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Pregame Zone Blitz: Steelers To Take On Palko (Or Orton) In Week 12 Match-Up

As Neitzsche says, through chaos, comes order. PZB wonders if that's what Chiefs coach Todd Haley is banking on as his team has suffered one catastrophic injury after another this year. The most recent is their franchise quarterback, Matt Cassel, who suffered a season-ending injury to his throwing hand.

In steps Tyler Palko. Or maybe Kyle Orton. A likely in-game struggle between Haley and the throngs of Chiefs fans who may make Orton smile by chanting his name (instead of TEE-BOW!) by halftime.

The Steelers have seen this kind of chaos before on the opposing sideline, and it also came on Sunday Night. The Michaels/Collinsworth effect on the Steelers combined with their road inadequacies make this nary a game to drop their guard. 

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Chiefs coach Todd Haley says he's not waving the white towel yet.

Chiefs LG Ryan Lilja missed time with a head injury this week.

Arrowhead Pride polled around 2,700 voters, and 76 percent of them think picking up Kyle Orton was a good idea. Call it 2,701. 

Last Game

Perhaps it's time to cut the hyperbole surrounding Bengals QB Andy Dalton. When you cut out the flowery praise and effusive rhetoric, you have a rookie quarterback who made two pretty poor reads on two interceptions, a jump-ball in the end zone to a physical freak, requiring little skill on behalf of the passer, and a decent throw to a spot on the field so his tight end could out-run Larry Foote in coverage.

What was impressive about Cincinnati - and something Kansas City will do Sunday night at Arrowhead - is the frequent overload blitz of the A and B gaps. For the few seconds the Chiefs were competitive with the Patriots in Week 11, their defense did a tremendous job of creating chaos among the guard-center exchange.

Fortunately for the Steelers overall, Dalton is better than Tyler Palko looked. With an even bigger re-match looming with the Bengals, though, the Steelers can ill-afford a let-down, and PZG has often lamented on the difficulties of playing an opponent - any opponent - on the road in primetime.

The Chiefs were supposed to be a recovery game in Week 11 of 2009. Certainly, we all remember that game. 

Opponent Spotlight: QB Tyler Palko

How strange will it be for recently acquired Chiefs QB Kyle Orton to be standing on the sidelines Sunday night? Odds are very good a struggling Chiefs offense - one that's lost its main two weapons, Jamaal Charles and Matt Cassel to season-ending injuries - will struggle further with journeyman former Steelers QB (for a week) Palko under center.

Wouldn't it be strange if the Arrowhead crowd began cheering for Orton, the man Tebow-ed out of Denver by a similarly impatient AFC West mob?

John Fox was Pilate-like in his decision to play Tebow, washing his hands of a season that had not figured to be all that successful for the Broncos. You know the story from here, Tebow's wins are inexplicable except that everyone knows they are reality. And Cassel's reality was a change of venue this Thanksgiving.

Palko is Tebow without the game-ending heroics, or the speed, or the size. Maybe a little better of a passing game. Orton is without question the better option. With a Chiefs offensive line struggling to protect whomever is in the backfield - be it quarterback, halfback, fullback or Tebow-esque figure of international popularity - it wouldn't be at all surprising if the Chiefs give the ball to Orton at some point.

After one-plus season in Denver, hearing the masses chant "Tee-BOW! Tee-BOW!," maybe Orton will be thankful for support from a home crowd for a change.

All of this pre-supposes the idea that Palko struggles Sunday Night. He is a Western PA Cradle of QBs member. Judging his mildly optimistic performance in New England in Week 11, a much better defensive team who even has specific knowledge on him as a QB (he was with the Steelers for two weeks in 2009 after injuries to Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch thrust Dennis Dixon into the starting role) suggests an easier-than-usual game.

It's a feeling eerily similar to the pre-game chatter about Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter in Week 3 before the Indianapolis game. The whole PZB theme was the difficulty of playing on the road in Primetime. Perhaps Palko will find some of that Sunday Night magic - Pittsburgh doesn't seem to have any when Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth are broadcasting this year.

Steelers Spotlight:  QB Ben Roethlisberger

With the healthy scratch of LG Chris Kemoeatu in favor of Doug Legursky, and Roethlisberger's thumb injury, signs seem to be pointing toward the Steelers' use of the Pistol formation - where the quarterback stands 3.5 yards behind the center instead of the 5 yards usually used in shotgun, and the running back stands behind the quarterback instead of to his side. It's a formation in which the offense remains balanced, not tipping either a pass or a run.

Stats would suggest the Steelers are looking to run the ball Sunday night, considering Kansas City languishes near the bottom of the league in most rushing stats. But with Roethlisberger's thumb injury (throwing hand), the Chiefs may need to see him throw successfully before backing safeties out of full-on run support.

Enter the Pistol. As we highlighted this week, the Pistol gives Roethlisberger time to hand off without the potential of injuring his thumb further with the QB/C exchange. It also gives RB Rashard Mendenhall the ability to "run downhill," meaning, he doesn't need to make a cut to a hole. The added angle of receiving the ball further in the backfield gives him a cleaner line of sight to the outside.

A very telling reason why Legursky will start over Kemoeatu. Both very athletic guards, but Legursky has him in terms of quickness, and the Steelers will look for him to lead Mendenhall on these outside Pistol runs.

So why is Roethlisberger the key player? If you aren't willing to throw out of the formation, it really doesn't provide much value. Perhaps more importantly, It's easy to run play fakes, but very difficult to defend it. If Roethlisberger can keep Kansas City's secondary frozen by completing passes both deep and short, It will buy Legursky just enough time on running plays to block the second level. If Roethlisberger isn't throwing well, the formation is easily defended by moving safeties up closer to the tackles on the line of scrimmage.

I See You

I see you, William Gay. It was hard not to, you were everywhere in your team's huge 24-17 win over Cincinnati two weeks ago. What's more important, though, was how you rebounded. Your coach often preaches about life being about how you rebound in the face of adversity.

By your own admittance, the final drive of the Ravens game was one of the worst you've ever played. Perhaps it was asking too much of you to cover emerging superstar Torrey Smith or Anquan Boldin exclusively in man defense. That's why zone was invented, after all. When asked to return to zone primarily, the secondary, and you in particular, played outstanding football, and the Bengals' success was limited throughout the game.

This team has a knack of shining the spotlight a bit brighter on your second act, not your first. You put the Ravens game behind you, and led your team by example to do the same thing.

Key Stats

  • The Chiefs have lost games by as many as 45 points, and won games by as many as 28.
  • Kansas City, at 14.4 points a game, is ranked 30th in the NFL, ahead of Indianapolis (13.1), Jacksonville (12.5) and St. Louis (12).