Can KC Survive Steelers?

This Chiefs season could all be tied together with one sentence - the poor get poorer. Not only did the Chiefs, coming off the worst campaign in franchise history, have to adjust to new coaches and schemes this year, but were stuck with arguably the toughest five games to start the season of any team in the league.

It wasn't bad enough the team was struggling mightily on offense, rather, they had to cut ties with their franchise's second-leading rusher after his latest temper tantrum. Clear that hurdle, and then they lose starters Jarrad Page and Mike Goff to injured reserve. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe fails a drug test, and now the team's most potent weapon in the passing game is suspended four games. It doesn't end there.

Sunday, it appears the Chiefs will take on the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers without replacement right guard Andy Alleman and veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel, as neither have practiced this week. Though Alleman and Vrabel have not been officially ruled out for Sunday, it's beginning to look like Ike Ndukwe will get the nod at right guard and Andy Studebaker or Pierre Walters at outside linebacker against the Steelers.

It's much like last season - a star player being suspended (last season it was Larry Johnson), and numerous injuries at key positions, forcing deep reserves to step up (Rocky Boiman, Herb Taylor and Jason Babin in 2008). And of course, two wins.

The timing of the loss of Vrabel, KC's emotional leader on defense, couldn't be worse for the Chiefs, as Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh's offense are having a particularly good year.

"Offensively, they can run the ball," said Todd Haley. "They've got a very good receiving group that can hurt you. Ward has obviously been one of the best players for a long time at his position. Santonio Holmes has come into his own, and looks like he wants to be a great player - 39 of his 43 catches have gone for first downs, and that's an impressive, impressive number. The quarterback is playing the best I've seen him play, even better than he was going into the Super Bowl last year."

Though they've significantly improved from last year, having already eclipsed the 10-sack mark, the Chiefs still struggle to rush the passer. Young players like Wallace Gilberry and Alex Magee have shown promise, but Kansas City is still 31st in the NFL in sacks. The good news is only five teams have allowed more sacks than the Steelers so far this season, but the presence of Vrabel will still be missed.

The biggest mismatch Sunday will be Pittsburgh's defense against KC's offense, exacerbated even further by Bowe's absence and the Chiefs being down to their third option at right guard. Kansas City ranks 24th in the league in rushing, and the Steelers field the league's top run defense.

Perhaps more than any other week, it's important the Chiefs get a solid running game going, because the Steelers' pass rush is no joke, and Cassel could be in serious danger. The Chiefs have allowed more sacks than every team except Green Bay, and only three teams have recorded more sacks than Pittsburgh.

"They're well coached, very solid, rarely expose themselves, so to speak," said Haley. "They do a tremendous, tremendous job of making it appear like they're bringing more than are actually coming. They're able to stay sound on the back end while still creating pressure and giving you problems up front. Other than being a physical group that hustles from start to finish and that plays fast, I think they do a great job of making it appear like more are pressuring than are actually coming. You think seven or eight are coming and sometimes it's just four and you're not able to realize it fast enough."

With the Chiefs as banged up and dilapidated as ever, this Sunday's game against the Steelers may be more about survival than anything else.

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