By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to wrap up the month of October in the National Football League with a renewed vigor and stamina to not only finish games, but win them. Against the 1-7 Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football, the Steelers are fired up to continue their winning ways and not give an inch. While the Steelers haven’t lost a home game on Monday night in more than two decades, no one of the Steelers roster or staff is ready to letdown their fans or each other.
Kansas City is floundering. Yet to maintain a lead in regular season play, the Chiefs are hungry to test a Steelers defense that is ranked seventh overall against the run. It won’t be easy. “We’re finishing the game now,” Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley emphasized. The Steelers came back from a 10-point deficit to beat the Super Bowl champion New York Giants at MetLife Stadium smartly. During their current winning streak, the Steelers have only allowed 15 second-half points.
With coach Romeo Crennel stepping down after the Chief’s fifth straight loss to place Gary Gibbs in the defensive coordinator position, the Chiefs have a defensive unit that has allowed 30 points per game and the worst pass per attempt record in the league with 8.90. Three games after signing cornerback Stanford Routt to a three-year, $18 million deal, Kansas City showed him the door. This will move Javier Arenas into the spotlight opposite Brandon Flowers in the defensive backfield.
Matt Cassel will get the start at quarterback after Brady Quinn suffered a concussion. Cassel has been booed by his own fans at times and has struggled in the turnover department, an area that the Steelers would like to capitalize. Cassel has fumbled the ball eight times (losing all but one) and thrown 11 interceptions. Overall, the Chiefs have given up 29 turnovers, ten more than any other team in the league.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin isn’t going to let the statistics dictate how his team will play. He expects them to play as hard against the Chiefs as they would a Super Bowl contender. In his press conference this week, Tomlin stated that even though the team is familiar with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll who was once with the Cleveland Browns, the Chiefs have had some success with the Wildcat offense. “Dexter McCluster is a wide receiver, a running back and a Wildcat guy. We better be prepared to defend him.”
The Steelers defense is rated number one overall against the pass, but that won’t keep them from focusing on containing Dwayne Bowe. Bowe is fifth in the NFL in third-down receptions. The young first-round pick from Pitt, Jonathan Baldwin, will play opposite Bowe on Monday. Regarding Bowe and Baldwin, Tomlin called them “combative” and “tough to bring down”. The Steelers defensive backfield will have to be patient and play disciplined football to eliminate costly penalties that could go in favor of Kansas City.
The Steelers’ offensive line will have their hands full with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. The pair have 11 sacks on the season and enjoy putting constant pressure on quarterbacks. With linebacker Derrick Johnson playing inside, he becomes another threat that the Steelers will have to keep and eye on in order to give Roethlisberger time to run the offense and stay off of the turf. Dontari Poe, Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey aren’t slackers either. This means that Max Starks and Marcus Gilbert will be kept busy. Mike Adams may need help blocking on the right side as the Chiefs are known to be edge rushers. If Hali and Houston are forced to be used in pass coverage, the Steelers should be able to change up their offense and run the ball effectively.
In 2011, these two teams met each other at Arrowhead Stadium where the Steelers came away with a narrow victory, 13-9. When asked about the game, Roethlisberger said the game was close because, “It’s a hard place to play. I don’t remember a lot of the game but I just know going in there is never easy.” Roethlisberger admitted he is excited about the game and said, “I want to put on a show for [the home crowd]. I don’t see that happening. We can’t let down. It doesn’t matter who we play, we need to go play Steelers football.”
While the Steelers have limited their deep down-field shots this season as opposed to the past, Roethlisberger said, “We still have to have those plays because we’ve got guys that can stretch the field. But we also have guys that we feel we can get them catches short and let them run long…whatever works, as long as we get in the endzone, it doesn’t matter how we get there.”
Kansas City will most likely try to run between the tackles, which means that safeties Ryan Clark and Will Allen will be given an opportunity to not only play solid on the back end, but in run support as well. They’ll see a lot of action in the center of the field as well if Cassel is forced to return to the pass.
The Steelers’ defensive front will need to load the box to contain the running game and force Cassel to do just that, pass. While Pittsburgh’s front seven on defense haven’t been as dominant in 2012, Woodley and James Harrison are due for some big hits.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
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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.