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Pittsburgh Steelers look to rebound against another West Coast offense

A history lesson, tape review, prediction, complete breakdown and much more in this Chiefs-Steelers game day preview.


Steelers 13, Chiefs 9

November 27, 2011 at Arrowhead Stadium

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0 against the Chiefs on Sunday nights, both at Kansas City, and this Sunday night game was the last Todd Haley coached against the Steelers. With quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton injured, Haley started Tyler Palko against the 7-3 Steelers, who were the defending AFC champs and favored by 10.5 points. Palko was intercepted three times, his second -- Ryan Mundy's only interception with the Steelers -- set up the game's only touchdown, a second-quarter, 2-yard Ben Roethlisberger pass to Weslye Saunders, the tight end's only career touchdown. Palko, also intercepted earlier by Ike Taylor, still had the Chiefs in the game when he guided them to the Pittsburgh 32 with 38 seconds remaining. But the upset bid fell short when Palko was intercepted by Keenan Lewis for Lewis' only interception with the Steelers. The loss knocked the Chiefs to 4-7, and Haley -- who had turned the Chiefs from a 4-12 team into AFC West champs in 2010 -- was fired two weeks later. He replaced Bruce Arians as Steelers offensive coordinator the following year.


"Defensively, the Chiefs' back end is really good. Marcus Peters is fantastic. He's got four picks, he's physical, he does a nice job tackling as well as going after the ball. The secondary as a whole, when the ball's in the air they believe it's theirs. They do a great job of contesting just about every throw. I really love their safeties as well, Eric Berry and Ron Parker. But they don't put pressure on the quarterback without Justin Houston. The fact he's not there is obvious. Tamba Hali still has power but the speed is not what it once was, and I don't know if it's because his knees bother him because he doesn't play every snap anymore. Dee Ford is decent, not great. And then (Frank) Zombo plays (OLB) but to me he's just a guy." -- Steelers Radio analyst Tunch Ilkin.


Can the Steelers disrupt THIS West Coast offense?

The Steelers didn't come close to disrupting rookie QB Carson Wentz last week, and the offense from which Philadelphia Eagles first-year Coach Doug Peterson came, and copied, now comes to Heinz Field. Can the Steelers disrupt QB Alex Smith? Well, Smith likes to step up into the pocket and that's home to the best Steelers rushers, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. It'll be up to them, and perhaps any blitzers Keith Butler dials up, to stall the same kind of rhythm offense they saw, and were destroyed by, last week.


Q: What makes Le'Veon Bell such an outstanding receiver?

TH: "Some guys are just more natural catchers. He just has more natural receiver skills. It starts with his build. He is a little longer and leaner than you see in most running backs, which gives him great flexibility. But his ball skills are very good. His hands are very good. He enjoys it. He takes great pride in it. He is always asking me to let him play wide receiver and all kinds of stuff. Some guys are just naturally better, and he works at it. He and Ben have a nice connection, so it’s a big positive."

Q: How creative can you be with Bell and DeAngelo Williams on the field together?

TH: "When I coached in Kansas City, I had Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster, and Jamaal and Dexter both had receiver-like skills. We played a lot of snaps with multiple halfbacks on the field, trying to use it to our advantage, and we did a lot of good things. So, I have some experience with it, even going back to when I was with the Jets, when we had Curtis Martin and Richie Anderson. Anderson was labeled a fullback but he caught 92 passes one year. That’s like having two backs on the field. And he got a number of carries. So I have experience with that. They are two of our best players. At times, we will probably have to try to find ways to get them on the field at the same time."

Q: Has a No. 2 wide receiver emerged?

TH: "I think Sammie Coates continues to make strides. He made a big play in the game early for us. Markus Wheaton had a little tough start, but it had been a long time since he had been out there, so I know he is working hard to get back. We have great confidence in him. Ben has confidence in him. But right now, I think it’s just a really good competition. To be in-season and have guys competing for more playing time is a positive for us and for them."


What to look for from the Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday night:


B.J. Finney's mangled ring finger is well enough for him to make his first career start at left guard, in place of Ramon Foster for the Steelers. He'll be needed to help block the Chiefs' crafty inside linebacker Derrick Johnson and get the Steelers' run game rolling with DeAngelo Williams and of course the returning Le'Veon Bell. Bell is the offense's hope this week, but he'll probably do more damage as a pass receiver. While the Steelers are still trying to find a threat opposite Antonio Brown, the Chiefs are hurting at their second CB position with Phillip Gaines struggling with a rehabilitated knee. He missed most of the practice week after being pulled late from last week's game. Gaines is the Chiefs' No. 2 opposite interception machine Marcus Peters. Behind Gaines is slot CB Steven Nelson and then inexperienced players. This should be a big week for Bell and possibly Markus Wheaton and/or Sammie Coates -- if Finney can play respectably against the Chiefs' inside pressure and ILB Johnson's exceptional run defense.


After tearing an ACL last Oct. 11, Jamaal Charles is expected to return in a backup capacity to Spencer Ware, but the player the Steelers must watch -- particularly with SS Rob Golden out -- is tight end Travis Kelce, their leading receiver with 17 catches (11.6 ypc.).  The Chiefs will, for example, line up three receivers to one side and Kelce to the other in order to isolate him on a smaller defensive back or slower linebacker. They'll put him in the slot or use him as an H-back to also get that favorable matchup. Perhaps that's why injured rookie Sean Davis (back) -- who was drafted for this very coverage role -- returned to practice Friday and said he expects to play in this game as a slot CB.


Last week was a bad spot against a team with an inexperienced quarterback, so of course I ignored the poor intangibles in favor of the perceived matchup edge against a rookie QB. WRONG. So this week we learn. This is a good spot for the Steelers -- coming off an embarrassing loss, against a team that's never won at Heinz Field, and riding a 5-game Sunday night win streak -- even though the perception is the Steelers struggle with West Coast offenses. So give me the desperate team in a good spot with Ben Roethlisberger at QB. Steelers, 26-23.


2: Number of QB pressures by James Harrison and Stephon Tuitt to lead the Steelers, who have 1 sack this season.

3: Number of QB pressures by Dee Ford to lead the Chiefs, who have 3 sacks this season.

7: Number of prime-time contests played between the Steelers and Chiefs. The Steelers are 5-2 in such games and 1-0 in Pittsburgh.

9: Number of interceptions by Marcus Peters in his last 10 games. The second-year Chiefs CB has four interceptions among his seven defensed passes this season.

29: Yards per catch for Sammie Coates, which leads all NFL players with at least six catches. Coates has seven receptions for 203 yards, and last week led all NFL receivers with a timed max speed of 21.27 m.p.h. with the ball.

31: Percentage that Steelers opposition converts third downs. The Steelers rank fourth in the NFL in third-down defense.


* The Steelers are 3-0 against the Chiefs at Heinz Field with wins in 2014, 2012 and 2006. The last Chiefs win in Pittsburgh was at Three Rivers Stadium in 1986, 24-19, when the Steelers outgained the Chiefs 515-171 but allowed a kickoff and a blocked field to be returned for touchdowns.

* Ruled out for the Steelers are: LG Ramon Foster (chest), SS Robert Golden (hamstring), CB Senquez Golson (foot), FB Rosie Nix (back), slot WR Eli Rogers (toe), ILB Ryan Shazier (knee), OL Cody Wallace (knee).

* Chiefs RB Charcandrick West has been ruled out of the game with an ankle injury. West backs up Spencer Ware and is the last player to rush for 100 yards against the Steelers. West rushed for 110 yards on 22 carries in last year's Oct. 25 Chiefs win at Kansas City.

* While Jamaal Charles is listed as questionable, he's expected to play as a reserve today for his first action in 51 weeks. Charles averages 5.47 yards per carry, the highest in NFL history among players with at least 1,000 attempts. Jim Brown is second with 5.22 yards per carry. DeAngelo Williams, at 4.72, owns the highest average among Steelers runners with 1,000 career carries.

* Le'Veon Bell returns to play the team that allowed his last 100-yard game. But in spite of that loss at Kansas City, the Steelers in Bell's four seasons are 22-13 when he starts and 8-8 when he doesn't.

* Nick Williams, the Steelers' seventh-round draft pick in 2013, is a backup defensive lineman with the Chiefs with three tackles this season.

* Alex Smith is 2-2 in his career against the Steelers. Both of his wins occurred at home and both losses at Heinz Field, where his passer rating is 78.1.

* Ben Roethlisberger won his last three starts against the Chiefs, and has thrown at least three touchdown passes in each of his last four home games.


"I’m not going to tell you what we’re doing this weekend, so we’ll see. That’s my best answer — we’ll see. Without telling you anything, our young guys are maturing a little bit and coming along. And we need for them to come along as they go, so to speak. It depends on how good we get with those guys. " -- Steelers DC Keith Butler on generating more pressure on quarterbacks.

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