Those are the catalysts in Kansas City. The free-agent acquisitions, Holliday and Barber, helped lead the Chiefs to a 27-14 win over the San Diego Chargers in the opener.
The Chiefs had a 24-0 halftime lead and ended up holding Chargers rushing sensation LaDainian Tomlinson to 34 yards on 13 carries. The Chiefs sacked quarterback Drew Brees three times, with Holliday getting all three. But consider Holliday's history, as researched by ESPN.com this week:
- Holliday had six sacks in 2002 and five came in one game.
- In 2001, Holliday had eight sacks with four coming in two games.
- In 2000, he had two of his five sacks in one game.
So his quota may be up, but it's better than what the Chiefs had become accustomed to.
"That position produced one sack in 16 games last year," said Coach Dick Vermeil.
Rushing the passer was a problem for the Chiefs last year. So was covering receivers, and when teams can't rush or cover, they find themselves dead last in overall defense.
So the Chiefs added Holliday at rush end, Dexter McCleon as a nickel cornerback and Barber as a weak-side linebacker through free agency. They also have free safety Jerome Woods back after a year-long injury absence. Ryan Sims, a first-round pick and holdout, started at nose tackle last week. Scott Fujita, a starting linebacker the last half of last season, became the sixth new starter as compared to last year's opening-day lineup.
Something worked. The revamped defense held San Diego to 49 yards of offense in the first half and brought back memories of Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan and Willie Lanier. Too bad those old Super Bowl champs never had the opportunity to play against San Diego's offensive line, which has been ripped by film evaluators up and down the Monongahela River this week.
But, as Steelers Coach Bill Cowher pointed out, "you look at what that offense has been able to put up and it's been rather impressive. So you don't have to be a great defense there; just be a good one."
And that's what the Steelers believe the Chiefs have to go along with their potent offense this year.
"They're not going to take a lot of chances," said Ward. "In previous years, they'd put eight in the box and lock their corners up and say 'Let the better man win.' Now they're playing a lot of different coverages."
That's because cornerback is the Chiefs' primary weak link since they've added Holliday and Barber to bolster the pass rush.
McCleon started last week only because holdover cornerback William Bartee missed the game with an ankle injury. He's doubtful this week, but that doesn't mean the Steelers will pick on McCleon. Left cornerback Eric Warfield was a favorite target of opponents last year, and Woods, the free safety, should draw some attention this week if he has to cover the slot receiver as the nickel back.
"They're a physical secondary," Ward said in an attempt at a compliment. "It's going to be a physical battle. Watching film on them, though, it's their front four. Their front four is a beast."
So he wasn't just saying Kansas City's better than Baltimore to take yet another swipe at the rival Ravens?
"No," Ward said. "Baltimore's good, but right now, just watching film, the Chiefs really play good team defense."
By Jim Wexell