Eavesdropping On The Enemy: KC vs. Pittsburgh

It's time again for our spy report. Each week this season I go undercover and spy on the opposing fans of each Chiefs opponent. I believe the fans of the individual teams are the true experts on the strengths and weaknesses of their team. Each week I attempt to find out how they view things, how their offense will fare against KC'S defense and how their defense will fare against the KC'S offense.

This week the Chiefs pursue their third consecutive victory as they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Last week the Chiefs fought themselves and the Cardinals but managed to find a way to win a road game. It was a must-win game for the Chiefs and they delivered. This week they find themselves in another must-win game, but this one has a different twist. This game is a must-win for the Steelers. If they lose and fall to 1-4 with all four losses coming to AFC opponents, their hopes for a playoff appearance and a defense of their Super Bowl title will be essentially over.

As I spied on the Steelers fans this week, it was very difficult to find any good analysis on the game. Did they know a spy was among them, thus switching to code language? No. Steelers fans are extremely frustrated with their team, in particular stars such as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Hines Ward and linebacker Joey Porter. However, one fan finally came through with the insight this spy was looking for and this week I infiltrated the Heinz Field Message Board.

Steelers Offense vs. Chiefs Defense
"On defense the Chiefs don't resemble the pathetic team we all know and love anymore. Jarred Allen would be heralded as the best DE in the NFL if he played on a more publicized team. He is easily that good. He has a rare combination of pass rush and run stopping that a Dwight Freeney or Julius Peppers completely lacks. This is no one trick pony and is the man that will kill Ben if we don't account for him on every play. The rookie Tamba Hali is impressive to say the least. An intelligent athlete who has learned enough that he is their swing man. Hali bounces all over the line and has some free roam with where he lines up and attacks from. And I do mean attacks, as this is a player with a full tank of gas in a non stop high octane motor. He lacks some discipline and can be caught over-pursuing but the havoc he creates by constantly winning his 1 on 1 matchups makes up for it."

"The LB group features our favorite failed player Kendrell Bell. So much promise and so little output. I believe he is actually a worse player today then he was when we let him go. However he does have that whole former team thing going for him in this one which may add a little spark to him. To be honest though, I'm not sure how he is still in the NFL. Kawika Mitchell is turning into a fine MLB who plays smart and knows where he is supposed to be. Some of his limitations are being covered up by experience and a system that helps highlight his strengths. He's not going to wow you, but he'll work you do death. Then there's the kid, Derrick Johnson. This is a player I personally really like. He's fast, intelligent and aggressive. He will hit you square up on one play and then chase you down the next from the opposite side of the field. Between Allen, Hali, and Johnson this is a pretty stout front 7 that attacks instead of waiting for you to come to them. They would like nothing better then to prove their worth against the fabled Steeler's running game. I would be very pleased if we average better then about 3.5 ypc for the duration of the game."

"In the secondary they have older, smarter players rather then the young speed we have here. Ty Law and Patrick Surtain are the CBs and both are skilled at lulling a QB to sleep. Then all the sudden they are standing in the end zone with the football while Cowher is chin-butting Ben in the head. Law is not what he used to be as a CB but he is still very talented and is a risk taker. Smarter WRs who run good routes can get him on a double move and burn him down the sidelines. Ward did it a few years back and actually broke Laws ankle with it leading to his release from the Patriots and the record for "sign this player" posts. Don't think Law doesn't remember that. Wesley and Sammy Knight are the safeties and both will not hesitate to come up and knock a WR out over the middle. I'm not overly impressed with either and have never particularly cared for Knight over his career but the solid CB play and pass rush really cover up any range issues the safeties have. It allows them to play their game within themselves and doesn't ask too much."

"Blocking is going to be key. Ben is going to have to be very careful with the football around this secondary and he will need time in order to do so. Jarred Allen needs a double team straight out or at the very least a strong chip from the TEs and backs. Because of the aggressiveness of the defense there are two things that absolutely kill them. Cutback runners (which Parker is) and a well executed play action rollout. We need to get Ben moving and not give the pass rush a target. Allow the WRs time to get free of the better cover skills these CBs have and make plays downfield. Loosening up the safeties has got to be the first priority here. Followed closely by running enough to keep the defense honest. If we are going to make the Chiefs defense pay it is going to be on 2-3 big plays from the offense. Lets just hope they are up to the task." kildarner – Heinz Field

The Spy's Analysis
Stopping the run will be the key to defensive success in this game. The Steelers like to run the ball and throw off of play action. Running back Willie Parker is an explosive back that can hit a home run at any time. Free-agent pickup Najeh Davenport provides the power running the Steelers lost when Jerome Bettis retired. The Steelers will be without starting guard Kendall Simmons due to a freakish frostbite injury. That is not necessarily good news for the Chiefs. The last time an offensive line lost a starter before facing the Chiefs, Tiki Barber went for over 200 yards. KC's defense cannot allow themselves to get complacent because a backup is playing. The first quarter against Matt Leinart last week should have made that abundantly clear. The Chiefs run defense must remain physical and disciplined.

After stopping the run. putting pressure on Rothlisberger becomes the key. Defensive end Jared Allen has two sacks through the first four games while rookie Tamba Hali has two and a half. The Chiefs need both tp come through with one or two apiece. The defense needs to get on this offense early and not let them get up, especially playing in Heinz Field.

Steelers Defense vs. Chiefs Offense
"On offense it all starts and ends with Larry Johnson. He is the prototype running back. He can run over you, around you, or away from you. He's very effective catching out of the backfield, which is what many may not have guessed (over 100yds receiving last week). The best thing about Johnson is his ability to set up a block. Something I believe he has learned from one of the best ever at it, Priest Holmes. LJ doesn't always look to run a man over. He understands the complexity of running in the NFL and does well to be patient and let his blockers do their job. He has a lightning quick sidestep that he can make at near full speed to avoid would be tacklers. Under Coach Edwards the running game has become an even greater focus of the Chiefs offense. 3rd and 5 is a running down to them so we better be prepared for it."

"The passing game isn't what it was under Vermeil especially with Green out. And I know when I hear that Damon Huard is the starting QB for the opposing team I start to drool but that may be a bit premature. Huard has played exceptionally well the past two weeks amassing 7TDs, 0 Ints, and if I remember correctly a 70+ percent completion rate. Keep in mind that is against Arizona and San Francisco but it is still pretty impressive. The one chink in his game the past few weeks is that a low release has lead to several passes getting batted down at the line. Huard has some throwing options, none of which really warrant double coverage but they are dangerous regardless. Sammy Parker is the one that for some reason always impresses me. As a group though they tend to be solid route runners with average size and speed. Their good hands and ability to find a hole in a coverage scheme is what makes them dangerous. And of course, Tony Gonzalez is still the best in the NFL as a receiving tight end. The numbers don't necessarily show it but he is as lethal as ever and must be accounted for on every play."

"KC is going to try and get LJ going of course. But Herm Edwards isn't exactly blind and I'm sure he has watched the performances our secondary has turned in thus far. They are going to try and let Huard throw the ball and have success. With his smart decisions and accuracy they may feel they can pick us apart much like San Diego did. If they can keep the running game remotely respectable we could all be embarrassed on Monday by having to admit Damon Huard passed all over us. The key is going to be Casey Hampton in the middle. Our edge rushers should have success against the absolutely terrible OTs that KC will put out there. Hampton needs to push the middle of the pocket and deny Huard the ability to step up into his throws. That will destroy Huard's accuracy and cause him to get flustered. Hopefully leading to some good turnovers. Also, in the running game the Chiefs strength lies at G and C. They try to clear holes up the middle and get to the second level in front of LJ. Hampton has got to win those matchups and our ILBs must fill their gaps with authority against this power runner." kildarner – Heinz Field

The Spy's Analysis
Pittsburgh's Achilles heel on defense is their pass defense. They blitz and do it very well. However, if teams can effectively block the blitz, they can pick up chunks of yards with downfield passing. Head coach Herm Edwards has decided to go with continuity over talent at the left tackle position this week, choosing to start Jordan Black over Kyle Turley because Black has been in the lineup the last two weeks. So much of the offensive line play is the synchronization of the line. That fact makes Edwards decision understandable. Black needs to reward that decision with solid play. The other key player will be running back Larry Johnson. Perhaps more important than his ability to beat eight and nine-man fronts will be his ability to pick up the blitz. He missed a block last week that led to a sack. The Chiefs cannot afford that type of mistake this week.

The second key to Kansas City's offense this week will be the patience of offensive coordinator Mike Solari. While the Chiefs will need to make plays down the field, they cannot abandon the run, even if it gets stuffed early. Solari showed tremendous patience last week against the Cardinals. He'll need to do it again.

The Spy's Summary
The intangibles of this game are very interesting. On one hand it is very difficult in the NFL to win back-to-back road games. yet that is exactly what the schedule makers have asked the Chiefs to do. On the other hand, the Steelers have not played well enough to win this season and lost three starters to injury this week. They've lost three consecutive games and Roethlisberger has yet to throw a touchdown pass. This is a wounded team, but they have a great deal of character and heart. They will play with a lot of emotion and passion on Sunday. I can see what Herm means when he says you must survive the first 15 minutes on the road. They failed to do that last week, but battled back. This week they need to withstand the emotion of the Steelers early and then take the crowd of the game with strong defense, consistent rushing and opportunistic passing.

 

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