Todd Haley’s Revenge.
This is how the game will be portrayed in the national media leading up to kickoff. Should it be? Yeah. How else could ESPN pitch it to gather anyone’s interest in a one-win Chiefs team against the Steelers who continue to win close games? This is literally a David and Goliath scenario.*
*Hey, maybe ESPN could pitch it that way?
I don’t want to hear about how the last two contests have been close either. I don’t care that the Chiefs won in 2009 in overtime and how the game came down to the last Chiefs possession last year even though they had Tyler Palko* and his several interception game on their side. The reason I don’t want to hear those things is because it will give me hope.
Sure, I’ve thought about it: how these two teams aren’t so different from last year, and how the Chiefs seem to play prime time games close (besides the fourth quarters on Thursday nights). I want there to be hope, but the Chiefs have given me none. And they haven’t given the national media any either. That’s why this Monday night game won’t be about the match up of teams; it will be about the Steelers’ new offensive coordinator and getting back at the team that fired him less than a season after making the playoffs.
With the success the Steelers have been able to sustain over the better part of the last decade (really about every decade since the ’70s), they are a team that has a lot of well-known players. And like every article I do, I start with the quarterback. “Big” Ben Roethlisberger brings up a lot of different discussions for fans of the NFL. One image is as a likable guy that puts the team on his back. Another image is in quite a darker light, and centers around a run-in with the law a couple years ago.* No matter what you think of the 6’5” 241-lb, quarterback, you can’t argue what he’s done since being drafted by the Steelers: 3 Super Bowl appearances, 2 Super Bowl wins, 2 Pro Bowl appearances, and a boatload (that’s a phrase right?) of regular season wins and playoff appearances. His stats this season are: 200/298 (67.1%), 2,203 yards, 16 TDs, 4 INTs.
*But don’t worry, ladies, he’s married now.
The Steelers running back situation has been anything less than stable. Four running backs have at least 19 rushing attempts on the season, and the back with the fewest is Rashard Mendenhall, who had been the Steelers’ workhorse since 2009* before tearing his ACL late in the 2011 season;** he has appeared in two games this year. Meanwhile, Isaac Redman has appeared in six games rushing for 274 yards and 2 TDs off 76 carries; Jonathan Dwyer has appeared in five games and rushed for 299 yards off 58 carries; and Baron Batch has appeared in all eight games totaling 46 yards off 24 carries for 1 TD.
*After being drafted 23rd overall in 2008.
**Which was clearly karma for these comments he made about the reaction to Osama Bin Laden’s death.
Now we get to the wide receivers, who have given themselves the collective nickname of “Young Money.” Why? Well it goes along with the nicknames the receivers all gave themselves. Mike Wallace, 39 catches, 525 yards, 5 TDs, is “Fast Money.*” Antonio Brown, 42 catches, 499 yards, 1 TD, is “Cash Money.” Emmanuel Sanders, 24 catches, 302 yards, 1 TD, is “Quick Money.” Throw in Jerricho Cotchery, which I assume is “Haven’t-You-Retired-Yet-Money”, and you have one of the most talented receiving groups in the NFL.
*Which is so much cooler than his full name: Burnell Michael Wallace III.
Statistically, the Steelers offensive line hasn’t changed much; last season, Football Outsiders had them ranked 20th overall in pass protection, and 3rd in run blocking. This season, 21st in pass protection, 22nd in run blocking (the run blocking is more a product of the issues I talked about at the running back position than a massive drop in the effectiveness of the same players on the line). But one area the team has improved at is sacks allowed. The Steelers gave up 42 last season and is on pace for 36 this year, although it’s likely that number ends up being lower than the projection. The reason is because of the new offensive system Todd Haley has brought to Pittsburgh, and a dink-and-dunk strategy. Roethlisberger is getting his passes off quicker, and not running all around the field as often like we’ve seen him do in the past. That makes it easier for the offensive line, which are (from left to right): Max Starks, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey (2x Pro Bowl), Ramon Foster, and rookie Mike Adams. First-round pick, David DeCastro, was placed on the Injured Reserve-Recall list after an ACL-MCL injury in preseason.
I’ll briefly mention the tight ends. Heath Miller is Heath Miller,* but now they also have the likes of former Chief Leonard Pope, who just seems to follow Haley around everywhere.
*39 catches, 384 yards, 6 TDs
The Steelers rank 10th in passing yards per game (262.4) and 21st in rushing yards per game (104.9).
Wasn’t this supposed to be the year that age finally caught up with the Steelers defense? With five-time Pro Bowler James Harrison starting the year injured, and seven-time Pro Bowler Troy Polamalu taking just enough time off from his hair commercials to land on the injury report, the two losses in their first three games, which included surrendering 30+ points, seemed to confirm every detractor’s opinions. Now, in the Steelers’ last five games, they have surrendered more than 20 points just once and have beaten the likes of the Giants, Redskins and Eagles.
Upfront, the Steelers are led by Brett “Da Beard” Keisel,* Casey “Big Snack” Hampton,** and Evander “Ziggy” Hood.*** Behind the front three are James Harrison, who has returned from injury, 2007 first-round pick Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, and 2006 second-round pick and 2009 Pro Bowler LaMarr Woodley. This seven-man unit has accounted for nine sacks, 170 tackles, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
*2002 seventh-round pick and 2010 Pro Bowler.
**2001 first-round pick and five-time Pro Bowler.
***2009 first-round pick from Mizzou and the only one who actually goes by his nickname.
The Steelers secondary, absent Polamalu, now features Ryan Clark, the former undrafted free agent from Louisiana State and 2011 Pro Bowler, as the main playmaker.* Replacing Polamalu is Will Allen, 2004 fourth-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At cornerback, the Steelers still have the veteran Ike Taylor, and also third-round pick Keenan Lewis as the starters. Curtis Brown, Cortez Allen and Ryan Mundy round out the secondary.
By the way, if you ever wonder what’s wrong with the Chiefs team, just have a look at all the veterans on the Steelers squad and that might give you a good indication. Young and talented players are good, but every team needs a balance of veteran leadership and few teams do that better than the Steelers.
The Steelers rank first in overall defense, first in opponent passing yards per game (174) and seventh in rushing yards per game (88.6).
Shaun Suisham: Kicker – 17/18 on field goals, only miss was from 50+ yards
Drew Butler: Punter – 39.3 net yard average punt
The Steelers aren’t unbeatable. They’ve played some bad games this season, including losing to both the Titans and Raiders. And, if it’s any consolation, they are 0-2 against the AFC West this season. But these two teams seem to be trending in opposite directions, and it might take Heinz Field collapsing beneath the Gotham Rogues feet again to get the Chiefs the win. It would be a satisfying victory if the Chiefs could pull off the upset on Monday night, and crazier things have happened. Like those stupid yellow towels catching on.