Who are those guys?

PITTSBURGH – Forget for a moment the names, just know the numbers: The visiting team today has won two in a row, owns the league's No. 4 overall defense and the No. 2 passer. That passer hasn't thrown an interception in six years ...

... Both the offense and defense rank in the top seven in third-down efficiency, and every one of the special teams ranks better than the respective special teams of the host.

The host team today has lost three starters to injuries since losing its third consecutive game last Sunday, has scored only 17 points in the fourth quarter, ranks 27th in points, and has the league's 32nd-ranked passer.

Yet, the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-3) are favored over the visiting Kansas City Chiefs (2-2) by seven points, mainly because the names don't seem to mesh with their corresponding numbers.

* The Chiefs are the NFL's fourth-ranked defense.

In order, the NFL's top-ranked defenses are San Diego, Baltimore, Chicago and Kansas City. Kansas City? In the last four seasons the Chiefs ranked 25th, 31st, 29th and dead last in defense. What's going on?

"Yeah, it wasn't that good," said Chiefs Coach Herm Edwards. "But you won't hurt my feelings."

That's because Edwards is the new head coach. His defensive coordinator, Gunther Cunningham, is in his third season with the Chiefs since coming back to rekindle his glory days as the team's DC in the late 1990s.

"We've changed the face of it," Edwards said. "There are actually 23 new players on the football team. We changed that face a little bit."

One change is the use of what Steelers Coach Bill Cowher called "sticky-sand, where you're going to see 11 guys at the line of scrimmage and sometimes they bail out of there, like what Denver did when we played them in the playoff game."

That might not be such a smart defense against the Steelers, who in last season's AFC Championship game beat the Denver Broncos, 34-17. On one memorable "sticky-sand" moment, the Broncos stacked the line of scrimmage only to be split by Jerome Bettis for a 12-yard touchdown run. The play, though, was called back because of an illegal-formation penalty on Hines Ward.

"That's probably helped them in their stats," said Steelers guard Alan Faneca. "They put everybody on the line, eight guys. They were all up there and they've been confusing teams with that. They've been stuffing people with that and that'll help your statistics, especially on third down."

A more sound reason for Kansas City's defensive improvement is a secondary that consists of cornerbacks Ty Law and Patrick Surtain and safeties Sammy Knight and Greg Wesley. The pass defense ranks fourth in the NFL, while the Chiefs are 18th against the run.

"They're a stiff defense," Faneca said. "But they're very vanilla, especially after playing San Diego last week. You're not going to have to go find your guy. You know where your guy's going to be on every play."

* Kansas City's QB hasn't thrown an interception in six years.

That's because Damon Huard threw only one pass in the preceding five seasons. But give him credit for this season. The fill-in for Trent Green is one of two NFL quarterbacks (Marc Bulger the other) not to have been intercepted this season. Huard ranks second in the league with a 107.4 passer rating. The Chiefs' star running back explains. "Every time they put eight in the box," said Larry Johnson, "it gives Damon an opportunity to make plays."

So far he has, with Johnson (20-268) and tight end Tony Gonzalez (19-172) as the leading receivers.

* The Chiefs hold big edges on special teams.

This one makes more sense. The Chiefs are third in net punting; the Steelers 19th. The Chiefs' kicker, Lawrence Tynes, has made eight of nine field goals; Jeff Reed has made four of six. And the Chiefs' hold whopping edges in the return game.

"They have solid core players and good returners," said Steelers teams captain Sean Morey. "You've got to play fast but you've also got to break down and try to contain Dante. If we can do that we can be successful."

Dante Hall burned the Steelers with a 100-yard kickoff return that turned the game around in the teams' last meeting in 2003. But Hall had to be helped from the field last Sunday and is questionable with hip and back injuries.

"I'll find a way to play," Hall said. "It's Pittsburgh."


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