Physical Chiefs Too Much for the Steelers

Not many in the NFL question the Steelers have the AFC's best front seven. But after Sunday's 41-20 whipping of Pittsburgh, Kansas City might have knocked the Steelers off that pedestal for good.

I can't remember a more dominating defensive performance in recent memory. Yes the Marty Schottenheimer era produced a plethora of outstanding defensive performances but you'll have to go back to the late 60's to find a better group in Chiefs history.

No disrespect to the late Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith. But what the Chiefs did on Sunday was merely a reminder of their true glory days. In front of over 50 Chiefs alumni and their former mentor Hank Stram, Kansas City gave notice that their defensive woes from 2001 and 2002 are in the past.

A strong defense starts up front and Ryan Sims is quickly becoming one of the best interior linemen in the game. He recorded two sacks and was primarily responsible for holding the Steelers to 60 yards. It would have been much less had Amos Zereoue had not run off two long runs in the fourth quarter when the Chiefs were in their nickel package.

Sims battled double teams on virtually every down. Vonnie Holliday, Eric Hicks, John Browning, R-Kal Truluck and Gary Stills put enough heat on Tommy Maddox to force him into throwing three interceptions. One of those errant passes deflected into the hands of safety Jerome Woods who ran it back 46 yards for a touchdown.

The errant pass was caused by the viscous collar of cornerback Dexter McCleon on Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El. McCleon who has been subbing for William Bartee has solidified his spot as a starter. Bartee will actually be a benefit to the team playing the inside slot in the nickel package.

But the one thing that stood out was the Chiefs secondary. They were hitting and punishing the Steelers receivers. Woods, Greg Wesley and Shaunard Harts punished the Steelers receivers whenever they went over the middle. Even though Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress had great games and made some big plays, neither was unable to make any significant ones in the second half. The Chiefs increased their pressure on Maddox and that caused him to hold the ball longer as the Chiefs sat back in coverage.

With the Chiefs only up by fourteen points, Maddox threw eight straight completions and had the Steelers in position to score a touchdown. But Shawn Barber intercepted a pass in the end zone and that more than anything else sealed the deal for the Chiefs.

Stats don't lie but they can be misleading. The Steelers did torch the Chiefs secondary for 336 yards. Two of those plays equaled 83 yards. The first to Wards for 50 yards and the latter on a beautiful touchdown catch by Burress. In fact, the Chiefs had the perfect coverage but the pass from Maddox eluded the Chiefs defenders.

Two of the Steelers scoring drives in the first half were set up by a poor KC punt and the second thanks to the second interception by Trent Green. His first interception led to a quick touchdown and 7-0 Chiefs deficent.

After the poor punt by Jason Baker, Maddox found Wards for 50 yards and the Chiefs defense held them to three points after a first and goal from the seven yard line. That was the turning point of the game. Dante Hall then ran the ensuing kick-off back for 100 yards to bring life into the team.

The Chiefs made a huge statement to the rest of the NFL. The defense looks as if it might be even better than advertised. They might be better than middle of the road. They still need to shore up their secondary. Though the Chiefs probably faced the best group of wide receivers that they will face all year long, need Eric Warfield to be more aggressive.

That might not be his fault. In past years, Warfield was burned when the Chiefs blitzed as he would lay off on the hot or go to receiver. This year the blitz is more effective and Warfield was burned for being too far off the ball on Sunday. If he had been more aggressive, then the passing totals would have been much less.

But that's nitpicking. Still the front seven will have bad days and the secondary, especially the corners, will need to play more aggressive bump and run coverage. That should come in as the corners become more comfortable with their new and revamped front seven.

When that happens, the Chiefs might be a Top 10 defense and that would be more than enough to get them into position for a Super Bowl run.

Next week the Chiefs defense has to deal with the Houston Texans who after an impressive win at Miami a week ago took a beating against the Saints on the road on Sunday.

The Texans win over the Dolphins in week one probably helped the Chiefs. After trouncing the Chargers and Steelers in consecutive weeks, their might have been a tendancy to look past the Texans. Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil will only have to point out their opening win over Miami and the Bengals near victory in Oakland on Sunday as motiviating factors to keep his team focused.

This is a game where you just take care of business and win. Nothing fancy at all. This game and the one the following week in Baltimore might be more defining to the Chiefs Super Bowl run than any other two games this season. They are supposed to win both games.

Nicks Notes & Stats

*Tony Gonzalez caught his 400th ball of his career. That makes him the 4th active tight end to grab that many passes. Let's hope he can get into a better offensive rhythm the last 14 weeks of the season. The Chiefs will need a productive Gonzales to take the load of Priest Holmes.

*Speaking of Holmes. He scored three touchdowns in a game for the sixth time in his NFL career. Holmes hurt his ribs on the first of this three rushing scores when he dived into the end zone in the second quarter. But he managed to keep playing despite the pain after getting his ribs taped in the locker room. Holmes was beaten and pounded by the Steelers defense but in the end he gained 122 yards. The Chiefs need to lighten the load of Holmes this week against the Texans. It's very important that Derrick Blaylock and Larry Johnson establish themselves over the next two weeks.

*Speaking of Larry Johnson he continues to have outstanding practices. Blaylock only touched the ball a couple of times this weekend against the Steelers but Johnson is continuing to impress the Chiefs coaching staff and might be activated for this weekends game in Houston.

Around the AFC West

*What a difference a week makes for Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer. He tortured San Diego's weak secondary with three touchdown passes in their 37-13 trouncing over the slumping Chargers. It was not all rosy for Plummer as he left the game with a concussion. Actually he sperated his shoulder injury. But the intriguing part of this injury is that Denver head coach Mike Shanahan lied about the injury. He admitted to it after the game but the league is considering fining the Broncos head coach for his deception. Regardless, the Broncos looked like a Super Bowl team but they were playing the Chargers who appear to be out if it two games into the 2003 season. The Chargers fall to 0-2 in the division and the season as they looked like the hapless Bengals in their second consecutive loss.

*Speaking of those Bengals. They looked pathetic against the Broncos in Week one but looked like a playoff contender against the Raiders in Oakland. They gave the Raiders plenty to worry about as they lost the game 23-20 in the final seconds. Our old AFC West friend quarterback Jon Kitna led the Bengals until the final three minutes of the game. He threw an errant pass that was intercepted by cornerback Phillip Buchanon who ran it back 83-yards for a touchdown that put the Raiders up 20-13. But Kitna came back and fired a seven-yard pass to Peter Warrick. But Rich Gannon who stunk up the Coliseum all day found Charlie Garner on a pass in the flat that he turned into a 24-yard gain that set up the game winning 39-yard field goal by Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski.


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