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NFL Preview - Pittsburgh (6-3) at Kansas City (2-7)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - After a tough divisional game last weekend and another on the horizon, the Pittsburgh Steelers just might be looking past this Sunday's meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
However, now second fiddle in the AFC North, the Steelers need all the wins they can get. They should be able to pick up a few over the next four weeks in what can only be viewed as a bit of a break in the schedule.
Pittsburgh (6-3) survived an early test in their 2009 calendar, picking up a home win over Minnesota on October 25 before defeating Denver on the road on November 9 following a bye week.
That 28-10 victory over the Broncos gave the Steelers a five- game winning streak in which they scored at least 27 points in each contest. Pittsburgh then returned to divisional play last Sunday and dropped an 18-12 game to Cincinnati, a contest in which defense and special teams trumped offense.
The Steelers did not allow an offensive touchdown in their loss to the Bengals, but did watch returner Bernard Scott take a kickoff 96 yards for a first-quarter score that was the game's only touchdown.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, went 0-for-4 in the red zone and had to settle for four field goals by kicker Jeff Reed. The Steelers also lost safety Troy Polamalu early in the game to a PCL strain in his left knee, the same one that caused him to miss four games earlier this season. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin declared his starting safety "questionable at best" for this contest.
The Steelers had an eight-game home win streak snapped and fell a game behind the 7-2 Bengals in the division. Pittsburgh also lost both of its meetings with Cincinnati this year, giving the Bengals the all-important tie-break between the clubs.
Pittsburgh will try to keep the pressure on Cincinnati with a favorable four- game stretch. After this Sunday's battle, the Steelers play in Baltimore, host Oakland and then play at Cleveland. The Ravens represent the toughest matchup of the bunch, as the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns are a combined 5-22 this season.
The Chiefs (2-7) will be looking for the upset with a new-look offense. Last Sunday's 16-10 victory over the Raiders was their first since releasing starting running back Larry Johnson, who had originally earned a one-game suspension for off-the-field remarks about head coach Todd Haley on Twitter, as well as some anti-gay slurs on the website.
The offense took another hit on Tuesday, when the team confirmed that wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was suspended for four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances. Bowe had made six catches for 91 yards in the win over Oakland.
Jamaal Charles, starting in place of Johnson, added 103 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown against the Raiders.
Kansas City, which has picked up both of its wins this season in its last four games, will be looking to halt a 10-game home losing streak this Sunday. The Chiefs haven't won at Arrowhead Stadium since September 28 of last season and have gone 0-4 as the host this year.
Pittsburgh leads the all-time regular season series with Kansas City, 17-8, and pounded the Chiefs by a 45-7 margin when the teams last met, in 2006 at Heinz Field. Kansas City won the previous meeting, a 41-20 affair at Arrowhead Stadium in 2003. The Steelers last won in K.C. in 2001.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have met once in the postseason, with Kansas City scoring a 27-24 overtime victory in a 1993 AFC First-Round Playoff at Arrowhead.
Haley and Tomlin will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL
Pittsburgh's ninth-ranked offense (364.7 yards per game) was held to just 226 yards versus the Bengals, including a mere 80 on the ground. Making his sixth start of the season, running back Rashard Mendenhall (609 rushing yards, 4 TD) racked up just 36 yards on 13 carries, his lowest yardage total as a regular. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (2469 passing yards, 14 TD, 8 INT), who is ranked fifth in the AFC in passing yards and QB rating (97.1), completed just half of his 40 attempts for 174 yards with an interception. He also failed to throw a touchdown pass in a game for the first time this season. Roethlisberger will look to rebound versus a Chiefs club he has started just once against before, though he completed 84.2 percent of his passes in that game with two touchdowns and a 153.8 rating. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes (43 receptions, 1 TD) made seven catches for 88 yards to lead the team last week, though he still hasn't found the end zone since Week 1 versus Tennessee. Receiver Hines Ward (53 receptions, 4 TD) and tight end Heath Miller (47 receptions, 4 TD) both made four catches each versus the Bengals. Roethlisberger has been sacked 27 times this year, including four in last week's loss.
The Chiefs come into the game with the 27th ranked defense in the NFL (375.6 ypg), but benefited from facing an awful Raiders team a week ago. Kansas City held Oakland to just 90 yards passing, a season low for the defense, but did allow the Raiders to run for 182 yards. A good chunk of that did come on one play, a 60-yard run by running back Michael Bush. Safety Mike Brown (48 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT) had a career-high two interceptions last weekend, including a game-clinching pick with 38 seconds left in the game. Kansas City's front seven will look to increase its pressure against Roethlisberger, who tends to hold onto the ball a long time while trying to utilize the pump fake. Kansas City managed just two sacks last week, as defensive end Alex Magee had one and linebacker Tamba Hali (29 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and end Wallace Gilberry (15 tackles, 3.5 sacks) teamed up for another. With Pittsburgh passing more this year than in the past, corners Brandon Flowers (31 tackles, 2 INT) and Brandon Carr (29 tackles) will be tested by Ward, Holmes and rookie wideout Mike Wallace (26 receptions, 3 TD).
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel (1472 passing yards, 10 TD, 6 INT) will be without two of his usual weapons this weekend in Johnson and Bowe. He was solid versus Oakland last weekend, completing 19-of-34 pass attempts for 216 yards with an interception. Cassel was also sacked twice and has been brought down by defenders 29 times this year, the second-most in the NFL. Charles (255 rushing yards, 1 TD) was able to step up in Johnson's absence, getting the bulk of the carries. Fellow back Kolby Smith was handed the ball nine times, but managed only 12 yards. Without Bowe (33 receptions, 4 TD), more pressure will fall to wideouts Chris Chambers and Lance Long. Chambers has made six catches for 130 yards with two touchdowns in just two games with the club, while Long (12 receptions) was given his first start of the year last weekend. He made just two catches for 18 yards, while Chambers had three for 60 yards. Bobby Wade (20 receptions, 2 TD), who has been inactive for the past two games, could find his way back into the lineup due to Bowe's suspension, while fellow receiver Mark Bradley (17 receptions, 1 TD) should also be in the mix.
While Pittsburgh's offense struggled a week ago, the defense did all it could to keep the club in the game. The Steelers held the Bengals to 218 yards on the afternoon, yielding just 61 on the ground as Cincinnati running back Cedric Benson left the game early with an injury. Pittsburgh is ranked first in the NFL versus the run (69.3 ypg), which is bad news for Charles. The Steelers also rank second in the NFL in total defense at 277.4 yards per game allowed. With Polamalu (20 tackles, 3 INT) likely to miss the game, Tyrone Carter (18 tackles, 2 INT) is in line to start in his place, as he did when Polamalu missed four games earlier in the year. Carter also started versus Denver when free safety Ryan Clark (45 tackles, 2 INT) was held out of the game due to a medical condition. Pittsburgh's linebackers should be the main source of pressure on Cassel, as both LaMarr Woodley (22 tackles, 3 sacks) and James Harrison (51 tackles, 9 sacks) notched sacks a week ago. Inside linebackers James Farrior (61 tackles, 2 sacks) and Lawrence Timmons (37 tackles, 3 sacks), meanwhile, combined for 17 tackles in the loss.
Steeler owners should expect a bounce-back week from all players involved, including Roethlisberger, Ward, Holmes, Miller and Mendenhall in this favorable matchup. Deeper leagues can also give third receiver Wallace a look as well. Pittsburgh's defense is also a good play this weekend, as is Reed. Bottom line, if you have a Steeler, use him.
The opposite goes true for the Chiefs. Although Charles owners were happy that he had the better game over Smith and got the bulk of the carries, he will likely see little room to run this weekend. Bowe owners are left scrambling for a replacement, but none of the Chiefs' wideouts are considered good plays here.
The pressure is on the Steelers if they want to repeat as division champs, and they can't afford to take the Chiefs too lightly. That may be easier said than done with an upcoming road game in Baltimore, but last week's loss to the Bengals served as a wake-up call for Pittsburgh. Even if the Steelers are to peek a bit past the Chiefs, it won't matter, as they field a far superior team. Pittsburgh is hungry for a win and the offense will be motivated after last week's failures, which means nothing but bad things for the already outclassed Chiefs.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Steelers 31, Chiefs 10
11/19 17:10:31 ET