By Christopher DiMarino
The Pittsburgh Steelers made a statement that was heard around the NFL last week. By defeating the Super Bowl champion New York Giants they effectively quieted the critics and garnered the regained attention of the media. The world saw a fundamentally sound football team in East Rutherford and this was a team that executed in every phase. The running game found its footing and Isaac Redman had his first successful game running the ball this season. The passing game sputtered but proved efficient enough to put up the points needed to win the game. The defense generated some pressure and turned it on late to eliminate any rumblings of a comeback. Special teams even looked special for the first time in weeks as Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Sanders had a couple of big returns.
All of this positivity is not without its impurities. Special teams was great, but Sanders and Rainey couldn’t beat a kicker on long returns and both drives ended without touchdowns. The offensive line showed signs of its former self as Ben Roethlisberger couldn’t stand safely in the pocket in the first half. While this occurred against a premier pass rushing team, there was certainly concern early on that the passing offense wouldn’t get off the ground. Roethlisberger let the pressure get to him and this led to a few sacks and a nasty interception. I would give the biggest honors to the defense in this one, partially because they never let Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw get going on the ground. The Steelers were able to establish enough pressure to get to Eli Manning and force sacks and an interception. Against a group of capable wide outs, the Steelers covered well enough to force Manning to hold the ball much longer than he wanted.
You can reference my competition analysis to learn a little more about the competition below:
The Kansas City Chiefs might seem like a week off compared to the Giants, but the Chiefs defense still has some talent on it. Brandon Carr was allowed to leave via free agency, but Brandon Flowers remains and is still a dominant corner. Eric Berry is a talented safety and Javier Arenas is an able cover man and great returner. The Chiefs have a trio of high round draft picks starting on the line of this 3-4 defense. Rookie Dontari Poe centers Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson on this big, physical defensive front. It should be noted, though, that Dorsey will miss this game due to injury. The linebacking situation isn’t as strong as other 3-4 defenses in the league, but there are a few stars. Tamba Hali is as close as you can get to Terrell Suggs and the experience of Derrick Johnson in the middle is invaluable.
This will be an even matchup as the 10th ranked Steelers passing offense goes up against the 12th ranked Chiefs passing defense. There is a 40 yard discrepancy in their average yardage which means one will over or under achieve in this one. I don’t think the Steelers will focus on passing the ball, so they will likely gain an average amount of yards in this one. What the yardage number doesn’t tell you is that the Chiefs have allowed the second highest amount of passing touchdowns in the NFL (17). There are also only 7 teams that have fewer sacks than Chiefs, who have 14 on the season. Opposing quarterbacks have averaged a rating of 106.2 against the Chiefs which is also the second highest in the league.
Flowers and Stanford Routt both have 2 of the Chiefs 6 interceptions this season which is ranked just below average for the NFL, but Routt is now gone. Justin Houston leads the team with 6 sacks and Hali is not far behind with 5. One of the biggest issues for the Chiefs has been their lack of diversity in rushing the passer. Only four different players have sacks this season compared to the Steelers who have eight different players with sacks, even though both teams have 14 in total. This can lead to predictability in play calling and might be why the Chiefs defense has been underperforming.
This will also be an even matchup as the 22nd ranked Chiefs run defense will match up against the 21st ranked Steelers running offense. Injuries continue to shroud the Steelers backfield, but if anything, the backs are getting healthy. Rainey’s injury won’t have a profound effect on the offense, but it will hurt special teams. Rashard Mendenhall might not be ready but Jonathan Dwyer should be back to help Redman. I believe that the 21st ranking is skewed because the Steelers have been surging in that department lately. In fact, the Steelers have had a 100 yard rusher in the past 3 consecutive games, which is a feat for any team in the NFL.
Johnson has continued his reputation as a run stopper on the Chiefs defense and is the team’s leading tackler with 65. Berry is also instrumental in stopping the run and his 40 tackles is more than all of the other linebackers. Berry and Johnson also have 4 tackles for a loss each but Hali is the only non defensive back to have a forced fumble on this roster. Aside from allowing 126 yards a game to opposing rushers, the Chiefs have also allowed the 2nd most runs of 20+ yards (12) and have only forced 2 total fumbles against the run.
This is a rushing team that tries to open up the play action. The unfortunate truth is that the Chiefs have struggled in their search for a franchise quarterback. It seems resoundingly clear now that Matt Cassel is not that guy but with Brady Quinn injured, Cassel will get the start against the Steelers. He has one of the better physical talents in Dwayne Bowe at receiver, but he has not developed any chemistry with his secondary weapons. Jonathan Baldwin, Steve Breaston and Tony Moeaki are his other key receivers and they have combined for less than 450 yards and have no touchdowns.
Dexter McCluster and Jamaal Charles are smaller shifty targets that are featured in this passing attack. Shaun Draughn has also contributed in this area for them. While their average per catch might be low, a lot of their yards come after the catch. These backs have 68 receptions on the season, which is only 12 short of the receivers. Bowe is the main weapon that the Steelers will look to control. After looking good against A.J. Green a few weeks ago, and getting the AFC Defensive Player of the Week nod last week, I would say that Ike Taylor is up to the challenge. The Steelers might look to mimic the Giants and push their corners close to the line of scrimmage to discourage screen plays.
There isn’t much to talk about in the quarterback department for the Chiefs. They have combined to throw for 6 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, and have a combined passer rating of 64.8. Their 25th ranked unit will face the Steelers 1st ranked pass defense. If the Steelers can continue to cover well and bring enough pressure, this game will be bad for the Chiefs. They invested heavily in their offensive line in the offseason by signing tackle Eric Winston and drafting tackle turned starting guard Jeff Allen. It will be an interesting Monday night to see how they react to the Steelers blitzes, and if the rookie Allen can stop Lawrence Timmons, who can blitz the right guard spot with some success.
The running game is the pride of Kansas City. Their big offseason signing was Peyton Hillis and the hope was that Charles would return to his former glory with Hillis serving as a compliment. This has happened to a degree, but Hillis has not found traction with his new team. Regardless, the Chiefs hold the 3rd ranked running attack and the Steelers 7th ranked defense will have its hands full. They were able to shut down the number one ranked attack of the Washington Redskins two weeks ago, but this will be different. The Steelers have struggled against shifty speedsters and Charles has 6 runs of 20 or more this season.
For its success in yardage, the Chiefs running game has not translated as well on the scoreboard. Their 5 rushing touchdowns are offset by 7 fumbles lost. Plenty of different weapons are available and all must be considered threats. From McCluster to Charles to Draughn to Hillis, it only takes one back to get hot. That is how the Chiefs have amassed almost 150 yards rushing in every game this season.
I hope the Steelers keep their mindset from last week for the rest of the season. They need to have something to prove. That is the best way to ensure they don’t slide against what would be considered an easier opponent in the Chiefs. The Chiefs will whoop the Steelers in a second if they don’t come out fully prepared. The NFL isn’t a league with room for error. That being said, the Steelers need to continue to play as if losing another game could mean the season is over.
The Steelers have the stat sheet advantage in this one. The Chiefs defense should match up well against the them in terms of yards, but points is a different story. I think the Steelers offense will be able to drive the field, and more importantly finish drives. The converse is not necessarily true. The Chiefs have struggled heavily to score points and need to overcome that against the Steelers. The running game has to be strong for the Chiefs to have a chance in this one, and Cassel will need to limit the mistakes. This should not seem like a ridiculous notion as the Steelers defense has been weak against the run at times this season, and has struggled to generate takeaways.
Scoring a few points against the Steelers will not be enough to pull the upset. Unlike the Steelers of years past, who were easy upset targets when their offense stuttered, their offense has not done anything of the sort this year. The Steelers have never scored less than 16 points this season and are easily averaging in the mid 20’s. I think the Chiefs are capable of holding the Steelers to around 20 points, but the real feat for them will be to put up that many points. I don’t think they can and the Chiefs don’t have the come-from-behind, or close game skills, to win this one.