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Pregame Zone Blitz: Steelers at Chiefs

Considering the Steelers' opponent this week, the hapless Kansas City Chiefs, it almost feels like a lose-lose situation. It's got letdown game written all over it. Even if the Steelers win, it will no doubt bring back the pain of a tough and rare AFC North loss to Cincinnati. PZB is going to demonstrate why this isn't a trap game and why a win is a win is a win.

Here's what our opponents are saying.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Arrowhead Pride points out an interesting discussion Steelers C Justin Hartwig had with 610 Sports Today in Kansas City.

The Kansas City Star's blog makes a good point about Larry Johnson ending up the winner of the feud between himself and the Chiefs.

A fan post brings up some solid analysis, but responders to it aren't optimistic about the Chiefs' chances.

Chiefs coach Todd Haley isn't at a loss for respectful words when it comes to the Steelers.

How hard can it be to simply not use a diuretic?

Last Game

After the Denver game, PZB called out the Broncos for not making enough splash plays throughout the game. It marks the last time PZB will ever do that, considering Pittsburgh's lack of explosive plays in its 18-12 loss vs. Cincinnati in Week 10.

That sounds like an excuse, though, and we don't make those.

We do know now how the Other Half lives; the other half of the league that does not have a productive quarterback under center. Clearly, Ben Roethlisberger is one of the better passers in the game, but for whatever reason, he played a substandard game against the division-leading Bengals. While he protected the ball well enough considering a pretty intense Cincinnati pass rush and excellent secondary, his accuracy was a negative factor for the first time this season.

Let's make a positive out of a negative though. We had the ball with two minutes remaining, down six, and that was after five sacks (four of them caused by outstanding coverage), a slew of tipped passes and Pittsburgh's seventh returned touchdown against this season. The Bengals even managed to botch the extra point.

PZB's hat is off to a vastly improved and legitimate Bengals team. We now focus on Kansas City.

Opponent Spotlight: QB Matt Cassel

Is there anyone else? No.

It took the Chiefs a little over 33 quarters to score a rushing touchdown in 2009. Jamaal Charles broke a 44 yard run in the second quarter of Kansas City's 16-10 win over Oakland in Week 9. Oakland has allowed the most rushing touchdowns (14) in the NFL. Kansas City is the only team to fail to score a rushing touchdown against the hapless Raiders, which they accomplished in their Week 2 loss at the hands of Oakland.

Now, with the defending Super Bowl champs and league's top-ranked rush defense coming to Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City's beleaguered rushing attack is safely considered to be non-existent this week.

Making matters worse for the Chiefs, top receiver Dwayne Bowe was suspended for four games for testing positive for a diuretic, and will not play in this game.

Cassel knows what it's like to be on the losing end of an ears-pinned-back pass rush from Pittsburgh. OLB James Harrison in particular ravaged Cassel in New England last season, forcing two second-half fumbles en route to a huge Steelers road win. In many ways, that victory propelled Pittsburgh to an eventual Super Bowl championship. Cassel remembers that thrashing, and also is aware Pittsburgh is in the rare spot of trailing another team in the AFC North. It'll be surprising to see Cassel hang onto the ball for longer than three seconds. He is an accurate passer when provided with adequate receiving support, and the match-ups in this game present a very simple and familiar game plan for Cassel; pass on the edge, get out of the pocket and try to protect the ball at all costs.

Steelers Spotlight:  NT Casey Hampton

I wrote about this in Blitzburgh's Steelers Annual.

The key moment to last season was a holding call on Steelers Hampton in Week 13 at New England. Big Snack flipped his lid over the call (truthfully, it was valid), and we witnessed a rare display of animalistic emotion from one of the better nose tackles of his generation. Hampton blew up Patriots C Dan Koppen, sacking then-Patriots QB Matt Cassel.

It opened floodgates that didn't stop spilling until early February.

Hampton has that rare higher gear which can't be achieved by everyone. He has the ability to destroy an opponent's entire offensive game plan, because, frankly, you cannot plan around penetration. You can't run around it, you can't pass around it.

And you mostly can't do anything about it if you have an offensive line as inconsistent as Kansas City's.

OLB James Harrison had two sacks and two forced fumbles after Hampton roared. Lawrence Timmons had an interception return back to the Patriots' 1-yard-line after Hampton exploded.

The Steelers had one of the better defenses the league has ever seen in 2008. They realized it not long after they lost two of three to quality teams - the Giants and the Colts.

Hampton can lead by example, and he can dominate his opponent physically. This isn't a call-out to him because he's been off his game (he hasn't at all). It's a plea for him to reach for that upper gear and again become the unifier this team needs right now. Maybe this game can be the catalyst to push the Steelers over the top.


I See You

I see you, Donovan Woods. I may be getting a bit off the topic in this section, because usually, I see players from the previous game. The theme of this column this week is "moving ahead." Because of that, Donovan, you become the most important player in this game. You filled in admirably last season, jumping to and from the practice squad, the waiver wire and the active roster. That can't be easy and Steelers fans respect it.

We need you badly, Donovan. We need you to give us a sense of excitement to see the return man buried inside the 20, instead of the feeling of dread we currently have any time the ball is kicked. We need a spark, and we've all seen you provide that spark before.

I see you added to the roster and inserted immediately with the Herculean task of helping a stout defense not have to defend a short field, or stave off points allowed by other units. I see you making a few tackles, standing up, smacking some helmets and giving the Steelers defense a reason to pin their ears back and kick the tar out of Matt Cassel and the Chiefs.

Key Stats

  • Pittsburgh is 6th in the NFL in scoring defense at 17.4 points per game (157 points).
  • Removing kick/punt returns and interception returns, Pittsburgh is allowing 12.9 points per game (116 points).
  • Kansas City scored its first rushing touchdown this season in a 16-10 win over Oakland in Week 10.

Quick Hitters

  • I am the only person who doesn't mind Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 from inside their own territory. I've heard every reason why he shouldn't. Every one of those reasons is valid. But if I'm Belichick, I've got Tom Brady. Indy's got Peyton Manning. If I'm Belichick, I'm aware of the fact it's either going to be Peyton's day, or Tom's. I'm gonna give Tom the ball, and prepare to accept the consequences. Either way, wherever we are on the field, if No. 18 comes under center with time on the clock, this game isn't ending in my favor. Perhaps the most instructive part of this is seeing how close the Pats came to converting. Except for the fact the Colts showed how tough of a team they are by getting the season's biggest defensive play for the stop.
  • I am not gushing praise for Maurce Jones-Drew's "selflessness." But I'm not dogging him for not taking the points while they're there. The fact of the matter is the game of football is decided by the clock just as much as by points. A 1-point lead with no time on the clock is more important than a 6-point lead with 12 seconds left. The critics pontificate about the possibility of a field goal getting blocked, or a snap getting botched. All true. Are you going to suggest it's less likely to simply execute a 19-yard field goal as time expires than it is to stop a speed-burning kick returner with a gadget play at his disposal from breaking it for a touchdown? Sorry, I'm not buying the bravado. Let that clock run all day, MJD, and please, Mr. Mendenhall, Mr. Parker and Mr. Moore, keep your knee on the ground should you encounter this situation in the future. You shouldn't have any more faith in our kickoff coverage either.