Once again, apologies for my tardiness in getting this posted. As this sunny Florida weather will likely be the last 70+ degree days I’ll see before heading back to the ‘Burgh, I have been taking full advantage of my last minute trip south. I promise I’ll get things back on track starting Monday.
Fear not, dear readers, I will be home in time for tomorrow’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs. As will most of you since the game will be on Sunday Night Football. So you can count on getting your fill of my insightful analysis and corny jokes come Monday. Speaking of which, cue Faith Hill in hooker boots!
I’ll be honest, I’m not all that jazzed up about this game. When NBC put it on their schedule, I’m sure it looked like a potentially interesting match-up. Unfortunately, the Chiefs have been ravished by injury and currently sit at 4-6. While that puts them only two games out of first in the stunningly mediocre AFC West, they aren’t exactly a viable playoff contender at this point. This was made all the more apparent last Monday when the Patriots clobbered them 34-3 to extend their current losing streak to three.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs CHIEFS OFFENSE
The big news last week was the Chiefs claiming quarterback Kyle Orton, who was waived by the Broncos. Unfortunately for KC, Orton won’t be up to speed by Sunday so former Pitt Panther Tyler Palko will once again be behind center. Palko looked halfway decent at times last week, going 24/37 for 230 yards despite getting absolutely no help from either his receivers or running game. Of course, he also three three interceptions which is apt to happen with an inexperienced signal caller.
Losing starter Matt Cassel was only the latest in a string of injuries which have waylaid the Chiefs all season. The team’s best player, running back Jamaal Charles, tore his ACL two games in, leaving WR Dwayne Bowe as the team’s lone remaining offensive weapon. Although coming on strong in recent weeks is another former Pitt Panther, Jonathan Baldwin. Those of you who followed the Panthers already know the book on Baldwin. Here’s a guy with Plaxico Burress size and Santonio Holmes speed (which is no doubt why he went in the first round despite a fairly middling collegiate career) but some Limas Sweed-like tendencies. He’ll make some of the most spectacular catches you’ll ever see and then turn around and either drop an easy one or simply give up entirely.
As I noted a couple weeks back when we played the Bengals, Dick LeBeau loves young quarterbacks. And not in a creepy Jerry Sandusky sort of way. Since returning to the Steelers as D-coordinator, we’ve only lost once (in a meaningless game) to a rookie quarterback. While Palko is technically a fifth year pro, he’s spent the majority of his career bouncing around the league as a third stringer. This will be only his second career start.
It looks like all hands will be on deck with the notable exception of LaMarr Woodley, who was limited in practice yet again this past week. The plan was to rest Mister Woodley for a couple weeks leading into the bye so he’d be good to go coming out of it. As I said at the time, these hammy pulls are tricky, one kept WR Andre Johnson out for a full month earlier in this season, so I always figured it’d take awhile for Woodley to get back on the field. For those worried about the Steelers drastically declining sack and turnover numbers this year, I think a big reason for that is the best outside linebacking duo in football has been on the field together for only a little more than three games.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs CHIEFS DEFENSE
Going back to last Monday, the Chiefs hung in the first half solely because of their defense. Which was surprising since going into the game, KC was ranked 23rd in overall defense (13th against the pass, 28th against the run). D-coordinator Romeo Crennel may have been an inept head coach but he has his guys playing hard and with a little bit of a chip on their shoulders. When you couple that with the raucous crowd at Arrowhead Stadium, not to mention the extra 4-6 hours of “tailgating” the late start time affords the local yokels, an otherwise over-matched defense can present some real problems for a visiting offense.
Ben Roethlisberger will start on Sunday despite breaking the thumb on his throwing hand against the Bengals. Far be it for me to call the Big Diva a gold brick but I honestly can’t conceive of how a quarterback can grip a ball let alone throw a nice tight spiral with a broken thumb. But Ben says he’s hurt so we’ll just go with it. Whether it’s a sore knee, sprained foot or broken digit, Ben has never let injuries slow him down so I expect that to continue being the case.
He’ll be working with a full complement of receivers as Manny Sanders is slated to return after being given time off to attend his mother’s funeral then having his balky knee scoped to clear out some calcium deposits. Good news for Young Money although bad news for poor Hines Ward. Already plummeting down the depth chart thanks to the emergence of Jerricho Cotchery, Manny’s return might limit him to a red zone or short yardage specialty role.
Hines isn’t the only veteran losing a job as Mike Tomlin continues to impress me with his willingness to bench players who aren’t performing in favor of ones who are, regardless of their salary or veteran status. Chris Kemoeatu, who I’ve said was worthless since the Steelers inexplicably re-signed him to a big money contract a couple years back, is being replaced at left guard by Doug Legursky. Not that I’ve been all that impressed with the Big Legursky, mind you. After all, he was handed the starting RIGHT guard spot at the beginning of the season and promptly lost it to Ramon Foster. For those keeping score at home, this will be roughly the eight different offensive line combination to start our first eleven games.
If they can keep Big Ben upright and deal with the crowd noise, I have no doubt the Steelers have the horses to put this one away quickly. As some of you may no doubt recall, the Chiefs were one of the lousy teams that beat the Black and Gold during their Super Bowl Hangover swoon of 2009. I have a feeling that’s a loss Tomlin and the coaches haven’t let the team forget. The 2011 Steelers have done an excellent job of beating the teams they are supposed to beat (*cough*Ratbirds*cough*) and I see no reason that trend won’t continue on Sunday night.
Unless Palko and Baldwin have some secret Panther Power they failed to employ when they were both playing their home games at Heinz Field.