3TFO: Chiefs @ Steelers, Week 10
Monday Night Football sees one of its least appetizing encounters this week when the Kansas City Chiefs travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. While the home team is rounding into form fresh off a big win over the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, the Chiefs are floundering with one win on the season and are just trying to recapture some pride.
In all truth, there doesn’t seem to be many reasons to be optimistic for Chiefs fans other than the ethos that whenever an NFL game looks this completely one-sided, it can often throw up a shock result. The Chiefs will be hoping this screams ‘trap game’ to the Steelers and they catch a break for one of the first times this year.
But outside of the overall result, there are some individual matchups that will be interesting to watch. Here are three to focus on:
Chiefs OLBs vs. Steelers OTs
If Kansas City has a strength right now, and that is a big if, it’s with their outside linebacker pairing of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. The pair has combined for 45 total pressures and a PFF grade of +19.3, with both playing some good football as of late. Neither player will be confused with J.J. Watt as a candidate for defensive player of the year, but both present a formidable test for the Steelers. Last week, Hali gave Jared Gaither, one of the league’s most talented left tackles, all he could handle, and over the past 12 months Houston has been arguably the Chiefs’ best defender.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line has begun to take shape and play like an impressive unit after years of being a major liability. At tackle they have Max Starks on the left side and rookie Mike Adams on the right. Neither player is an all-pro, but both have had impressive showings and held their own in games, with neither looking like a major liability. Houston and Hali have the ability to put very good tackles to the sword, so the ability of the Steelers pairing to withstand that onslaught will be big.
The Chiefs signed Stanford Routt to a pretty big money contract in the offseason after lining up against him twice a season for years when he was with the Raiders. Somehow they were shocked by his abilities being suited largely to man coverage (the only kind of coverage Oakland ever ran), and they were disappointed enough in his play to cut him loose at midseason with no better plan and no concern for the money they already wasted on him. Regardless of the sense of that move, the question now becomes who plays and how well can they cope.
Javier Arenas was the team’s nickel corner but will get the first shot to step up and start. At 5-foot-9 and 197 pounds, Arenas is on the small side and has been inconsistent in the slot, but the Steelers bring a stable of quick, fast receivers even without Antonio Brown, who is likely to miss the game with an ankle injury. Arenas is giving up 72.2 percent of all throws into his coverage and has already been beaten for a pair of touchdowns and a QB rating of 137.3 on just 18 targets. Those targets will increase massively as a starter, so we’ll get to see exactly what he is made of.
Run vs .Former Run Strength
The Chiefs have never generated much rush from their front line, but GM Scott Pioli never seemed too concerned as long as they were stopping the run. He came from the New England system of big run-stuffing two-gappers like Ty Warren, and while neither player will likely be confused for Warren in his prime, Glenn Dorsey (32) and Tyson Jackson (38) led the NFL last season for run stops at their position. This season, however, both have missed time injured and neither has looked the force against the run they were last year and beyond.
Top pick Dontari Poe has the physique, but his play against the run at nose tackle has been underwhelming, notching just a dozen stops over 148 run plays and failing to move people around the way he should be able. The Chiefs haven’t stopped the run the way they are used to, and the Steelers’ improved O-line play has allowed them to field any running back and knock off big chunks of yardage. If they can continue that fine play in the trenches, it doesn’t matter which back starts or gets the bulk of the carries because they will have heavy success against a Kansas City front that has lost its way in 2012. The Chiefs need to be able to stop the run in order to succeed, and they will need a major uptick in form if they are to manage that in this game.
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