the roster. With vertical speed and great route-running skills, Johnson has the tools to be the next Antonio Brown in the Steel City.

Pump the brakes there, kids. He’s got a long way to go.

Johnson was targeted a team-high 13 times against the Ravens’ secondary. He hauled in eight catches, saw one fly over his head and dropped the remaining four. Two times could have been for gains that would have put Pittsburgh in the red zone. Instead, they flipped right out of his fingertips. And let’s not talk about how one of his catches also was a fumble that flew out of bounds.

Ben Roethlisberger loves his young receivers and Johnson has quietly been the first read all season, leading the team in 81 targets. However, he’s only caught 60 percent of those throws this season, meaning they’re either drops or overshot plays. As much as the team might like him, Kansas City isn’t going to have many three-and-outs to let Pittsburgh waste a drive.

If the yips keep happening for Johnson, the Steelers must limit his plays and make sure the second he drops a pass, he becomes the third or fourth option.

Next: Limit big plays

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2. Eliminate big plays

Explosive plays kept Baltimore around well after they should have been done. There was the RGIII run for 39 yards that set them up at midfield. Then there was the Justice Hill run that put them near the red zone near the end of the second quarter.

And of course, there was the play from McSorely to Marquise Brown that raised a storm on Twitter.

Four different Ravens saw plays go for more than 10 yards on the afternoon. This was also with a backup quarterback, running back, tight end and a limited receiving corp doing a majority of the work. Unlike Baltimore, the Chiefs are at full strength and have multiple role players that can win at the line of scrimmage or in the open field.

Four players were far too many for an offense missing three of its five best weapons. Pittsburgh’s secondary and linebackers will need to stay agile and prep for anything coming across the middle of the field or in man coverage.

All it takes is one play and it’s lights out for the black and yellow.

Next: Own the clock

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1. Own the time of possession

Let’s recap the incredible Week 11 Sunday Night Football, shall we?

Derek Carr left Mahomes with just over 100 seconds to come back and beat the Las Vegas Raiders. He needed seven plays and only 75 seconds to go 75 yards and connect with Travis Kelce for the touchdown. All of 75 seconds separated Carr from being the hero and being the loser with a good clock-chewing drive.

The Steelers won the time of possession battle Wednesday afternoon with nearly 34 minutes of offense. Although they had three drives of four plays or less, when Pittsburgh had possession, they took their time moving the ball downfield. Their shortest drive of five plays or more lasted 3:18, and it only ended because of a Roethlisberger red zone interception.

The Steelers cannot give any time to the Chiefs offense. Even with the pressure coming from T.J. Watt, Mahomes needs little time to evade the sack and go deep. After that, speed in the open field could give the Chiefs a chip shot to end the game in their favor.

Trust the run game, throw short-to-intermediate passes and let Mahomes have little to work with. That’s essential to their success and even that might not be enough to stop the MVP front-runner from torching the Steelers’ hopes and dreams.

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