Versatile Steelers not looking past listless Chiefs
Jerricho Cotchery has coined a phrase for the dilemma the Pittsburgh Steelers are dealing with these days.
“It’s rich man’s problems,” the veteran wide receiver said. “We’re just trying to figure out how to use all our weapons.”
A difficult if enviable proposition when all of them are firing. The Steelers (5-3) have won three straight heading into Monday night’s game against reeling Kansas City (1-7), playing with metronome-like consistency no matter who is on the field.
When Rashard Mendenhall went down with a right Achilles injury a month ago, Jonathan Dwyer became the first Pittsburgh running back to top 100 yards in consecutive games in four years. When Dwyer tweaked his right quadriceps late in a victory over Washington, Isaac Redman ran for a career-high 147 yards in an eye-opening — and road karma cleansing — win against the Super Bowl champion New York Giants last Sunday.
It’s the same along the offensive line, where rookie Mike Adams has thrived at right tackle in place of Marcus Gilbert and veteran guard Ramon Foster is playing perhaps the finest football of his career while first-round draft pick David DeCastro recovers from a preseason knee injury.
The wide receivers are in on it, too. Emmanuel Sanders found himself returning kicks for the first time all year when Antonio Brown and Chris Rainey left the Giants’ game early after getting banged up. All Sanders did was return a punt 63 yards, and this was after catching a touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter.
Safety Troy Polamalu hasn’t played since Oct. 7, yet Pittsburgh’s pass defense has somehow been better without him, ranking first in the league in passing yards against.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, have the exact opposite problem. They haven’t led in regulation at any point during the first half of the year, floundering under an avalanche of turnovers, quarterback health issues and killing any forward progress they showed late last season when coach Romeo Crennel took over when Todd Haley was fired.
Matt Cassel will start in place of Brady Quinn, who was handed the job when Cassel sustained a concussion against Baltimore five weeks ago. Quinn’s tenure lasted less than eight quarters, when he went down with a concussion in a loss to Oakland.
Whoever has been under center has struggled holding onto the ball. Kansas City quarterbacks have thrown an NFL-high 14 interceptions and the team’s minus-21 turnover ratio is the worst in the league by a wide margin.
Regardless, Cassel insists the mistakes have not affected his confidence or his willingness to challenge opponents.
“The minute you start thinking about (turnovers) and playing timid, then you don’t make that throw or you don’t play the way you need to play in order to be competitive,” he said.
A Pittsburgh victory would set up a showdown against Baltimore the following week with the AFC North lead on the line. It’s a prospect that appeared daunting after Pittsburgh limped to a 2-3 start. Now it almost looks inevitable. The Steelers haven’t lost at home on Monday night in 21 years, but they’re reluctant to talk about the hated Ravens even with the league’s worst team the only obstacle.