PITTSBURGH – The Kansas City Chiefs are bringing some dreadful numbers with them to Heinz Field tonight for their game against the Steelers.
First of all, the Chiefs are 1-7.
The Chiefs are also 29th in the league in points and 30th in points allowed.
To get to that sub-strata, the Chiefs allow 4.6 yards per carry (26th), a quarterback passer rating of 106.3 (31st) and 14.3 yards per completion (32nd).
They also are -20 in net turnovers, which also ranks dead last.
The Chiefs are so bad numerically that one might excuse the Steelers for looking ahead to the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday night as they come down from their emotional victory over the New York Giants last Sunday.
Isn’t a sandwich between a letdown and a lookahead a logical conclusion? Shouldn’t Steelers fans be worried?
No and no, say the Steelers.
“We’re not even thinking about Baltimore,” said Brett Keisel, the Steelers’ defensive captain. “We’re not. We’re excited for the opportunity to play on Monday night here in front of our fans. That’s our focus right now, getting our fourth win in a row against a solid running team.”
That’s the one decent set of numbers the Chiefs bring to Heinz Field. They lead the AFC and are third in the NFL in rushing yards per game (149.9) behind their rehabilitated star Jamaal Charles, who missed last season with an ACL injury and is nearly back to his former self with 634 rushing yards at a 4.8 per-carry clip.
“They’ve run the ball on everybody, including Baltimore,” Keisel said. “The Baltimore game they lost 9-6, so we expect them to come in and play tough and be ready to go. They’re one of those teams that if you let hang around they can get you in the end. And we know that. Those of us who’ve been around, they’ve got us a few times.”
The Steelers and Chiefs have split their last 10 meetings, and most recently have split their last two games.
The Chiefs beat the Steelers in overtime in 2009, sparked by a Charles’ touchdown on The Opening kickoff, and last season the Steelers held off the Chiefs 13-9 when Keenan Lewis intercepted fill-in quarterback Tyler Palko’s final pass of the game.
Charles, of course, missed that game, as did Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel. The injuries suffered by those two last season contributed greatly to then-coach Todd Haley losing his job and ending up as the offensive coordinator of the Steelers.
But even when they’re bruised and battered, the Chiefs have found a way to play the Steelers tough. That’s part of the reason the Steelers won’t take the Chiefs lightly tonight.
And it’s not like the Steelers have been causing enough turnovers to take advantage of the Chiefs’ No. 1 problem.
The Steelers last season caused only 15 turnovers, by far a franchise low in the post-merger era.
The main factor, most likely, was a lack of quarterback pressure. The Steelers last season had only 35 sacks, the low of any Steelers defense coordinated by Dick LeBeau.
Yet, the Steelers led the NFL in fewest yards allowed per game, and are again the No. 1-ranked defense in the league.
On pace for only 16 takeaways and 28 sacks, the question looms: How are the Steelers playing such solid defense?
“Three and outs are just as good,” Keisel said. “They really are.”
With Troy Polamalu still out with an Achilles’ injury, and James Harrison slow to regain his burst after knee surgery, and LaMarr Woodley in and out of the lineup with hamstring issues, players such as Larry Foote, Ryan Clark, Casey Hampton and Keisel are carrying the unit.
ILB Foote leads the team in tackles, FS Clark is perhaps playing better than he did in last season’s Pro Bowl showing, NT Hampton is still blowing up short-yardage plays, and DE Keisel leads the team in QB pressures with 17 over runner-up Lawrence Timmons’s 11.
“Foote’s playing as good as anyone in this locker room,” Keisel said. “He’s really been a great leader for us. He takes control of the defense, makes all the calls. That’s not an easy job to do, get everyone lined up and then fulfill your assignment as well.”
Keisel pointed to a photo hanging in the team office’s hallway of Foote “that I was sure was (James) Farrior,” he said. “They play very similar; smashmouth-type linebackers.
“It hasn’t just been us, though. The offense has done a great job controlling the ball, controlling the time of possession, so when we get out there we’re fresh, we’re ready to go, and we feel like we can get after it and get a three-and-out so they can get back out there and score more points.”
The Steelers’ rejuvenated ground game should fatten up on the Chiefs’ porous rush defense. Those who watch film say their problem begins at nose tackle where the Chiefs start rookie first-rounder Dontari Poe.
“I don’t agree with that,” said Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey. “He’s playing pretty good. He’s been doing things, following up on the ball, running after it, making good plays for them. I don’t think he’s struggling. He’s playing good ball.”
Pouncey was asked why the Chiefs allow 4.6 yards per carry.
“The offense is putting them in bad situations by turning the ball over so much,” he said. “If you give offenses extra drives there are always chances for them to get rolling and start gashing you. I think if their offense picks it up they’ll be a decent team. Hopefully they keep turning it over against us.”