NFL Preview - Kansas City (1-7) at Pittsburgh (5-3)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Kansas City truly hopes it's darkest before dawn because things are pitch black around the woeful Chiefs right now.
It doesn't figure to get much easier on Monday night when the Chiefs visit the streaking Pittsburgh Steelers, who haven't lost a Monday Night Football home game in more than twenty years.
That's quite the hurdle as Kansas City arrives in Western Pennsylvania to face its former head coach Todd Haley, who is now the offensive coordinator with the Steelers.
The 1-7 Chiefs have been historically bad this season, becoming the first team since 1929 to fail to even lead at any point during regulation through seven games.
Their latest hiccup came back on Nov.1 in San Diego when Philip Rivers threw as many touchdown passes as he did incompletions as the Chargers pounded Kansas City, 31-13, in an AFC West clash at Qualcomm Stadium.
Rivers completed his first 13 passes and finished 18-of-20 on the night against the hapless Kansas City defense. Frustrated by that performance Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel actually removed himself as the team's de facto defensive coordinator, anointing Gary Gibbs to turn around a that has been giving up 30.0 points per game and an embarrassing 8.90 yards per pass attempt -- by far the worst mark in the NFL.
Perhaps an even biggest statement was made by releasing cornerback Stanford Routt just eight games after signing him to a big three-year, $18 million contract.
Things haven't been much better offensively for Kansas City either.
Matt Cassel will again start at quarterback for the Chiefs in Pittsburgh as Brady Quinn continues to recover from a concussion. The Southern Cal product, however, has been the epicenter of Kansas City's turnover woes, throwing 11 interceptions so far this season and adding eight fumbles, losing seven.
Cassel passed for 181 yards and an interception on 19-of-29 passing against the Chargers as Kansas City dropped its fifth straight contest. Dwayne Bowe caught eight passes for 79 yards but the Chiefs, who lead the league with 29 turnovers gave the ball away four times in the setback.
"Similar to what's been happening during the course of this year, we shoot ourselves in the foot," Crennel remarked. "We're in this hole and we have to fight our way out of it."
In the Steel City, Haley was hired by Mike Tomlin to be Pittsburgh's offensive leader after being fired and replaced by Crennel in the City of Fountains after a 5-8 start in 2011.
Things haven't gone perfectly for Haley in the Pittsburgh but they have been getting better recently. The Steelers have rebounded with three straight wins after an uncharacteristic 2-3 start and are right back in the AFC Playoff picture.
Last Sunday Isaac Redman scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter, as the Steelers rallied past the New York Giants, 24-20, in a battle between two storied franchises that have combined to win four of the past seven Super Bowls.
With Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Dwyer sidelined due to injuries, Redman carried the ball 26 times for a career-high 147 yards against the G-Men.
Ben Roethlisberger completed 21-of-30 passes for 216 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for Pittsburgh, which was forced to fly into Newark on Sunday morning due to the lack of hotel rooms in the New York-New Jersey area because of damage from Hurricane Sandy.
"We've got big time respect for what the Giants are capable of in the fourth so hopefully this is a big step for us in terms of trying to be the football team we desire to be," Tomlin said.
The Steelers hold a commanding 18-9 advantage in their all-time series with K.C., including a 13-9 win at Arrowhead Stadium last season.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
For the Chiefs to even compete in this spot they will have to play mistake free football and that's a very unlikely scenario. Kansas City's 29 turnovers are 10 more than anyone else in the NFL entering this weekend's action and 21 more than the Steelers have committed.
"They're a big, physical team," Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles said when talking about the Steelers. "They've been together for at about 10 years and know how to play football, they've won a couple Super Bowls together. You just have to have your stuff together before you go play them. You can't be messy or they'll just destroy you, especially at home. It's a great team."
The Steelers are and have been hurting. Star safety Troy Polamalu remains out with a calf injury while David DeCastro's season-ending knee injury has shaken up what already was a suspect offensive line. Mendenhall (Achilles) will likely miss his fourth straight contest but Dwyer (quadriceps) could give it a go on Monday night. Meanwhile, starting receiver Antonio Brown has been ruled out after spraining his ankle against the Giants.
Redman, however, proved himself against some stiff competition in North Jersey and Emmanuel Sanders is a proven, albeit less consistent, option at receiver in place of Brown. Roethlisberger also has big play machine Mike Wallace at his disposal as well as one of the game's best all-around tight ends, Heath Miller.
The Steelers new-found balance on the field is a key to their 51.2 3rd-down conversion rate, the best in the NFL. Pittsburgh was 31st in the NFL in rushing (74.8 ypg) through Week 6 but have figured it out since, averaging 155.0 rushing yards per game during their winning streak with Redman and Dwyer.
"Whoever's being productive when healthy is going to get the totes," Tomlin said when talking about his running game. "I really think it's that simple. I'm not going to make it any more complex than it has to be. When someone's effective, they'll get the ball."
The Chiefs defense will move Javier Arenas into the starting lineup to replace Routt at the corner opposite Brandon Flowers and the shakeup as a whole could provide a little extra juice but it's hard to imagine them holding up for 60 minutes.
"They're a very speedy, very talented group of guys," Kansas City safety Kendrick Lewis said when talking about the Steelers offense. "We've just got to prepare for their speed. That's basically the biggest thing you see on the film, it's quick passes, they're going to get the ball into their receivers' hands real quick and let them try and run and make plays."
The lowly Chiefs set up as road kill for a Steelers team which has won its past 14 straight at home on Monday Night Football.
If you're Kansas City, perhaps you can hang your hat on the fact that Cassel is 3-0 as a starter on MNF but that was a different Cassel, one that wasn't shell shocked by the torrent of turnovers that has plagued the Chiefs in 2012.
Meanwhile, Roethlisberger is 4-0 with a 109.3 passer rating at home on MNF and the Steelers as a whole have allowed just 15 points after intermission during their current winning streak. Expect The Chiefs to crumble down the stretch of this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Steelers 31, Chiefs 13
11/12 10:36:45 ET