By Christina Rivers
With the Kansas City Chiefs sitting at 1-7, the Steelers aren’t buying into the ‘trap game’ talk. Practice this week was carried out as it always is, focusing on the game ahead despite their opponent’s record. Not surprisingly, three players did not practice Thursday; safety Troy Polamalu (calf), receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring). The Steelers are prepared to have other players back to fill in the necessary spots, host Kansas City and continue their winning streak.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin said that a Monday Night Football game is always a big night, but that the team isn’t taking the game lightly. “We are getting an opportunity to play a primetime game in front of our peers and the nation. Obviously, Kansas City has gone through some tough things and transitions…that’s not our concern.” The concern for the Steelers is simply to to be at the top of their game.
Tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and running back Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) were able to have limited practice, but running backs Jonathan Dwyer (quad) and Chris Rainey (rib) participated fully. While talk continues that Mendenhall may be ready to play by Monday, Dwyer will most likely get the start and be complimented by Isaac Redman. Dwyer isn’t concerned about competition amongst the running backs on the Steelers roster. “I wouldn’t say it’s a competition…I think it’s more just to push each other to make us better and for us to make the team better.” He added, “I had two good games and [Redman] had a phenomenal game last week. You have to prepare for all three of us not just one.” Redman seemed to echo that sentiment. “Fortunately we have three guys that are capable of carrying the load. Dwyer stepped up…then, I stepped up…It’s just scary to see what we can do when all three of us are able to carry the ball at the same time.” Redman said that the corps of running backs don’t feel a need to compete for the starting position. “Right now, we’re not really worrying about who is starting as long as we’re out there performing.”
Focus in practice has been less on Todd Haley exacting any sort of revenge on his former team and more on how to create an atmosphere amongst the entire Steelers team that wants to win. Haley may understand how the Chiefs operate on some level, but Haley seems to want to focus squarely on his current duties and give clarity to the team. Tomlin called it “a nugget or two or some clarity when we get mixed signals in terms of what we see on tape or maybe what we perceive they’re capable of.”
The Steelers defense has been focused on the run this week. Kansas City leads the AFC in rushing with 149.9 yards per game. Their biggest rusher, Jamaal Charles, has carried the ball 132 times for 634 yards and two touchdowns. That ranks Charles fourth in the AFC with 79.3 rushing yards per games and fifth in the AFC with 99.0 yards from scrimmage per contest. Kansas City is ranked third in the NFL in rushing. While Charles will be the main focus, the Steelers defense will also have to contain Peyton Hillis and Shaun Draughn. While the Chiefs do have some capable receivers, the Steelers will use pressure on Matt Cassel to limit his ability to pass.
The Steelers activated Derek Moye to the practice squad to help fill a receiver spot. Moye said he has been working hard and “trying to show what I can do” in an effort to assist the Steelers. His move forced the release of tight end Jamie McCoy. Defensive back Damon Cromartie-Smith, released on October 31, was once again signed to the practice squad on November 2, 2012.
Asked about how fortunate it is to have Jerricho Cotchery assisting as a wide out in the offensive scheme, coach Tomlin answered, “We need quality guys that are capable of upholding the standard when given an opportunity. Jerricho is one of the first one’s you think about…this is a guy that’s consistently professional in preparing, capable of playing multiple positions and really, when one of the three guys at the wide out position goes down, you really don’t bat an eye.”
Emmanuel Sanders will handle most of the kick and punt return duties against the Chiefs.
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.