Pittsburgh at Kansas City; Game Preview

Breakdown preview of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs battle in week-two of the NFL season.

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Randy Cross
SERIES: 25th meeting, including one postseason game. Steelers lead 16-8. The two teams have played win one/lose one over the last seven games, all at Arrowhead. Pittsburgh won the last meeting in 2001, 20-17.
2003 RANKINGS: Steelers: offense 8th (16th rush, 12th pass); defense 3rd (13th rush, 8th pass). Chiefs: offense 5th (8th rush, 4th pass); defense 4th (7th rush, 10th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Steelers defense will have to prove it can handle a spread offense, which it had problems with last season. Chiefs QB Trent Green has several quality receivers and TE Tony Gonzalez and RB Priest Holmes to utilize in the passing game. It's vital for Pittsburgh to get ahead early and quiet the Arrowhead Stadium crowd. To do that, the Steelers must protect QB Tommy Maddox against a Chiefs defensive line that produced a strong pass rush in the season-opener. If Maddox has time, Kansas City's secondary is vulnerable.
FAST FACTS: Steelers: This is the eighth consecutive meeting played in Kansas City, with Pittsburgh winning four of the games. ... Coach Bill Cowher served as the Chiefs' defensive coordinator/LBs coach from 1989-91. Chiefs: They are 12-1 against quarterbacks in their first or second year as NFL starters when they make their first start at Arrowhead. ... They have a 21-6 home record in September dating back to 1990.

PREDICTED SCORE: Chiefs 31, Steelers 24

   -- LB Joey Porter was declared out on Thursday for this week's game after being upgraded early in the week to doubtful. The Steelers don't want to rush Porter and risk infection from the 9 mm bullet wound he received Aug. 31.
   -- RB Amos Zereoue wants to play more on passing downs, but he hasn't pushed for it yet. Zereoue caught 42 passes last season, when he was their third-down back. Now that he's starting, he's been replaced by Verron Haynes. Zereoue did not catch a pass in the opener.
   -- SS Troy Polamalu, the Steelers' first-round draft choice, made few plays in the preseason and made none in the opener. Polamalu, the 16th player chosen in the draft, does not start but plays on all their passing defenses. He had no tackles, no passes defensed, no stats other than on special teams tackle.
   -- CB Deshea Townsend wasn't happy in the opener because he played only four snaps, the number of times the Steelers played in the dime defense. Townsend, the No. 3 cornerback, does not play in the nickel defense and the Steelers used that defense much more often in the opener.
   -- RB Jerome Bettis did not practice Wednesday and Thursday. He has a groin injury after carrying just four times for 14 yards in the season opener. If he cannot play, it's possible the Steelers will sign rookie RB Dante Brown off the practice squad this week.

   --CB William Bartee probably won't play Sunday for a second consecutive week as he continues to be hampered by a sprained ankle. Dexter McCleon is expected to start in Bartee's for a second straight week.
  --FS Jerome Woods lined up as the third corner in nickel situations and was replaced by Shaunard Harts at his free safety spot against San Diego. It will be interesting to see if the Chiefs attempt the same thing against a powerful Pittsburgh offense which features a dangerous slot receiver in Antwaan Randle El. The team signed veteran corner Corey Harris this week and could use him or rookie third-round pick Julian Battle as the third corner Sunday.
   --TE Tony Gonzalez played on a sore knee against San Diego and caught two passes for 18 yards but came out of the game with a sprained ankle. Gonzalez did not practice Wednesday but did limited work Thursday and is expected to play.
   --RB and first round-pick Larry Johnson did not suit up for the season opener and may be inactive again against Pittsburgh. Derrick Blaylock is the main backup to Priest Holmes, thus making Johnson an expensive luxury. Coach Dick Vermeil insists however, that Johnson's inactivity should not be taken as a sign that he's fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. "Larry doesn't have to prove the he can play," Vermeil said. "We know that he can play. It's just that with the 46-man roster rule, it really limits us as too how many guys we can suit up at a specific position."
  -- FB Tony Richardson played with a cast protecting his hand in the opener but had the cast removed this week and should play a larger role in the offense. Richardson's availability is crucial because he's a veteran who can be trusted to understand and handle the unique pass protection problems created by Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.

   The most promising thing to come out of Pittsburgh's easy victory against Baltimore was the play of quarterback Tommy Maddox.
   Despite the season Maddox had in '02, questions swirled around him. Would defenses find ways to exploit his weaknesses, could he hold up against a heavy rush, was last season a fluke?
   He opened against a tough defense and shredded it. Maddox was near perfect. He completed 21 of 29 passes for 260 yards, 3 TDs, no interceptions and a whopping 134.3 passer rating, which leads the NFL. They don't come much better than that.
   Maddox had pinpoint aim. He threw between defenders and lofted the ball over them, as he did with Hines Ward's 4-yard TD in the corner of the end zone. If he continues that way, he'll go from Comeback Player of the year to MVP.
   "I was having fun playing," said Maddox, named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week. "I think everyone out there was having fun playing. You go thru periods. I tend to look at the eight passes we missed, we should have hit a lot more. They batted a few down and I missed a couple of throws. It obviously was a good start for us."

   It's way too early in the season to call Kansas City's game Sunday against the 1-0 Pittsburgh Steelers critical, but there is evidence that both teams and coaching staffs see the matchup as a barometer.
   The Chiefs hammered San Diego 27-14 at Arrowhead in the opener while the Steelers similarly dispatched Baltimore 34-15. Both teams will bring high-powered offenses and defenses intent on improving upon their 2002 performances.
   The Chiefs were the league's 32nd ranked defensive unit last season while Pittsburgh allowed 21.6 points per game. Solid showings in the season opener have both teams feeling more defensive. And with talents like Priest Holmes, Tony Gonzalez, Plaxico Burress and Tommy Maddox on the field this Sunday, both teams can move the ball and put up points.
   So, could Sunday present a possible playoff preview?
   "It's early but I do think that both teams feel they can be pretty good this season," said Chiefs safety Jerome Woods. "We've made a lot of changes on defense, and with the way Tommy (Maddox) is throwing the ball to the weapons they have, I'm sure they think they are going to be a good team too.
   "It's only the second game of the season but I think we'll learn some things Sunday."
   Woods, who missed the entire 2002 season with a broken leg, is just one of several new or returning defensive players who made an impact for the Chiefs.
   Defensive tackle Ryan Sims, the team's first round pick in 2002, ate up blockers and clogged up the middle. Defensive end Vonnie Holliday, a free-agent signee from Green Bay, registered three sacks. Cornerback Dexter McCleon, a free agent from St. Louis, started and played well in place of the injured William Bartee.
   Shawn Barber, who was signed as a free agent from Philadelphia, was a part of a much faster linebacking trio and helped limit San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson to 27 yards on five carries.
   "We have a whole different attitude on defense this year," Woods said. "Now, it's important for us to go out and keep playing well starting this Sunday."

Scout NFL Network Top Stories