The first legitimate trap game of the Steelers season is here and it comes in the form of the Kansas City Chiefs traveling to Heinz Field for a good ole fashioned AFC showdown. These teams have been playing against each other since 1970; with the Steelers holding the overall series lead 18-10. Since the 2K era they’ve played each other 5 times, with the Steelers winning 3 of them.
Given the current state of the two teams, there are more than enough reasons to think that Pittsburgh should be able to let some of their injured players rest because divisional rival Baltimore is coming to town in 2 weeks. As we’ve seen far too often though, that way of thinking can get you into trouble if you aren’t careful.
If there is a silver lining to the MASH unit that is the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s that the depth is being tested and for the most part responding well in game situations. Antonio Brown’s ankle sprain will likely keep him out of action this week, but veteran Jerricho Cotchery aka Hines Ward Jr is healthy and more than capable of fulfilling his role when called upon. Jerricho had 4 catches for 50 yds against the Giants, including key first down plays that kept the Steelers offense on the field. There’s no reason to rush back Antonio Brown at this point, especially with both Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders available and healthy.
Ben Roethlisberger is more than happy to spread the wealth around in the passing game, routinely hitting 8-10 different targets on any given Sunday; so let AB take a seat for a week.
As far as running backs go, it’s a crap shoot trying to figure out who is going to play each week, but so far things are looking good for Jonathan Dwyer to return as Tomlin said he has a “strong chance to play”. Chris Rainey is recovering from a rib injury after taking a helmet shot to that area during the Giants game. Rashard Mendenhall still likely won’t play, but perhaps has a shot at returning for the Ravens game.
Isaac Redman had a career game this past Sunday, rushing for 147 yds and 1 TD. He’s likely to get the start, with Dwyer backing him up but both guys are likely to see significant action. I wouldn’t expect Rainey to get much work carrying the ball if he does play, so Baron Batch will get some opportunities to step up to the plate.
Troy Polamalu obviously won’t play yet but Will Allen has done a fine job filling in so far. Make no mistake though, whenever Polamalu does return the job is his; which could be against Baltimore.
Even with all of those players resting or potentially resting, the Chiefs are not to be taken lightly. Their dismal 1-7 record isn’t going to intimidate anyone, but these guys are in still in desperation mode as they try to salvage their season. They would have run the table the remainder of the season to even sniff the playoff pie; and as unlikely as that is you never know what can happen when you corner a wounded dog.
Most people have written off Kansas City at this point but look no further than 2011 when Tyler Palko nearly pulled off the upset in a battle of field goals at Arrowhead Stadium if you need some perspective. The Steelers were 7-3 heading into KC last year, winning 5 of their 6 games while the Chiefs were 4-7 and losers of 4 in a row.
That game was a picture perfect example of how the Steelers have been known to play down to their competition. There was no way on earth that game should have been anywhere close to the ultimate 13-9 victory that it was for the Steelers. You can call it the “any given Sunday” mentality or just the Steelers coming in way too overconfident but regardless I hope Mike Tomlin shows them the game film of that matchup.
For everything that is the Chiefs bad record they aren’t completely lacking in talent. Jamaal Charles leads the KC rushing offense which is ranked 3rd in the league, averaging 164 yds per game. Compare that to the Steelers rush defense which is ranked 7th allowing just under 89 yds per game average. Charles though is as tough as he is quick, as fast as he is strong. The Steelers defense will need to swarm to the ball and gang tackle every time to keep him in check.
The Chiefs passing offense is 25th in the league compared to the Steelers #1 ranking in pass defense. This is where, in theory, Carnell Lake’s secondary should be able keep Matt Cassel in check. Ike Taylor will draw the coverage on Dewayne Bowe, the primary target for Cassel as per usual while Keenan Lewis will see a lot of Steve Breaston. Given the Steelers normal problems matching up with tight ends, it will be interesting to see how they handle Tony Moeaki who is capable of having a big night if he gets the chance.
The problem for Moeaki though this year, like most everything else is that Chiefs offense hasn’t been able to get on track. It will be the Steelers job to make sure that trend continues but putting this team away early and giving them a heavy dose of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman to finish things off.