Surging Steelers Not Looking Past Reeling Chiefs
PITTSBURGH (AP) —Jerricho Cotchery has coined a phrase for the dilemma the Pittsburgh Steelers are dealing with these days.
“It’s rich man’s problems,” the veteran wide receiver said. “We’re just trying to figure out how to use all our weapons.”
A difficult if enviable proposition when all of them are firing. The Steelers (5-3) have won three straight heading into Monday night’s game against reeling Kansas City (1-7), playing with metronome-like consistency no matter who is on the field.
When Rashard Mendenhall went down with a right Achilles injury a month ago, Jonathan Dwyer became the first Pittsburgh running back to top 100 yards in consecutive games in four years. When Dwyer tweaked his right quadriceps late in a victory over Washington, Isaac Redman ran for a career-high 147 yards in an eye-opening — and road karma cleansing — win against the Super Bowl champion New York Giants last Sunday.
It’s the same along the offensive line, where rookie Mike Adams has thrived at right tackle in place of Marcus Gilbert and veteran guard Ramon Foster is playing perhaps the finest football of his career while first-round draft pick David DeCastro recovers from a preseason knee injury.
The wide receivers are in on it, too. Emmanuel Sanders found himself returning kicks for the first time all year when Antonio Brown and Chris Rainey left the Giants’ game early after getting banged up. All Sanders did was return a punt 63 yards, and this was after catching a touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter.
Safety Troy Polamalu hasn’t played since Oct. 7, yet Pittsburgh’s pass defense has somehow been better without him, ranking first in the league in passing yards against.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, have the exact opposite problem. They haven’t led in regulation at any point during the first half of the year, floundering under an avalanche of turnovers, quarterback health issues and killing any forward progress they showed late last season when coach Romeo Crennel took over when Todd Haley was fired.
Matt Cassel will start in place of Brady Quinn, who was handed the job when Cassel sustained a concussion against Baltimore five weeks ago. Quinn’s tenure lasted less than eight quarters, when he went down with a concussion in a loss to Oakland.
Whoever has been under center has struggled holding onto the ball. Kansas City quarterbacks have thrown an NFL-high 14 interceptions and the team’s minus-21 turnover ratio is the worst in the league by a wide margin.
Regardless, Cassel insists the mistakes have not affected his confidence or his willingness to challenge opponents.
“The minute you start thinking about (turnovers) and playing timid, then you don’t make that throw or you don’t play the way you need to play in order to be competitive,” he said.
Something the Chiefs have rarely been at times, though they seem to save their best efforts for good teams. Kansas City lost at home to the Ravens by a field goal and beat New Orleans on the road for its only victory.
It’s why Pittsburgh remains wary. For all the progress shown over the last few weeks, the Steelers remember a brutally ugly 13-9 win in Kansas City last November and a 27-24 overtime loss to the Chiefs in 2009 that started a late-season swoon.
“With them it always seems to come down to the last minute or overtime,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “We can’t slack off.”
Particularly with things looking so promising.
A victory would set up a showdown against Baltimore the following week with the AFC North lead on the line. It’s a prospect that appeared daunting after Pittsburgh limped to a 2-3 start. Now it almost looks inevitable. The Steelers haven’t lost at home on Monday night in 21 years, but they’re reluctant to talk about the hated Ravens even with the league’s worst team the only obstacle.
There’s enough to play for as it is without getting distracted by what lies ahead. Though the tight-lipped Haley is unwilling to portray game as a shot at revenge against the organization that let him go less than 12 months removed from a playoff appearance, his players understand what’s at stake.
“He hasn’t said anything, but when you have a player or coach from another team you always want to get a win for those guys when you play that other team,” Roethlisberger said.
Haley insists he’s happy in Pittsburgh and isn’t using the gig to put himself in position to take another head coaching job down the road. It’s hard to blame him for feeling at ease. The Steelers have been a clock-chewing juggernaut through the first half of the season behind Haley’s “plug and play” scheme.
It’s a phenomenon alien to the Chiefs. Crennel is so concerned about the offense’s struggles he removed himself as defensive coordinator to spend more time with the guys on the other side of the ball.
Kansas City was a chic pick to make a move this fall. Yet the only direction the Chiefs have gone is backward. Now they find themselves on national television for the second time in as many weeks looking to prove they haven’t bailed on the season before Thanksgiving.
“Really, I think it’s not more about showing the rest of the league, it’s about showing each other,” safety Eric Berry said. “We’re not concerned about what’s going on around the league; we have to fix what we have in our locker room.”
At the moment, that’s just about everything.
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta in Kansas City contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.